The overwhelming majority of the world’s languages have a very small presence on the Internet—just 35 languages make up about 99% of the content on the web. In the interest of embracing the island’s historic linguistic diversity, the government of Taiwan is working on a revitalization project for the nation’s Indigenous languages by developing web content in those languages. The Taiwanese government has launched development of Wikipedia entries in the Indigenous languages, with the most recent developments including articles in Seediq and Atayal.
On April 15, Seediq and Atayal joined Sakizaya—which was added back in 2019—as the only three Taiwanese languages with a presence on Wikipedia. Seediq and Atayal are also the 32nd and 33rd Austronesian languages available on the site. Altogether, the three languages only make up .009% of Wikipedia’s total content but the project to develop content in these languages is still a step forward for revitalization efforts.
According to the Taiwanese news outlet The News Lens International, the move is a part of a government effort to recognize the island’s Indigenous people and help breathe new life into the languages, all of which are endangered or vulnerable. Although Taiwan recognizes numerous national languages, Mandarin remains the predominant language in day-to-day life. The Formosan language group, which includes the island’s Indigenous languages, were given official status in 2017. However, only a small group of Indigenous Taiwanese people actually speak the languages, and most of the speakers are elderly. UNESCO has classified Seediq as “severely endangered” and Atayal as “vulnerable.”
“Most of those who speak Indigenous languages are the elderly,” Lim Siu-Theh, the leader of the government’s project to revitalize the languages, told The News Lens International. “Many young people know only basic vocabulary and sentences.”
Although there are about 400,000 people who belong to Taiwan’s 16 recognized Indigenous groups, just around 35% of these individuals speak their heritage language fluently. In 2005, the Taiwanese government established a standardized writing system for the languages based on the Latin alphabet, which had been used to write some of the island’s languages since Dutch missionaries began translating the Bible into the Siraya, a Formosan language which is no longer spoken in the country. Since 2005, the government has also worked on developing educational programs to improve the status of Indigenous languages.