Both Taiwanese, Mandarin as official languages

A story (translation) from today’s China Post:
TSU attempts to make Taiwanese island’s second official language.”

What do you think?

Although there may be many historical reasons for it, at the present time you do not find a majority of Taiwanese speakers who can write down TAIWANESE, in a fashion which is comprehensible to other Taiwanese people.

Hence, it occurs to me that the first consideration is to say “There must be an agreement on how the Taiwanese language is to be written.”

Second, in talking to my Taiwanese friends, I find that there are many nouns and verbs and even multiple-syllable-expressions in Taiwanese which they are unable to render in Mandarin. Clearly, there is the need for some “Taiwanese scholars” to compile a Mandarin-Taiwanese dictionary.

Third, in terms of the categorization of data, there must be one ordering system whereby lists of Taiwanese data, telephone directories, names in an address book, etc. will be organized by all public and private agencies, as well as local residents. In general, the family of Chinese languages lacks a strong sense of ordering.

My own feeling is that all discussion of making Taiwanese a second national language should be tabled until these three problems are thoroughly dealt with.

I imagine that many people don’t agree with this point of view . . . . . so much for my two cents.

And another link.
Here’s the story as reported in today’s Taipei Times.

In addition to Richard’s comments (which I full agree with), there is also the question of which Taiwanese. Every city has its own virtual dialect (unique words, accents, etc). Tainan Taiwanese? That’s considered the ‘heartland’ of the language. LuGang is considered more ‘ancient’ or ‘historical’ Taipei Taiwanese? While most likely to be adopted (as that’s where the capital lies), apparently that’s the least ‘standard’ of all the areas.

The reason I’m slightly against the idea (in addition to the above) is more because it begs the question… what about Hakka (ke4jia1 hua4)? Or some of the more common aboriginal languages? Obviously Taiwanese is much more widespread that these other two (or more), but where do you draw the line?

I’m all for teaching people more languages, especially if its the actual person’s ancestors, but would it be effective? A few years in elementary school where they never speak the language outside of class?

Everybody already speaks Mandarin (except for a small minority of elderly), and many do not speak Taiwanese. Obviously this has historical reasons, but it perhaps should also be considered in this debate. (of which us poor foreigners have no say…! )

I agree with all three of Hartzell’s points, and actually discussed the issue with a couple of friends yesterday, without being able to reach a conclusion as to what I really think is better. The differences between Taiwanese and Mandarin, and the fact that not all Taiwanese can be written with Chinese characters of course creates a (insurmountable?) problem. As I said, I’m not sure what to think or whether I agree with Hartzell’s conclusion, but the issues he brings up certainly shows that it’s not a clearcut issue.

But making Taiwanese an official language of course also has implications for the spoken language. There are Taiwanese people that don’t speak any mandarin (I don’t have any figures, but both my in-laws for example, and I imagine that in the older generation, there must be quite a few more). I also have several friends that are not at all as comfortable speaking Mandarin as they are Taiwanese. If Taiwanese became an official language, that would mean that these people could demand to speak Taiwanese in all dealings with at least any official authority or organization. It would also mean that Taiwanese could be taught to a much larger extent in schools.

I also think that making Taiwanese an official language would change many attitudes in society, which, for example, probably would have quite an impact on the rewriting of history books in Taiwan, which is an issue constantly discussed.

I would rather see Taiwanese as the official language than Mandarin as the official language. This is just another step in the resurgence of the Taiwanese identity. Language is an important part of culture. The KMT has sucessfully reduced the number of Taiwanese speakers in the younger generations that live around Taipei. Ironically, it’s the kids who grew up outside of Taiwan that can speak Taiwanese instead of Mandarin. I find it very sad that some of the Taiwanese speaking parents here in Taiwan can only communicate to their kids in Mandarin. I understand it was for the good of their kids so they don’t get into trouble, but it’s still sad. As for re-writing history, it’s been long overdue. The truth about the history of taiwan has been buried by the terror imposed by the KMT. I was born on Taiwan but didn’t study Taiwanese history until I was in college in the States. My family never talked about it and strongly discouraged me from advocating an independence stance for fear of reprisals from the KMT government.
There is mention of the Taiwanese language as just another dialect of “Chinese” and it should conform to the writing of “Chinese”. You have to look at the developement of the “Chinese” language. The “dialects” that exist for “Chinese” are based on the conquests of China and the forced usage of a common writing system. Within the early history of China, the many “dialects” existed as independent languages from different areas. The development of the single standard writing made the different languages into “dialects” of Chinese. The PRC and ROC government tried to enforce their control by introducing a single dialect as the spoken one also. Each “dialect” has it’s own unique words that is unique to the culture of that group, of course some of it can not be written in “Chinese”. Stating that all of these “dialects” are Chinese is like saying that all the romance languages should be called Latin.
It’s about time that Taiwan move away from the sinocentric academic leanings and focus on Taiwan. There is a lot of rich culture and history in Taiwan that has been suppressed and ignored for too long because all of the academic and governmental resources have been focused on China. I’m glad to see that there are Min nan and Hakka language programs on TV and there are programs that report of the culture and history of Taiwan.


