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Thu, Sep 06, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Harvard University to begin teaching Hokkien in the fall

GAINING RECOGNITION The courses will include information on Taiwan's literary works as well as formal language training

By Lin Mei-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Linguists and language educators yesterday praised the introduction of language and literature classes on Hokkien at Harvard University, saying that Taiwan's identity will gain more recognition in the international community under such an initiative.

"The fact that the prestigious Harvard University will offer courses on the Hokkien language indicates that the language has been recognized by the international community and, in the meantime, Taiwan's national status will be further acknowledged," said Lu Ching-ching (呂菁菁), chairman of the graduate institute of Taiwan languages and language education at National Hsinchu Teachers College.

"An even more important element is that the focus of the courses will not be limited to language training. The inclusion of Taiwan's literary works will make the nation's culture, history and people better known to the outside world. The event has significant meaning for us."

Lu made the comments in response to a local media report that starting this fall, Harvard University will provide language and literature courses on Hokkien, a Fujian dialect spoken in parts of southern China and here.

The courses will be taught at the beginning and intermediate levels for undergraduate and graduate students. Arnold Lee (李勤岸), who has a doctoral degree in linguistics from the University of Hawaii, will teach the courses.

Aside from giving lectures to promote Taiwanese language and literature in both Taiwan and the US, Lee writes poetry in Hokkien.

Reports said that the courses provided at Harvard will center on teaching basic Hokkien-language skills and Taiwanese literature.

If the courses are well received by students, the reports said, the department would consider setting up a research center for Taiwanese studies in three years.

This is not the first time an overseas institution has shown an interest in Taiwan's languages.

According to Peter Tiun (張學謙), an assistant professor in the language education department of National Taitung Teachers College, the University of Hawaii was the first overseas college to teach Hokkien-language courses, an initiative that began over ten years ago.

It has remained a popular subject at the school as a result of the ardent efforts of Robert Cheng (鄭良偉), a professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures.

In addition to the University of Hawaii, the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University and the University of Washington in Seattle at one time provided courses on Hokkien. According to Tiun, the Zurich University of Switzerland once taught the aboriginal language of the Paiwan Tribe (排灣族).

The language educator also said that the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission plays a vital role in the promotion of Taiwanese languages abroad.

"Since the change of government in May of last year, we've seen a change in the operation of the council. It is taking on more endeavors overseas. I believe these native languages will gain more international attention if the government continues its efforts," Tiun said.

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