There are certain issues which must be confronted by the geographer or ethnographer who seeks to describe the linguistic situation of Taiwan. In particular, many people are not fully aware of the rich variety of languages spoken, not to mention the sensitive social and political issues of language use, in Taiwan; nor is the intimate relationship between language and social status in Taiwan generally known. Whether trying to translate Mandarin usage into English or simply writing an original ethnography in English, the linguistic ethnographer must be able to articulate the important cultural distinctions in descriptive language which is precise and fair. In describing Taiwan, too often journalists and even scholars make and accept facile translations of Mandarin phrases, never considering that they may be thereby abetting cultural bias and factual distortion. The proper use of Mandarin is not within the scope of this paper; rather, the remarks here are intended for readers and writers of English, that they may better understand the operative geographic, cultural, and linguistic distinctions in Taiwan. Such knowledge enables educators both to recognize and to promulgate English usage which accurately and impartially reflects these distinctions.
It is not uncommon for someone curious about the languages of some part of the world to turn to a general reference. Although the better atlases, encyclopedias, and country guides can serve to alert the reader to areas of linguistic diversity, they often fail to provide a sociolinguistically adequate description of language status and speaker self-concepts.
Because naming behavior is often associated with political struggle over questions of ownership or entitlement, this is one area of investigation which can illuminate the sociopolitical tensions which may be operative in an area of diverse languages. Even though the precise referential content may be difficult to ascertain, the names of peoples, their languages, and their homelands can and do figure prominently in intercultural disputes. For example, after months of discussion, British and Irish civil servants agreed (among other things) on usage of the phrase "the people in the island of Ireland" as a way of referring to the people without mentioning the name of an unrecognized political entity. Since the long conflict between various factions in Northern Ireland is well known, it is not surprising that there should be debate over the language of documents being written to pave the road to a lasting peace. Even so, Ireland is only one of many areas where there is argument over the use of names, designators, and descriptive phrases. In most of these areas, the issues underlying such debates are as historically complex and emotionally sensitive as in Ireland.
As outsiders, we cannot begin to appreciate, nor even perceive, differences in labeling habits without fully understanding the underlying social and political turmoil. In order to gain such an understanding, we commonly rely on popular journals, which provide models for popular writing and thought on contemporary issues. When a journal makes an effort to distinguish between the phrase "Serbian troops" and the phrase "Serb troops", readers take notice; if they had previously been inclined to use these terms interchangeably, such readers soon look for characteristic differences. The level of detail with which popular journal writing treats a given geographic area will depend on the relative newsworthiness of that area. For a long time, the terms "Yugoslavia" and "Yugoslavian" enjoyed great currency in the description of an area of southeastern Europe. When the Olympics were held in Sarajevo, many people learned that Sarajevo was in Yugoslavia; but it took the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the subsequent civil war to teach many people that Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Many geographic differences are of only local importance, but sometimes these local distinctions receive wider attention. At such times, it is important that descriptions prepared for a wider audience accurately reflect the local situation.
Taiwan is one area which has been receiving greater international attention of late; however, despite the existence of good English-language reports, journals aimed at a general readership have not yet begun to accurately reflect the complex linguistic tensions of the area. The languages which were spoken by the earliest inhabitants of the area were exclusively Austronesian, and, although several of these have become extinct, Taiwan's surviving autochthonous languages confirm the historic importance of Formosa in the great Austronesian expansion. In addition, two Sinitic languages were established centuries ago by immigrants from the Chinese mainland. During the past century, Japanese, Mandarin, and English gained currency as languages of government, education, or commerce. As the government has become less repressive, issues of language choice have become subjects of great debate. Unfortunately, the social status of Taiwan's languages is never described, and only rarely is this linguistic diversity even alluded to in the popular press. When diversity is mentioned, it is couched in terms of a simple Mandarin-versus-Taiwanese dichotomy, which is overly simplistic, perpetuating misunderstandings about the linguistic situation of Taiwan. In this case, the neglect of proper description is not benign, and it must be corrected by a review of the relevant historical, geographic, and linguistic facts.
As a brief illustration of the sort of facts which require an accounting, this report will focus on the use of two terms: "Taiwanese" and "indigenous language of Taiwan". It is often said that there is a particular language called Taiwanese, and it is sometimes said that Taiwanese is the indigenous language of Taiwan. I will suggest here that it is confusing to refer to any single language as Taiwanese; rather there are several Taiwanese languages. Moreover, I will argue that one must be especially careful about interpreting "indigenous" in the context of Taiwan.
