Teachers try to revive dying language

Stan & Sandy Anonby stan-sandy_anonby at sil.org
Fri Jan 16 13:12:02 UTC 2004

Sounds like a real long shot, but the process might still be worthwhile.
Tsou is one of the (extremely rare) languages reported to use ingressive
pulmonic air for some of its phonemes, no?


----- Original Message -----
From: "P. Kerim Friedman" <kerim.list at oxus.net>
To: <lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu>
Sent: Friday, January 16, 2004 12:37 AM
Subject: Teachers try to revive dying language

> TaipeiTimes
> http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2004/01/02/2003086028
> Teachers try to revive dying language
> By Martin Williams
> Friday, Jan 02, 2004,Page 3
> The Tsou Aboriginal village of Loyeh (樂野) sits on a hillside just a few
> hundred meters down from the Han Chinese village of Shihchuo (石桌), a
> stop on the main road that services Alishan, Chiayi County's prime
> tourist destination.
> Loyeh is of no interest to tourists, however. It has no song-and-dance
> shows for the weekend crowds. No gift shops filled with kitsch
> novelties or Aboriginal handicrafts. It is where Aboriginal people
> live, not perform.
> Most people would be hard-pressed to have heard of the community.
> But at the beginning of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rule in Taiwan,
> Loyeh played an intriguing historical role.
> During the February 28 Incident in 1947, the village was a launching
> pad for an assault on KMT forces stationed at Chiayi's airport by an
> Aboriginal unit incensed at the bestial conduct of the new authorities.
> For the Tsou tribesmen, that conflict was resolved relatively
> peacefully. But a few years later, communist agents, attracted by the
> remoteness of Alishan and the headstrong Aborigines who lived there,
> targeted the village as one of several potential bases for future
> military operations against the KMT.
> The KMT's security apparatus got wind of the operation and in 1951
> seized a cache of weapons, arrested a number of important figures from
> around the country and eventually tortured and executed six Aborigines
> in 1954. Four of those killed were from Alishan, and one of these was
> the alleged ringleader, Tang Shou-jen (湯守仁), a native of Loyeh.
> These stories are largely forgotten now, except among a handful of
> academics and those in the community, who lived under tight
> surveillance, constant intimidation and strict application of
> assimilation policies over succeeding decades.
> According to newspaper reports of the time, the headquarters of the
> insurgency, which planned to link up with a communist attack on Taiwan,
> was the local public school, now called Loyeh Elementary.
> "[The teacher's] very encouraging and doesn't get fierce with us. But
> it's hard to learn the Romanized stuff because it's the same as
> English. Sometimes it's pronounced differently."
> An Shih-yuan, student
> It was this same school that the Taipei Times visited during a recent
> inspection tour hosted by the Ministry of Education.
> The ministry was promoting its attempt to stem another form of
> forgetting -- language death -- which particularly threatens to rob the
> relatively small, Tsou ethnolinguistic group, no more than
> 7,000-strong, of its cultural heritage.
> Many factors have contributed to the loss of culture, especially
> language, in Aboriginal communities: Japanese and KMT assimilation
> policies, initial missionary hostility to and destruction of material
> culture and "idolatrous" religious practices and so on.
> The public school, however, was the primary mechanism for this process.
> Children in Aboriginal townships were, like their Han counterparts,
> beaten or humiliated in the classroom if they dared utter native words
> within earshot of teachers.
> But in recent years the government has begun to use the school system
> to reverse the process.
> The school itself is small by national standards, with a main building
> and additional classrooms surrounding the sports track. But the main
> building is a pleasing and unusual dark reddish color, evoking the
> clothing that Tsou men wear during tribal ceremonies. It offers a very
> different sight from the tile-and-concrete fortresses that pass for
> educational architecture elsewhere.
> The school has 95 students from kindergarten to the sixth grade, a tiny
> number compared to schools in urban centers, but Loyeh Elementary is
> still the second-largest school in Alishan Township. Ninety percent of
> its students are Aboriginal, and its 12 teachers include four
> Aborigines. The principal, Wu Chih-ming (武志明), is Aboriginal too.
> In introducing the school, officials were proud to show off the school
> choir, which sang traditional songs, with piano accompaniment, as well
