Talking Taiwanese

Talking Taiwanese is the name of an interesting blog I came across today. It’s written by a linguist originally from Belgium who currently teaches English in a university in southern Taiwan, and discusses the Taiwanese language and language education in Taiwan.

The most recent post discusses the current state of the Taiwanese language and suggests that the majority of people in Taiwan are likely to shift to Mandarin within a couple of generations. Apparently many young Taiwanese already prefer Mandarin, and though most speak Taiwanese, few speak it as much or as well as their parents or grandparents. Quite a few Taiwanese-speaking parents are choosing to raise their children as Mandarin speakers as they perceive that Taiwanese is not a useful language to know. Moreover, almost all education in Taiwan is conducted through the medium of Mandarin.

In my own experience, some of my Taiwanese friends spoke Taiwanese at every opportunity, while others only spoke it when absolutely necessary. When I asked the latter group to speak Taiwanese to me so that I could practise it, they often claimed that their Taiwanese wasn’t very fluent and that I should ask people who speak Taiwanese as their first language.

6 thoughts on “Talking Taiwanese

  1. I find it somewhat surprising that Taiwan are trying to get people to use tongyong rather than hanyu pinyin, yet are happy with Mandarin rather than promoting Taiwanese.

  2. It’s interesting to read this as China heads for its industrial revolution, while here, with our own industrial revolution far behind us, Welsh, Irish & Scottish Gaelic, and Scots are enjoying something of a revival. Will Taiwanese enjoy a similar revival sometime next century?

  3. Tha sin duilich. Bha an aon-rud againn leis a Ghaidhlig.

    We had the same thing with Gaelic – native Gaelic speaking parents who consciously decided to only speak English to their children. These parents had, of course, been through an education system where Gaelic was belittled at every opportunity, where they were told it was the language of the peasants and the uneducated… Thankfully not everyone bought into this and the language hasn’t completely died out. That said, Gaelic is still in a very fragile state.

  4. Tongyong pinyin is another attempt by the Taiwanese government to replace Hanyu pinyin with some alternative version for nationalistic reasons. They’ve already tried several times. They used Wade-Giles, the old sinologist’s system for decades, then tried several other systems, none of which worked very well and just confused the foreigners in Taiwan. Taipei city has used Hanyu pinyin for several years on all signage, but anything outside the city or belonging to the central goverment may use anything up to five systems. I’ll be the first to point out Hanyu pinyin’s many flaws, but it is now established as the international standard – changing that is not going to be easy.

    As for Taiwanese, I also found most of friends claimed not to speak it well, but they mostly lived in Taipei. The few who lived outside the city would speak it with their mostly DPP supporting families. A lot of Taiwanese-Americans also use it – I knew several who were in Taipei to learn Mandarin as they’d only spoken ban-lam-gu and English at home in the States. I knew maybe five foreigners at the NTNU Mandarin Centre who took Taiwanese classes – I learnt a few basic phrases but could never be bothered trying to learn the tone system – I find Mandarin hard enough

  5. Nikki, no offense but the situation in Taiwan, like most situations around the world, isn’t as black and white as one may assume. 🙂 It’s extremely difficult to summarize the situation but essentially there are two camps in Taiwan.

    As for speaking Taiwanese, you’ll find a lot more people who speak Taiwanese as their primary language in southern and rural Taiwan.

    Having been born and lived in Taiwan for many years, I must say that Taiwanese in general is used in less formal environments. Many people tend to switch to Taiwanese when they are joking around or just chatting.

  6. I worked in Taiwan for a year and was told that Taiwanese is closest in form and function to ancient Chinese. I was also told that,for this reason lecturers in Chinese literature use Taiwanese rather than Mandarin when looking at older poetry.

Comments are closed.