Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

It used to really bother me when I'd think about how Mandarin Chinese came to be the official language in Taiwan... ok, so it still bothers me.

Growing up, I'd heard about how people were punished for and restricted from speaking Hoklo, Hakka and Aborigine languages. The Taiwanese were shamed into believing that these languages were inferior to Mandarin Chinese. After being defeated by the Chinese Communists, the Kuo Ming Tang fled from China to Taiwan in the late 1940's and instated Mandarin Chinese as the official language in Taiwan.

Ironically, Mandarin Chinese was a foreign language imposed on the Taiwanese, just as Japanese- which was imposed during Taiwan's Japanese occupation period. But now Mandarin Chinese has become the common "working" language for people in Taiwan. Years of education in Mandarin Chinese has taken its toll on generations of Taiwanese. There are concerns that Hoklo, Hakka and Aborigine languages are fading and in need of preservation.

This, I felt was poignantly demonstrated in scenes of the film March of Happiness; scenes which depicted interpreters speaking for Kuo Ming Tang soldiers to local Taiwanese.

Then I moved to Taiwan and soon realized that the Mandarin Chinese spoken in Taiwan was not quite so standard- not like what I'd briefly encountered in Chinese 101 class in university. It has become somewhat localized and b#*tardized by Taiwanese who speak it with a Taiwanese accent, drop certain sounds that require the rolling back of the tongue, and skip the habit of frequently adding "ER" to the endings of words, as they do in Beijing. And of course there are Mandarin Chinese colloquial terms which have been uniquely created and used in Taiwan. Mandarin Chinese spoken in Taiwan has come to be called "Taiwan guo yu" (which roughly translates as Taiwanesized national language, the national language of course being Mandarin Chinese).

But I still prefer speaking Hoklo with those closest to me and cringe when my mother speaks to me in perfect Mandarin Chinese.

Recently, my Mandarin Chinese teacher commented on my progress. She noted that in looking over my homework assignments, that my sentence patterns seemed kind of "Taiwanese." I'd sometimes include certain extra words in my sentences that would be used in Hoklo Taiwanese, but not likewise used in Mandarin Chinese. Funny, I didn't even realize that I was doing that! Personally, I think it says a lot about how far my Hoklo Taiwanese has come.

In general, I try not to think or write in English first and then translate into Chinese- something I strongly advise my students against doing (in reverse). When they first write or think in Chinese and then translate word for word into English - disaster ensues. So practicing what I preach, I try to write directly in Chinese- as I think something should be written or said.

Guess I'm just "doomed" to speak Taiwan guo yu.


  • At 11/13/2005 9:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Interesting post about Mandarin in Taiwan. Just one thing, I believe that Mandarin was instated as the national language of Taiwan when the KMT "took over" Taiwan at the end of WWII, several years before they fled to Taiwan after the Communists took over China.

  • At 11/14/2005 5:06 AM, Anonymous Babuza said…

    The KMT government NEVER declared any language to be official language since "ROC" was founded.
    It's NOT written in any official documents.
    They just do it.
    In terms of democrtaic concepts, it's unconstitutional nowadays to declard that
    Mandarin Chinese is the only officlial language in "ROC".

  • At 11/15/2005 3:49 AM, Anonymous mark said…

    The KMT government NEVER declared any language to be official language since "ROC" was founded.
    It's NOT written in any official documents.

    No the KMT did definitely make Mandarin the official languange after the founding of the Republic.

  • At 11/17/2005 3:32 AM, Anonymous babuza said…

    Can you show me which document documenting your comment?

  • At 11/17/2005 11:02 AM, Blogger Feli said…

    Babuza & Mark,

    Thanks for the points of clarification in response to Anonymous' comments. I purposely wrote vaguely about the date that the KMT "instated" Mandarin Chinese as the official language in Taiwan (more accurately of the ROC) because I wasn't sure about 1)the date, 2) if Mandarin Chinese was ever declared an official language of the ROC in Taiwan- or China for that matter. It's probably a little known fact that this was never written in any official documents.

  • At 11/18/2005 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm not sure if Mandarin was ever officially instated as the national language of ROC (before or after "taking over" Taiwan), but Mandarin was definitely taught in schools shortly after the Japanese withdrew from Taiwan after being defeated in WWII. This would be several years before 1949.

  • At 11/21/2005 8:21 PM, Blogger Feli said…

    Yes, well this brings up another interesting issue.

    Shortly after the Japanese withdrew from Taiwan, there were some Taiwanese who voluntarily began learning Mandarin Chinese for various reasons- perhaps because they wanted to learn more about the teachings of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, or perhaps they anticipated the arrival of the Chinese in Taiwan. But the main point is that Mandarin Chinese had to be learned and it was later imposed as the national language, so it was not necessarily the native language of most people who lived in Taiwan.

  • At 11/29/2005 5:26 PM, Anonymous mark said…

    The Taiwanese learning Mandarin in 1945 is beautifully and amusingly evoked in Hou Hsiao-hsien's City of Sadness.

    People learned Mandarin as part of official KMT de-Japanization and Sinicization policy after Retrocession on October 251945. It operated through state institutions, so anyone dealing with the government needed Mandarin at some level.

  • At 12/01/2005 5:53 AM, Anonymous Babuza said…

    Tha complete history of language policy can be easily obtained at: http://www.google.com.tw/
    "?????????" by ???????,????.

  • At 12/01/2005 6:03 AM, Anonymous Babuza said…

    It's "??4??????????" from the book:

    ????? / ??????????? / ISBN?957-801-400-7 / ?????2003.05
    You can clearly see that no formal law, defined as those passed by Legislative Yuan and signed by the President, was promulgated to formally declare any official language. This is why I called it unconstitutional.


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