Can the Taiwanese language survive?

In the latest issue of Sino-Platonic Papers, Deborah Beaser examines the chances for the survival of Taiwanese (a.k.a. Hoklo, Minnan, Southern Min, etc.).

The introduction to her paper is a good summary of the whole work:

Read the whole paper here: The Outlook for Taiwanese Language Preservation (432 KB PDF).

I think it will live on for a little while in the way that Basque does, for example, but because of recent efforts to create a link between the language and a Taiwanese political identity, I’m sure that the landlords are going to supress it when they get Taiwan province back. Maybe those who want to keep the language alive should act now, as the paper suggests.

I was “sort of” talking to an older man the other day who was selling ice cream. He spoke almost no Mandarin.

Outside of Taipei, Taiwanese is alive and kickin’. My gf often speaks it with her friends so it’s not just the older generation.

Seems to be doing well IMO.

I just finished scanning the paper. I personally don’t find it to be that well written. The paper’s last sentence states: Taiwanese has already started its decline towards inevitable extinction, and unless the young generations are given the means to make Taiwanese a nationally functional language, the outlook for Taiwanese is very poor.

If the decline is “inevitable”, as the author writes, then there is nothing anyone can do (even the younger generation) to reverse this decline. Thus, the outlook being “very poor” is self evident. If something can be done to reverse the trend, then its decline towards extinction is obviously not inevitable. The usage of “extinction” is also a hyperbole.

But that issue aside, I find the author treating Taiwanese as a “language” to be misleading. Taiwanese is in fact a variant/dialect of a language (Minnan) spoken by 49 million people around the world (much like Americans speak variants of English). Taiwan accounts for just over one-third of the speakers of this language. The author would do well to replace “language” by another term in the title or to simply omit it altogether.

Haven’t they notice on Forumosa, most Taiwanese communicate in English now.
Chinese in general is going extinct as a viable language.

[quote=“ac_dropout”]Haven’t they notice on Forumosa, most Taiwanese communicate in English now.
Chinese in general is going extinct as a viable language.[/quote]

nei gonn mei hwa?

[quote=“Lo Bo To”]I was “sort of” talking to an older man the other day who was selling ice cream. He spoke almost no Mandarin.

Outside of Taipei, Taiwanese is alive and kickin’. My gf often speaks it with her friends so it’s not just the older generation.

Seems to be doing well IMO.[/quote]

But the problem is it is mainly older people who speak it. Many young people cannot speak Taiwanese well, despite growing up in Taiwanese speaking households. I would like to better understand the reasons for this. I suspect a large part of it is to do with the education system. While the Taiwanese language is no longer actively supressed, Taiwanese language education in Taiwanese schools is poor and ineffective. Mandarin is the number one language and if you want to learn serious stuff you have to learn Mandarin (and perhaps English).

I would be interested to know other’s thoughts or observations about this.

How young are you talking here? My SO is 29 and speaks Taiwanese with all her Southern relatives/friends. Her cousins are 25 and speak Taiwanese with all their Southern relatives, her sister in law is expecting and will undoubtedly teach the baby Taiwanese so that it too can converse with all it’s Southern relatives…explain again how this is dying?

Taxi drivers have been listening to Hammond organ-accompanied Taiwanese signing in their cabs since the car stereo was invented in 1906. They will continue to do so forever.

Because it is hearsay and not admissible as evidence. Not to mention people under 30 are minors on Taiwan.

It’s kind of strange.

My gf is 31.

She always speaks Taiwanese with her family. Sometimes she speaks it with her friends as well.

A couple of times we have been out on road trips where we come across an older person who’s mandarin isn’t very good and she speaks to them in Taiwanese but forgets or doesn;t know how to say something that is complex.

I think these researchers need to actually leave Taipei City once in a while and smell the factory effluent first-hand. Five years ago I could ask that a meeting be conducted in Mandarin (for my benefit) and not have to repeat myself. Not anymore. Maybe in some circles of lofty academia it’s normal to speak Mandarin, but not in the real world.