2. Formosan language loss
As part of Japan from 1895 to 1945, Taiwan was an area of great linguistic diversity. Two Sinitic languages had great currency. Varieties of Fukienese, collectively known as Holo 河洛語, were spoken by the Hoklo Chinese, the descendants of immigrants from Fukien 福建. Hakka 客家語 was also spoken by many of the Hakka Chinese, who were also descendent from mainland China immigrants. In addition, several autochthonous Formosan languages were spoken, most notably: Amis 阿美語, Tayal 泰雅語, Saisiyat 賽夏語, Tsou 曹語, Bunun 布農語, Puyuma 卑南語, Paiwan 排灣語, Rukai 魯凱語, and Yami 雅美語. For the Formosans, Japanese administration proved to be an era of comparative enlightenment. The impact of the Dutch and other European settlements had been short-lived, and the long period of Chinese rule had been exploitative and destructive. By setting Japanese up as the official language, the government placed the Chinese and the Formosans on more equal footing. Moreover, the Japanese opened roads, schools, and churches in the highlands, providing hitherto isolated Formosans access to the fruits of a modern economy. Except in those few areas which resisted Japanese encroachment, rural development fostered contact between Formosan groups and improved their material standard of living. Older Formosans, who first experienced literacy, electricity, and modern medicine as gifts from a cadre of paternalistic Japanese teachers, engineers, and doctors, are today nostalgic for the days of Japanese rule; they are quite happy to speak Japanese whenever they encounter strangers, and they prefer to use Japanese hymnals in church. As Japanese education programs became increasingly comprehensive, although Holo use remained widespread among the Chinese, Japanese became the lingua franca of communication between highland Formosans and lowland Chinese.
The flight of the ROC (Republic of China) to Taipei radically changed the demographics of Taiwan. In the four years following the "restoration" of Chinese rule, over four million Chinese immigrants came to Formosa, nearly all of them with the ROC government in 1949. The result was an increase in the Taiwan population of fifty per cent. The language of these new immigrants was overwhelmingly Mandarin, commonly called Kuo-yü 國語 in Taiwan. Though it had been the official language of China since 1928, Mandarin was not widely used in Taiwan. Except for the Mandarin-speaking provincial officials who replaced the Japanese in 1945, the Chinese of Taiwan spoke either Holo or Hakka.
As Formosa became the ROC's fortress, much of the rugged highlands was designated for military use only, and the autochthonous Formosans living in those areas were forced from their homes. Elsewhere, Formosans were permitted to remain in their highland villages, but access to those villages became restricted, hindering travel by Formosans between neighboring villages. Although many Formosans have continued to live in these restricted villages, over the years there has been a sizable exodus of Formosans to the lower unrestricted zones. Formosans, who had long been able to maintain their language and customs in the highlands, came under pressure to assimilate to the Chinese culture of the lowlands. This rapid and extensive assimilation resulted in indigenous cultural loss. Although very recently the Formosan churches have been leading efforts to revive and maintain important Formosan traditions, the cultural loss has often been so great that recovery is impossible. The loss of land and the physical dislocation of Formosan settlements caused by military operations has been the largest single factor in the loss of Formosan languages and customs.
The ROC transformed Taiwan from a fishing and agrarian province into a diversified economic powerhouse. The resulting urbanization of the population also threatened the Formosans, who found themselves at a distinct disadvantage among the Chinese who dominated the cities. Rapidly, the urban populations became stratified along linguistic lines. At the top were the Chinese speakers of Mandarin, known as extra-provincials because of their recent immigration from the mainland; they controlled both the ROC government and the provincial government, as well as the various government-sponsored social and commercial organizations. Next, the Chinese speakers of Holo derived their status by virtue of being a majority of the populace. In third place were the Chinese speakers of Hakka, a small minority which benefitted from their Sinitic cultural traits. At the bottom were, and still are, the unassimilated Formosans.
