Taiwan’s government has approved a national language-development bill to protect linguistic diversity, which requires national language courses throughout preschool, elementary, and high school education.
At the moment, mother-tongue education is only mandatory in elementary schools, while it is an elective course for high school students.
The bill also requires elementary and high school students to learn at least one national language as part of their compulsory education. Under the bill, local governments are authorized to designate a national language as a local official language to increase its usage and to allocate funds to hire language instructors and purchase learning materials.
Many believe in order to promote national languages, a language-proficiency certification system should be introduced and integrated into the civil service reward mechanism to motivate workers to learn national languages to improve government services.
The bill recognizes as national languages local languages used in Taiwan and its outlying islands, such as Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), Hakka, and other aboriginal languages, as well as Taiwanese sign language.
It is the latest legal effort to preserve and develop Taiwanese and aboriginal languages following the passage of the Aboriginal Language Development Act (原住民族語言發展法) in May last year and the designation of Hakka as a national language last month.
The bill requires special efforts to be made to preserve languages that are endangered and that the revival, transmission, and development of those languages should be prioritized.
A national language research mechanism would be established to develop and standardize writing systems to document and promote languages.
Under the bill, the government would establish a national language database and periodically publish a national language development report.
The Ministry of Culture said the bill was drafted to preserve languages whose development has been hindered due to historical reasons, namely the exclusive language policies of the Japanese colonial era and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) one-party rule.
“The passage of the bill would provide an adequate legal foundation for [the establishment of a Hoklo-language television service]. The government should ensure language equality and establish a Hoklo television station, as there are already Taiwan Indigenous TV and Hakka TV stations,” minister of culture Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) said.
The ministry has a budget for the Public Television Service Foundation to make Hoklo-language programs this year, Cheng added.
Language and culture advocates have called for the establishment of a Hoklo-language television station to boost the visibility of the language, which, although a mother tongue of many Taiwanese, might have lost its relevance due to the lasting consequence of the language policies of the former regimes.
“Language is a carrier of culture and is essential to cultural development. From the point of view of language preservation and development, the bill is an important declaration of the government’s efforts to promote national languages,” the ministry said.