> as the unpretentious 14-room teachers' residence at the rear of the
> school, equipped with a library and connection to the Internet.
> The Tsou-language class is presided over by Cheng I-chung (鄭義重), 49,
> one of two Tsou specialist teachers employed at the school. He is a
> handsome and slightly rugged-looking man, and he is gentle with the
> children. He writes a mixture of Chinese and Romanized Tsou on the
> blackboard, alternating his questions between the class as a whole and
> individual students. Then the students attempt conversation with one
> another.
> Occasionally he picks up a prop with cultural significance -- a sickle
> called a tu'u, or a basket carried on the back called ayungku -- and in
> the best show-and-tell tradition, brandishes it theatrically while
> explaining its use in the Tsou tongue.
> Cheng is one of a new breed of teacher in the public school system. As
> part of the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) new multicultural
> focus in education, native speakers of languages other than Mandarin of
> all ages have been fast-tracked into the classrooms, undergoing a few
> months of pedagogical training and examinations without having to go
> through years of study at university.
> And like his fellow language teacher Wang Hui-en (汪惠恩), 33, a mother of
> three, Cheng is a local. These teachers know the kids, their parents
> and the community intimately. It is a privilege few schools enjoy.
> One of Cheng's students who spoke to the Taipei Times, An Shih-yuan
> (安士元), or "Avai" in the Tsou language, was a pleasant, friendly
> 12-year-old with an uncommon background.
> For several years he lived in the city -- in Taichung -- expressly
> because his father "wanted me to be able to compete with my Han
> [Chinese] classmates there."
> But unfortunate family circumstances compelled him to return to Loyeh.
> And upon his return, the difference between the two classroom
> environments was very noticeable.
> "Up here, they [the classmates] are always yelling at each other," he
> said, half-jokingly.
> And what about learning the Tsou language at school?
> "It's fun, but it's kind of embarrassing," he said, alluding to the
> different levels of ability in the classroom, and the need to learn
> Romanized script for the language.
> And the teacher?
> "He's very encouraging and doesn't get fierce with us," Avai said.
> "But it's hard to learn the Romanized stuff because it's the same as
> English. Sometimes it's pronounced differently," he said.
> Yet Avai was quite fortunate in that he was able to continue speaking
> Tsou at home with his family. Not all children at the school have this
> opportunity, and there are saddening stories from elsewhere of children
> being unable to communicate with their oldest relatives at all because
> there was no common language in which to do so.
> Avai was enthusiastic about the prospect of studying the Tsou language
> in high school. The problem for Avai and his like-minded classmates,
> however, is that, multicultural rhetoric notwithstanding, there is no
> guarantee there will be a syllabus waiting for them.
> The government provides funding for language teaching at all of Alishan
> Township's elementary schools that have Aboriginal pupils, but,
> according to Loyeh Elementary's director of teaching and choirmistress,
> Cheng Pei-chien (鄭佩茜), the inclusion of a Tsou-language course in high
> school is entirely at the discretion of those schools' principals.
> Because of the strongly centralized nature of curriculum content, it
> seems that the Tsou children have little chance of learning about the
> role of their own village, their own school and their own people in the
> modern history of the nation.
> The dispiriting implication was that few of these students would be
> able to build on whatever indigenous cultural base they had acquired in
> their elementary school years.
> Even in the time of a DPP administration, it was clear that teachers at
> the school were reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them -- to openly
> lobby their masters for more resources and admit to room for
> improvement.
> One teacher who spoke privately to the Taipei Times, however, said
> there were several areas that needed more work but which attracted
> little interest from the county authorities.
> One of these was that, for all of the publicity that mother-language
> teaching was attracting -- not least this media throng from faraway
> Taipei -- students were still only being taught one lesson per week, a
> manifestly inadequate amount of time to devote to the subject if the
> system is serious about preserving indigenous languages.
> There are other classes that reinforce language learning -- the school
> choir sings almost exclusively traditional music and there are audio
