I Speak Taiwanese

Formosan languages spoken in Taiwan. Image by Kwamikagami at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0. Source link

Taiwan’s current National Language (國語, guó yǔ), commonly referred to as Mandarin, is a variant of the standard spoken Chinese (普通話 [pǔ tōng huà], common-speak, in Modern China under Communist ruling, or 官話 [guān huà], official-speak [*], during the ruling of Qing Empire and early Republic from late 1800’s to mid 1900’s.)

[*] The term “mandarin” means government officials. The language they speak therefore was named “Mandarin” by the westerners when they first came into contact with the imperial government in 16th century.

Spoken in the northern and southwestern region of China, Mandarin was deemed national standard by both the Nationalist and the subsequent Communist governments of China, in the attempt of establishing a unified, Han-centric identity to further legitimize their respective ruling over a diverse, multi-ethnic land. Both the Nationalist and the Communist government suppressed other regional languages intentionally with cultural and educational policies. (This is how languages die.)

In 1949, the Nationalist Government, under leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, relocated to Taiwan (former Japanese colony, ceded to Japan by the Qing Empire in 1895), after its defeat by the Communist in Chinese Civil War. The status of Mandarin as the standard national language was also brought across the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwanese, spoken by an overwhelming majority of Han-descendants living in Taiwan, is a variant of 閩南語 (mǐn nán), the Southern Min language. Brought to Taiwan by a vast number of Southern Fujian immigrants starting early 17th century, it quickly spread with new Chinese colonies and control of resource to become the dominant language of the land. Throughout the centuries, taking influence from Dutch, Japanese, and Formosan aboriginal languages, what used to be foreign to the land has become local, the original has diverged from its origin, and become something different.

Because of the geographic and political separation of Taiwan from continental China and its 400 years of colonial history [*], both Taiwan’s National Language and Taiwanese have diverged from its linguistic ancestry, taken inspiration and utility from many other cultures, and evolved into unique languages with distinctive vocabulary and context.

Taiwan has been, from the 17th century, ruled over by the Dutch, Portuguese, Imperial Chinese, and Japanese, and finally the Nationalist Chinese.

Taiwan is a multi-cultural place. People of Taiwan speak a diverse variety of languages, much more than only the National Language and Taiwanese. Languages are part of the identity of a people. People of Taiwan has yet to find our identity. Identity is formed (partly) through common history. There were many reasons why we haven’t been able to confront and untangle our history.

One day, “Taiwanese” should be an umbrella language to refer to all the languages spoken and written by the people who identifies as Taiwanese. We build a common identity together, and then discard it together. One day, we will no longer tolerate the killing of other people’s languages. One day, production of goods will no longer be centralized. Human lives will be reconnected with the land and nature surrounding them.


This article, by @chihaoyo, is licensed under a CC-BY 4.0 International license.