Don’t discard Mandarin
Although I sympathize with some of the localization goals of the Taiwan Society as reported in the Taipei Times (“Independence groups call for education localization.” Sept. 4, page 3), I am strongly opposed to their proposals to push education localization at the expense of Mandarin Chinese.
First, the fastest-growing group of Taiwanese in Taiwan is the so-called “new immigrants” (新住民). These are the newly settled Taiwanese and their mixed children, who usually do not speak Hokkien (台語) or native languages (other than Mandarin) as their mother tongue.
Second, the future of Taiwan depends on its ability to form a more pluralistic and open body politic, and with the rise of Mandarin as a global language comes the opportunity to bring on board potential Taiwan advocates who speak Mandarin.
Switching from Mandarin to “native languages” like Hokkien would not only be impractical (indeed, the number of people who do not speak Mandarin is surely less than the number who do not speak Hokkien or other native languages), it would further alienate foreign journalists, academics and businesspeople who want to understand Taiwan through the Mandarin they worked hard to learn.
Third, former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) government already acknowledged all of the major languages of Taiwan (Hokkien, Hakka, Aboriginal languages, etc.) as de jure “official languages” (國語) of the Republic of China and made mother-tongue education available to students nationwide.
Finally, instead of having a plurality of official languages, it sounds like the Taiwan Society really wants to displace Mandarin and substitute it with a different majority language of their own, i.e., Hokkien.
If so, how would this be different from what the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) did when they took over the island and forced everyone to learn Mandarin?
Education policy should not be determined by ideology or guided by a shifting blue-green nationalist tit-for-tat, but the suggestion that Hokkien proficiency should be mandatory on college entrance exams surely epitomizes that idea.
Using language education as a political tool in this way can only lead to further ethnic division and less real communication.
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