Forced from their highland sanctuaries by both military and economic policies, Formosans began to see the acquisition of Chinese language skills as a prerequisite for a better life. After the ROC's relocation, Taiwan's educational system was improved in terms of both quality and access. As a result, ninety four percent of Taiwan's present population can speak Mandarin, either as a first or second language, making Mandarin the most widely known of any language spoken in Taiwan. Formosan languages, such as Paiwan and Amis, which once had some currency as regional linguae francae, now rarely serve that function. Japanese is now used only by older Formosans. Now, when a native Paiwan speaker encounters a native Bunun speaker, they are almost certain to speak Mandarin with each other. Moreover, since Holo and Hakka speakers have also learned Mandarin, knowledge of Mandarin suffices for communication with all of the Sinitic groups in Taiwan. Knowledge of Mandarin has afforded Formosans the same educational opportunities as enjoyed by the Chinese in Taiwan, and it is now spawning an educated elite of young Formosan scholars, with foreign language skills in English and Japanese as well. Unfortunately, equal educational opportunity has not been matched by equal employment opportunity, and the Formosans continue to be the poorest segment of Taiwan's population.
3. Laying claim to "Taiwanese"
The institution of Mandarin as the language of Taiwanese government in 1945, and its widespread promotion as the language of learning since then, has met with opposition from one large segment of the population. Initially, speakers of Holo were pleased when Mandarin replaced Japanese as the language of government. As elsewhere in other provinces, Mandarin was primarily a written norm, and the Holo speakers did not adhere closely to the pronunciation standards set by the central government; however, when the central government moved its seat to Taipei, the pronunciation of Chinese in Taiwan came under closer scrutiny. Mandarin norms of pronunciation were thoroughly taught and strictly enforced. In the schools, in the courts, in government bureaus, and over the airwaves, proper Mandarin was the language of choice. Many speakers of Holo, who comprised a majority of Taiwan's population, were unhappy with this strict Mandarin policy.
Over the years, as their socioeconomic position has improved, Holo speakers have increasingly pressed for more widespread usage of Holo. In order to justify their position, these Holo speakers have taken to calling themselves and their language "Taiwanese", which is misleading for several reasons. First, Holo has no official status; it is neither the language of provincial government nor the language of the ROC government. Second, Holo is not the most widely spoken language in Taiwan. Third, Holo is not an autochthonous language of Taiwan. Mandarin, the official government language, is also Taiwan's most widely spoken language, known by ninety-four percent of the population. As for Taiwan's extant autochthonous languages, they are all Austronesian. The only justification for calling Holo "Taiwanese" is the fact that it is the mother tongue for seventy percent of the population; which explains the emotions, but which hardly justifies the epithet. In multilingual Taiwan, there are several Taiwanese languages, and there seems no particularly good reason for singling out one of them in this fashion.
It is sometimes forgotten that Holo is the same language as the Fukienese variety spoken in Amoy, which is attested by the unproblematic use of the Amoy Bible by Holo speakers in Taiwan. To be sure, as is the case with many languages which are as widely spoken as Fukienese, there is some regional dialectal variation, and there is Holo dialectal variation even within Taiwan (Harrell 1982). Thus, it would not be inappropriate, when distinguishing such dialects of Fukienese, to talk about "the Taiwanese Fukienese dialect", or even about "the Kaohsiung dialect of Fukienese". However, given the multilingual nature of Taiwan, to say simply "Taiwanese" is confoundingly imprecise.
Hoklo activists have even begun to call their language "the indigenous language of Taiwan". Of course, words such as "native", "indigenous", and "autochthonous" are open to interpretation, but there are generally accepted meanings for these terms. Typically, we speak of a native language community when there is a significant community which speaks that language as a first language. It is in this sense that we say that French is natively spoken in Paris; or that English is a native language of Philadelphia. Thus, it is certainly accurate to say that Holo is natively spoken in Taiwan. On the other hand, because it is not among the languages spoken by the earliest known inhabitants, Holo is clearly not an autochthonous language of Taiwan. The determination of whether Holo is an indigenous language of Taiwan is more difficult. Certainly, in the common sense of indigenous which is synonymous with autochthonous, Holo is not one of Taiwan's indigenous languages. On the other hand, there is a sense in which a language may be indigenous, or native, to an area; and in this sense it is not unreasonable to say that Holo is indigenous to Taiwan, given its long history of usage there. The Mandarin word which "indigenous" is intended to translate has the sense of "preceding", and it is certainly true that Holo was widely spoken in Taiwan long before Mandarin; however, the Formosan languages were spoken in the area for centuries before the arrival of Holo speakers.