Recently I asked an older elementary class of mine to ask their grandparents what jobs they had when they were younger. Of the 15 students, 4 couldn’t do the assignment because they weren’t able to communicate directly with their grandparents. That’s in Luodong, Yilan. Most everyone I’ve met here in their 20’s and 30’s can speak Taiwanese (albeit a crap version that’s not as cool as you find in southern Taiwan. I mean, jia bwoi for to eat, WTF is that?), but a significant portion of my students have extremely limited/non-exsistant Taiwanese. I don’t know if they’ll eventually pick it up as they get older or it’s indicative of the imminent death of Minnan in Taiwan or what.

I don’t speak Taiwanese, so I’m just guessing here. As more and more new ways of thinking/technology come into the world- new terms from non-Mandarin languages are translated into Mandarin, not into Taiwanese. In Taiwan they are discussed using Mandarin, not Taiwanese. Taiwanese’s main attraction is a cultural link with the older generation. When they die out, so will a prime motivation for speaking Taiwanese. In the past another prime motivation for speaking Taiwanese was as a sort of ‘sanctuary’ language- a language that set one apart from the oppressor (Japan/KMT). Now that Taiwan is a more democratic country with less fear, that motivation for using Taiwanese will diminish. You can prove me wrong by stating where you have heard people using Taiwanese to discuss ideas like sustainable growth, a possible bird flu epidemic, scenarios under which mainland China might attack, etc. In addition, are there any media that use Chinese characters to convey Taiwanese? The Mandarin on Taiwan is already been a little min nan hua-ified, but I’m talking about something that is more obviously Taiwanese. I also believe, some Taiwanese words have no equivalent in the present Chinese writing system.I remember years ago watching a Taiwanese speech contest (for foreigners ?)won by an American missionary. He had gone around and learned folk wisdom in Taiwanese from the old people where he lived and he was weaving it into his speech. At the end, one of the judges, a scholarly man, tried to convey his feelings- I couldn’t follow it exactlty, since I don’t know Taiwanese- but I got that he was trying to convey something more abstract and his Taiwanese wasn’t cutting it- he kept reverting back to Mandarin. He seemed to feel both proud at the richness of Taiwanese folk wisdom that the missionary’s speech revealed, as well as embarrassed that he wasn’t able to express himself better in Taiwanese.

What about the death of Hakka dialect on Taiwan or aboriginal language on Taiwan?

You don’t see Red China getting bogged down by this issue. If Free China is going to be a productive society in 21st century it should start focusing on the here-and-now, and not on the never-was. Minnan is not going anywhere, even if all of Taiwan forgets this dialect, there are more than enough people in Red China to keep it going.

One can only hope.

You could say of many of the lesser used languages/dialects: who cares if they disappear? It’s the old people who speak these languages well that we should care about. Their sentences are conveying cultural memory and a way of looking at the world. Don’t the Jewish people preserve Hebrew for this reason? I agree with the researcher, maybe not on her point about the quick decline of Taiwan Hua, but about strengthening it through making it an easier language to use for writing (she talked about standardized computer encoding I believe).

They say that when a language dies so too does a way of looking at the world. They (same people, probably hippies) go on to talk about how much wisdom is lost and what a tragedy it is and all that, but honestly those sorts of sentiments might be more easily maintained outside of earshot of the grunting and screaming people seem to do when they speak Taiwanese. Learning Mandarin is enough of a challenge, I could care less what happens to Taiwanese.

Over 90% of Minnan wisdom on Taiwan are terms based on farming. How many modern Taiwanese are working in husbandry?

Maybe their view of the world was lost due to something else beside linguistic extinction? Perhaps modernization…

Hebrew wasn’t preserved, it was reinvented a hundred years ago after 1,000 years of neglect. Same with Irish Gaelic - an artificial modern language cobbled together in the 19th century, based on an ancient language that nobody had spoken for centuries.

So even if Taiwanese disappears for a few centuries, they can always reassemble it.