Well, Mark, I think you made at least my mind up. I have now decided that I for one am for Taiwanese becoming an (not the) official language of Taiwan.

I am fully in favour of Taiwanese becoming an official language of Taiwan. I think it is very important to rememebr that uyou can have an officila language, but have no compulsion for that language to be used in official contexts or taught in schools etc. An example is New Zealand where legislation was passed to make Maori an official language. (Interestingly it was later pointed out that there is absolutely no legislation making English an official language in New Zealand).

Maori had more regional differences than Taiwanese, but a language commission was created to standardise an official version, but regional variations are allowed. Taiwanese has less variation, so I doubt it would be a problem.

I don’t believe Maori is yet compulsory in schools, but it is encouraged. Most government agencies (if not all) also have a Maori title. I believe odcuments in Maori have to be accepted by the government etc, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem. A big difference from the Taiwanese situation is that only a small percentage of Maori (themselves only 12% of the population) speak the language fluently, and all speak English too.

As for the written language, I beliebe Mark’s way of looking at it is not very helpful. Consider written Chinese as a writing system rather than a a language. All Chinese languages can be written using Chinese characters, but some of those chracters may be very rare in Mandarin spoken usage. That is to say that lots of these Taiwanese words that peopel say there is no chinese character for,do have a chracter, it’s just an ancient chracter that is rarely or never used in Mandarin. There is a small percentage (eg words from Japanese) that there are no chracters for, but if some sort of language commission was set-up they could easily create some either by borrowing other characters or inventing new ones. This has been done effectively in Hong Kong for Cantonese so that you can read Cantonese magazines etc there with something like 5-10% (i’m not too sure) opf the chracters rare or non-existant in Mandarin. Finally I think it’s helpful but not even absolutely necessaryto have standardisation of Taiwanese chracters. The situation would be analogous to pre-dictionary English. Read 15th century writers and you see that their spellings vary wildly (even within the same book). Why? Becuase they are using Latin letters to write a language - English - that has previously not been a written language. (Of course if they had created a language commision to standardise sensible spelling, then my life today teaching bushiban students would probably be a lot easier).

I seem to have gone a bit off topic and think the last bit should eb in the Chinese forum, but I really think Taiwanese should be an officla language and the problems (aside from the political) are not really problems as well. Hakka, and aboriginal languages as well? Why the hell not.


My husband (who was born on Taiwan, but is considered a waishengren) thinks that making Taiwanese an official language (second to or alongside of Mandarin?) is just a preliminary step to making it the only official language of Taiwan. I do believe that if there is no effort to upgrade the status of the non-Mandarin languages of Taiwan, they will eventually die off. What would constitute upgrading the language? Having it become more than mainly just a language spoken in the home. Someone mentioned there are now a lot of TV programs presented in non-Mandarin languages- that is a positive step that I believe was almost non-existent during the martial law days. If you only know how to say simple everyday things in Taiwanese, you will only use it when you have to, like at family gatherings with elderly family members. When those family members die, you won’t need to use Taiwanese and you will stop using it and you will not pass it on to your children. If, however, you have a rich Taiwanese vocabulary because you live in an area of Taiwan where storytelling or lively discussions in Taiwanese still exist and you are regularly exposed to them, and you have friends with a similar background, you will be more likely to use Taiwanese provided you stay in that area of Taiwan. When I lived in Taipei in the late 80s, early 90s, I remember hearing that there were parents who purposely did not teach their children Taiwanese because they viewed it as the language of the lower classes. Similarly, at that time I found that men were more likely to speak in Taiwanese and women where more likely to prefer Mandarin spoken with the retroflex accent. I think that Taiwanese would enjoy a resurgence if people (in the Taipei area anyway) saw it as having more status. Perhaps this has already happened with the rise of the DPP and the search for a new non-mainland centered Taiwan identity.