Recently, the ROC has tacitly admitted to Formosan demands that their status as indigenous peoples be recognized. The Sinitic languages Holo and Hakka are now officially known as indigenous 先住民語 in the sense of preceding or prior, and the autochthonous Austronesian languages of Taiwan are known as indigenous 原住民語 in the sense of original or first. However, there has been no official effort to rectify the misrepresentation involved in the use of "Taiwanese" to refer exclusively to Holo; indeed government agencies casually promote this usage, just as they continue to refrain from correcting English-language reports that President Lee Teng-hui speaks "Taiwanese", an "indigenous" language of Taiwan. Presumably this is because the ROC has an interest in characterizing Taiwan as a land of two, exclusively Sinitic, languages. Worldwide, groups which have suffered from linguistic discrimination increasingly seek recognition of their language rights at international fora such as the United Nations, and the choice of a label such as "indigenous" can carry great weight in the context of international law. Because speakers of languages recognized as indigenous are often entitled to special legal protections, a claim to indigenous status may be motivated by the desire for such entitlements. In preparing their reports, foreign correspondents and editors must become familiar with the actual language situation in order to avoid abetting any misrepresentation.
It is worth noting that the dominance of Holo has been aided by the assimilation of the Hakka minority. Historically, the Austronesian minority has benefitted from the division of the Sinitic majority, because the speakers of Formosan languages could sometimes benefit from the legal protections afforded the Hakka minority. Nevertheless, during the period of Chinese colonization, which was led by Holo speakers, the Hakka speakers also suffered from linguistic discrimination. Gradually, many Hakka were co-opted to the extent that, not only did they begin speaking Holo, but they also recreated their ethnic history. According to Hsu, "there are 'Hakka' in the Chang-hua Plain who think that they were always as 'Hokkien' as they now appear to be". The number of Hakka who have thus redefined their ethnic identity as Hoklo is great; the number of Hakka who have become native speakers of Holo, regardless of their perceived ethnic identity, is even greater. Since 1949, the proportion of the Sinitic population which is native Hakka speaking has continued to decrease further. Hakka speakers who have no particular wish to pass as Hoklo will speak Mandarin. Nowadays, there are Hakka restaurants in Taipei, for example, run by proud Hakka ethnics who speak Mandarin with only an occasional word of Hakka. Increasing tolerance for minorities and improving legal protections may now be changing the pattern, and perhaps slowing the rate, of Hakka language loss and cultural assimilation; nonetheless, many Hakka-speaking communities have become Holo-speaking communities over the years, thus increasing the proportion of Holo speakers, and thereby contributing to solidarity among the Sinitic Taiwanese.
4. A false Sinitic dualism
As Holo speakers have grown more powerful, and as the number of mainland-born Taiwanese has decreased, a bipolar struggle has emerged between Mandarin speakers and Holo speakers which is effectively marginalizing the Formosans and their languages. Holo-speaking activists claim to speak for the Taiwanese, in contradistinction to the "extra-provincials" 外省 (i.e., those Chinese born outside of the province who immigrated with Chiang Kai-shek). On the other hand, the ROC and its supporters speak Mandarin. Politically, the major opposition party (the DPP 民生廴歩黨) has increasingly promoted the use of Holo, even though this practice is effectively excluding the many party members who do not speak Holo. Among those excluded are the autochthonous Formosans, relatively few of whom speak Holo, but who have been strong supporters of the opposition party. There have been pleas by Holo-speaking activists that "their indigenous language rights be respected", and that the teaching of "Taiwanese" in school and the broadcasting of "Taiwanese language programming" be permitted. Interviews of well educated Sinitic Taiwanese indicate that much of the Taipei population may be unaware that there are in Taiwan sizable populations which still speak, for example, Amis, Tayal, Tsou, and Paiwan. English-speaking Sinitic Taiwanese are typically nonplussed when I ask to which Austronesian language they are referring when they say "Taiwanese"; for them "Taiwanese" means Holo. The rhetoric of Sinitic dualism is so pervasive that the average Sinitic Taiwanese thinks in terms of "China versus Taiwan" and "Mandarin versus Taiwanese". Foreign journalists, and the readers whom they influence, are too readily adopting this Sinitic characterization which ignores the Formosans and the truly indigenous languages of Taiwan.
