International Mother Language Day

Feb.21 is the Mother Language Day celebrated first by UNESCO long ago, but not many people here are aware of. Taiwan is a vibrant and young democratic country now with long history of occupation by different foreign powers. The transitional justice has been a topic for us but never completed even by the Taiwanese president. Our official language was changed based on different eras. Nowadays, people on this island speak Mandarin Chinese, and most of our native languages are dying. Back to half century ago, the language policy was created by Chinese army, KMT party, that all Taiwanese were not allowed to speak their mother languages in the public, and those who did would be fined. Though some of KMT Chinese argue with people that Japanese did the same thing to us, and Taiwanese were suffering by that time. No matter what people think, it is hard to deny the fact that Taiwanese languages will be distinguished some day in the near future.

Credit: Home Run Taiwan

Children are educated by Mandarin in school, watch television, play video games, and speak with friends by Mandarin for most of time. The native language was only allowed to speak at homes without enough resources to teach next generation, though people can speak it in the public now. There are four main ethnic groups in Taiwan, Holo/Minan, Haka, Native tribes, and KMT Chinese. There are many different tribes among native people, and so are their languages, although sometimes they have common language to communicate with each other. The customs, foods, legends, and ways of life are slightly different between them.

The Chinese who retreated with KMT political party were from different regions in China, they have their own customs, eating habits and dialects. The reason to mention KMT Chinese, rather than just Chinese is to distinguish between communist China and overseas Chinese. Some of them may support democratic party, but when it comes to language, it is hard for them to accept other Taiwanese languages.

Taiwanese Holo/Minan & Haka were believed to share Chinese cultures due to the reason that our ancestors were from there almost four centuries ago. Even though the DNA test with expert research that many Holo or Haka people are actually mixed with native people, causing many conflicts not only languages but also politics.

For people who concern about languages and want to know more about Taiwan, I would recommend the newest film, The Little Women, for those who like movies. In this film, you can listen Taiwanese holo language and Mandarin Chinese, which is the way that we speak nowadays. Elders speak the mother language, while young generations speak Mandarin; some young people can understand the mother tongue, some may not understand at all. The whole environment on this island is not friendly to people who speak their mother languages. In 2019, there was an event happened to the Minister of Culture, Cheng Li-Chiun, who was slapped by the KMT Chinese actress, causing sensation among ethnic groups again. All I know about the Minister Cheng is that she tried very hard to boost local cultures, helping people to build the confidence.

It is also available now on Netflix.

No matter who you are, it is the right for everyone to speak their languages, and that makes Taiwan great with so many diversified cultures.

The Paiwan song for everyone.

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