Originally posted by markshih: Each "dialect" has its own unique words that is unique to the culture of that group, of course some of it can not be written in "Chinese". Stating that all of these "dialects" are Chinese is like saying that all the romance languages should be called Latin.
I'm not sure that this is the best analogy. You're arguing that Chinese dialects developed independently of each other but romance languages in fact [i]are[/i] Latin languages. From my trusty Merriam-Webster: Main Entry: Ro

There is a distinction between the written language and the spoken language in “Chinese”. Before the first emperor of the Qin dynasty, there were many different spoken and written languages in the territory that is now called China. The first emperor made everyone in that unified China use the Qin written form as the official written language. He didn’t force them all to speak the Qin language. The other spoken languages became the dialects of “Chinese”. As China grew, the standardized written language was forced on everyone but the spoken was not. So the written language was passed on along with the different spoken languages/“dialects”. Each one of these spoken languages is unique and derive from the same written language but has evolved somewhat independently. As Bri mentioned, Hong Kong has developed it’s own words to fit it’s culture there. There just hasn’t been enough attention paid to the languages here to do that and that is something that needs and is being addressed. As these independent written language develop, they will eventually become something like the developement of the romance language from it’s Latin roots. Yes the Romance language has it’s roots in Latin, but you would not call it Latin.
I think that as a part of preserving the culture in Taiwan, the children should learn the languages that their parents speak. It’s teaching them about who they are and where they come from. Instead of the KMT fed BS about how everyone is “Chinese”. I remember listening to a Taiwanese aboriginal song sung by a friend and his grandmother in the US. It was a touching song based on the music and the sound of the words. No one alive knows the meaning of the words because no one knows the language anymore. My friend’s gandmother remembers the song because she was taught the song as a child but was never taught the language. Now the song is just music and the meaning of the song is lost forever.
There was enforcement of Mandarin in Taiwan in the past. The enforcement was a bit more strict near Taipei. I remember being hit as a child in school because I didn’t use Mandarin. So a lot of parents at the time spoke to their kids in Mandarin because they didn’t want their kids punished for violating the rules. Since I was living in Taichung at the time, I could speak Taiwanese around my home with less problems.


As much as I would like to see Taiwanese as an official language for “identity” reasons, I have to agree with Richard and LittleIron that a few practical problems would have to be solved ahead of such a decision. While “Mandarin” is a (chosen) standard of the chinese language, “Taiwanese” is not as homogenous as it seems at the first glance. So, which “strain” of Taiwanese should be the official one?
Sometimes Taiwanese reminds me a bit of Gaelic, as it is somehow the opposite to that language: While the Irish are teaching Gaelic at school and there are roadsigns in both English and Gaelic and books about gaelic grammar you will have a hard time to find someone who actually can really speak the language. When on the other hand I ask friends how something they mention in Taiwanese is written, one response I often get is “Well, we say it that way. Characters? Hmm, not sure, maybe…” Probably, Taiwan will have to do a little more research on Taiwanese before it can serve as an official language…


I just read the Taipei Times editorial today on this issue. They’ve got it exactly right. My response to that editorial would have to be “ditto”.

Question: has the Tongyong camp decided on what will be their
definition of Tongyong Taiwanese Pinyin? Some of you are
reporters. It is your duty to call Yu Boquan at the Ethnology Dept. of
Academia Sinica to find out. However as he has credibility
imparements, note that despite him mentioning his usual Plan A and
Plan B please everybody alternatives [plan A is church romanization,
plan B is their value added homebrew, but, last episode the Tongyong
turkeys were still infighting as how to formulate it, so the middle
prong of the three pronged magic bridge mandarin–taiwanese–hakka is
missing, oh no! and double oh no: the hakka jazz is a no sale, as Luo
Zhaojin’s system takes the lead…

Anyways, I hope they ask the question: why put the evil sounds of
Beijing on roadsigns? Are you hoping people produce retroflex sounds
as tongyong indeed preserves, so people will have a Beijing accent?
Oh, I see, you are trying to show a glimmer of friendliness to the
Beijing loving wai4sheng3ren2 community. Ok, well, how about using
hanyu pinyin, which warms their hearts, in however small letters, in
the corner of the new taiwanese language street signs…

anyway, as Dan [me] is all about being systematic, I say the most
dangerous thing is a counterfeit hanyu pinyin, i.e., tongyong pinyin.
Indeed of all the things they could put on a road sign, the one that
most bothers me is purposely hacked international systems. The rest I
will just consider entertainment until the “reset key” in hit the next

And did you know, even though I am pro-independence, from this silly
pinyin experience, doesn’t a future president Ma look much better than
Chen Shuibian? —Even though mother warned me about the KMT long
before I had anything to do with Chinese stuff [she was a anti war
activist and knew about such things].