The bipolar Sinitic view is simply incorrect, for it suggests that language use is aligned with ethnic and cultural groups. Indeed, this is true of the Formosan languages and of Hakka to some extent, for knowledge of one of these languages is a fairly reliable indicator of membership in the group (e.g., a speaker of Tsou is almost certainly an ethnic Tsou by birth or possibly by marriage or adoption). The converse, that a member of one of these groups can normally speak the emblematic language, is not true, due to language loss and assimilation to Mandarin and to Holo. Taiwanese speak Mandarin for various reasons. Many native Mandarin speakers are Taiwan born; and, although some of them do indeed identify with the mainland, many of them do not. Younger Formosans commonly speak Mandarin. In fact, the use of Mandarin has been so widespread for so long that one can no longer assume that even a monolingual Mandarin speaker is an extra-provincial. Nowadays, the use of Mandarin signifies little more than an educated, probably urban, environment. Holo monolingualism is a better indicator of Hoklo ethnicity, but again with a large margin for error due to the historical cultural assimilation of the Hakka.
5. Additional pitfalls
Ethnographers commonly advocate the policy of referring to a community and their language by the names which that community itself uses. In the case of particular Formosan language names, although alternate spellings are encountered which reflect Chinese language interference (e.g., Ami-su) or regional variation in pronunciation, the policy of autonym usage is routinely observed in English language writing. However, in the case of the Sinitic languages, because of the long tradition of using "Chinese" as a general rubric for any Sinitic language whatsoever, the application of the autonym policy is difficult.
An English-speaking Taiwanese may label his or her own Sinitic speech as "Chinese", but, in light of the fact that there are three widely spoken Sinitic languages in Taiwan, the ambiguity of "Chinese" outweighs its utility as a general descriptor. In a foreign journal which talks about a "Chinese-speaking" resident, the knowledgeable reader is left to guess which particular Chinese language the resident speaks; in the worse case of a reader who is unaware that there are three common Chinese languages in Taiwan, this usage reinforces a mistaken belief that all Sinitic Taiwanese speak the same language. Thus, as with specialist ethnographies, popular writing can better serve its readers by maintaining distinct English language names for the three Sinitic languages of Taiwan. In the case of Hakka, the English name for this language is well established, and it is also accepted by English-speaking members of the Hakka community. The pitfalls to be avoided are associated with reference to the two dominant languages: Holo and Mandarin.
In the case of Mandarin speakers, the English name for their language is well established and generally accepted by those who also speak English. The written language, however, presents a problem. Because the written standard maintained by the ROC differs from that endorsed by the PRC, there is a misguided tendency to call the ROC standard "Taiwanese". Again, especially in view of the use of alternate scripts in Taiwan for the writing of Formosan languages, such nomenclature is imprecise, unless the context makes it clear that ROC, or Taiwanese, Mandarin is being contrasted with PRC, or Mainland, Mandarin. Regarding the resolution of a name for the written language, we note that there are some thorny parallels regarding the English translation of the several names which Mandarin speakers use to refer to their language when speaking Mandarin. In general contexts, we may translate a term such as "P'u-t'ung-hua" 普通語 simply as "Mandarin", although we bear in mind that the use of different names to refer to the same language may have important cultural and political antecedents.
With the increasing democratization of Taiwan, the manner of reference to Holo may become an even thornier problem than it is at present. As the desires of the Holo-speaking majority come to be expressed through the elected assemblies, there is increasingly a chance that legislation will be enacted which will define "Taiwanese" as Holo, and which will give "Taiwanese" special status as "the indigenous language of Taiwan". Such proposals have already been made. Further, there is even a chance that a renamed Holo could be given official status, either as "a national language" or as "the provincial language".
Regardless of how Taiwanese politics may ultimately resolve its language issues, it is the responsibility of scholars and journalists to write descriptions without undo bias. Whatever language situation may be the object of description, unbiased writing is rarely easy; it may require us to question even relatively common usage. As educators, we must cultivate patterns of English usage which are impartial to political positions and social status, and which are nonetheless comprehensive in their expression of all relevant linguistic and cultural distinctions.
It is impossible here to express my gratitude properly to the many people who have patiently helped me to understand the language situation in Taiwan; however, any list I might make must begin with the name of Masegseg Jinggror, who has tirelessly introduced me to Formosan and Sinitic speech communities throughout the province. I thank also Peter Skaer and Kenjirô Matsuda for their comments on an earlier draft of this report. Errors of fact or interpretation may be attributed to me.
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