> tapes to listen to, in addition to extracurricular activities.
> But the top priority remains Mandarin, with English next in line. And,
> ironically, Tsou students had recently topped the county in English
> thanks to the efforts of an Australian man who had married into the
> community.
> That is to say, the children were speaking better English, a language
> precious few will need to use after leaving school, than their
> indigenous tongue.
> The mother-tongue program seemed more consistent with what Chiayi
> County Bureau of Education chief Su Te-hsiang (蘇德祥) described as an
> appreciation of culture rather than its strict inculcation.
> This, the teacher said, was why the community and the entire Tsou
> people had to mobilize, to rally together, to make the most of the
> resources it received.
> The teacher suggested that the contribution of families was as crucial
> to the program as government funding and time allocation and that
> attempts were being made to encourage parents and guardians to
> communicate with the children in the Tsou language at home, which was
> not always an easy task.
> And budget realities take their toll. In an almost plaintive tone,
> bureau chief Su asked a few reporters to do what they could to promote
> Chiayi County generally, because county revenue was quite limited.
> "After you take away the land that is administered by the Yushan
> National Park Headquarters, the Tourism Bureau, the Taiwan Forestry
> Bureau, the port authorities and Taisugar, there isn't much left for us
> to draw revenue from," he said.
> When asked for his impressions of the Tsou-language syllabus, Tsan-Der
> Chou (周燦德), the normally jovial director of the education ministry's
> Department of Technological and Vocational Education, became somewhat
> melancholy.
> "It's OK. There are parts that could be improved," he said, without
> specifying what those parts were.
> The chairman of Loyeh Elementary's Parents and Teachers Committee is
> Tang Chih-chieh (湯智杰), 30, who is also the grandson of Tang Shou-jen,
> the Tsou figurehead executed in 1954.
> Fifty years after being caught in the middle of the Chinese civil war,
> the Tang family had reclaimed an influential role at their school and
> in their community.
> The straight-talking, highly traditionalist Tang is also a local
> liaison officer for Kao Chin Su-mei (高金素梅), the flamboyant, unorthodox
> Aboriginal legislator and actress in films such as The Wedding Banquet.
> All this creates a sense that there has been a recovery from the fear
> and violence of the past, a reclaiming of territorial pride.
> Speaking on school matters, Tang mentioned a recent exchange program
> that Loyeh had forged with a school in Taipei City.
> "Some kids from Choumei Elementary School (洲美國小) came here on an
> exchange recently. They had a great time, and said they really envied
> the kids who go to school here," Tang said.
> Soon, a group of Tsou students will embark upon a return visit to the
> city. Tang agreed that the Tsou children would probably be equally
> envious of their city counterparts. But to him, the mountain home
> provides children with something special.
> "Living up here in the mountains has its good and bad sides. There is a
> real lack of resources, and the educational standards are lower. But
> there is an excellent community spirit, and the environment here is
> unbeatable for the kids," he said.
> Many locals hope that one day -- if the practice of a post-election DPP
> administration can catch up with its rhetoric -- the name of the
> village can revert to its evocative Tsou name, Lalawuya, or "Maple
> Grove." The village is also scheduled to become the new administrative
> center of Alishan Township, replacing the more remote Tapangu Village
> (達邦), which lies on the banks of the Tsengwen River, further down the
> hill.
> With these changes pending, a sense of optimism, rejuvenation and
> pragmatism is washing over the community and in the school, despite
> their disadvantages and the residue of past sorrow, which can surely
> only benefit the children of Loyeh Elementary, whatever the fate of
> their mother tongue.
> Tang Chih-chieh's father, Tang Chin-hsien (湯進賢), a KMT Chiayi County
> councilor and the son of Tang Shou-jen, later joined reporters for a
> leisurely lunch of mountain cuisine. Away from the others, a reporter
> from the Liberty Timesasked Tang privately how he could possibly join
> the organization that killed his father.
> "It's not about me and it's not about the party," he said.
> "It's about doing what you can for the community. It doesn't matter
> what party you join, as long as you get things done," he said.
> Copyright © 1999-2004 The Taipei Times. All rights reserved.

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