P.S. I am having an argument in news:tw.bbs.lang.english, that is , so, if you
understand Chinese, please come to my assistance.

When Tongyong Pinyin is being trumpeted as the cure-all for
Taiwan’s aboriginal languages, has anyone asked the aboriginal
people how they feel about this? Most of them have been schooled in
their own languages with a romanization painstakingly developed by
missionaries - for the current administration to make these people
illiterate in their own language just because of an anti-mainlander
bias is the height of arrogance.

Don’t worry. From what I saw, the Tongyong fellers just take an
existing system, relabel it as “Tongyong xxx language” with even
“Tongyong xxx language - version A” and “version B”, in case there are
two main trends. This is a stupendous marketing technique, instead of
having one version of Tongyong for a certian language, have as many as
will please every party. You don’t like Tongyong Hakka A [Church
hakka]? well how about Tongyong Hakka B [b-,d-,g- style hakka] Ah,
then, see, your needs have been satisfied by tongyong pinyin and you
can sign his petition, like the 14 County Presidents did.

Do you smell something fishy here?

Did you never expect a scholar to instead of having one plan for one
language, indeed having 2 or three plans for each? Except Mandarin,
for Mandarin one would expect him to offer {Wade-Giles with h instead
of apostrophe} as an analog to his other “A” plans, but apparently one
isn’t given any choice in Mandarin.

Oh and by the way, crack open the tongyong aboriginal languages
booklets as perhaps can still be seen in SMC Bookstore,, near TaiDa. You will notice that all his
“tongyong” principles fall by the wayside as he uses the same letter
for different sounds in different languages. Wasn’t that supposed to
be his main contribution to the world?

Consider the Hakka “V”, so quickly reused for another sound in his
“tongyong taiwanese plan B” system… hmmm, he found out at this late
date that there are only 26 letters, etc. etc.

Anyway, it is your duty if you work at a newspaper to see if this
isn’t in fact some royal joke. see the links on my webpages to the
other folks who have exposed this giant farce, e.g. , both chinese.

If they put Taiwanese on the dollar bills what happens when we find
that they have guessed a wrong original character for a character that
we have a better case is closer to the original? Will it be like last
time when I discovered the globe was backward and they scurried to
deny it?
Wait, the word on the dollar bill are all formal and need no second

Like Maoman, I also agree with the Taipei Times’ excllent editorial.

quote[quote] As much as I would like to see Taiwanese as an official language for "identity" reasons, I have to agree with Richard and LittleIron that a few practical problems would have to be solved ahead of such a decision. While "Mandarin" is a (chosen) standard of the chinese [/quote]

I disagree entirely. What would be wrong with different dialects of Taiwanese being spoken? There’s no need to standardise. Mandarin is spoken very differently in diffrent parts of Taiwan by different people and different classes. It’s not a problem. Same with writing. Standardisation would be helpful, but not necessary. It could come later.

I say full speed ahead with Taiwanese, Hakka and Aboriginal languages ALL becoming official (but not compulsory) languages of Taiwan.


Fantastic Bu Lai En

We could have 5 different versions of every official document - all having suffered in translation.

from AP

Most Taiwanese prefer having English be the island’s second official language instead of the Taiwanese dialect, a survey reported Wednesday.
The island’s first official language is Mandarin, spoken throughout China. The small Taiwan Solidarity Union party is proposing that the Taiwanese dialect, or Hokkien, be the second official language. Hokkien is also spoken in southeast China, where many Taiwanese can trace their ancestry.
According to a TVBS cable news poll, 60 percent of those surveyed favored having English as the second language. About 30 percent favored Hokkien, while the rest had no opinion or no strong preference.
Many Taiwanese can speak English. However, most are not as fluent in the language as people are in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
The survey, conducted Tuesday, involved 836 adult respondents across Taiwan and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

quote[quote] Many Taiwanese can speak English. [/quote]

Must be a different definition of ‘many’ than what I’m used to. Or ‘speak’. Or ‘English’.


“We could have 5 different versions of every official document - all having suffered in translation.”

 Isn't that what lawyers do to legal documents in one language anyways?

 As a footnote about the TVBS poll, the news programs here like to point out that English was choosen by the people becuase they thought it would be more useful and practical in the global arena. But I feel that is missing the point of having an official national language.