Taiwan and use of Taiwanese (Hoklo)

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Apr 25 13:21:06 UTC 2007

Letters: The DPP's language strategy

Tuesday, Apr 24, 2007, Page 8

In reply to a letter to the editor, (Letters, April 20, page 8) Paul Huang
asked why the DPP would adopt the idiotic policy of using Hoklo (commonly
known as Taiwanese) in its presidential primary debates.  It is incumbent
upon me to provide him with some answers.  DPP politicians use the Hoklo
language because the majority of their core and potential supporters speak
it. It is the language that is closer to their heart.

During the 2000 and 2004 elections, Mainlander Mandarin and Hakka speakers
in the northern part of the country gave 75 percent to 85 percent votes to
the opposition, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First
Party (PFP). The majority of non-Hoklo speakers ditched the DPP for the
opposition. The ethnic divide, as exemplified by language, is clear and
transcends voting patterns. The DPP even began filtering out pan-blue camp
supporters in order to accurately judge the actual support it can expect.
The principle to follow, therefore, is to use the dominant language in
order to win votes. Using the right language at the right time to get the
right message across to the right people is equally important. The Hoklo
language has long been used as an instrument to create a strong emotional
and social bond among supporters. It is no wonder, therefore, that even
opposition leaders like PFP Chairman James Soong (???) and former KMT
chairman Lien Chan (??) regularly speak Hoklo at major functions.

Hoklo speakers are not only Hoklo, but Aborigine, Hakka and Mainlanders as
well. Through the bond created by language, many people come to share a
similar ideology and political and social-cultural identification, all of
which are usually the ideas espoused by the DPP, such as opposition to
unification with China, support for democracy and localization. As the
saying goes: "The way to win a husband's heart is through his favorite
food." In politics, the road to win voter support is to speak their mother
tongue. This is the tool of social allegiance and emotional intelligence.

After 50 years of suppression by authoritarian rule and aggressive
policies of Mandarinization and Sinicization in Taiwan, Japanese is almost
extinct today. Ant yet, the Hoklo language has successfully withstood
repression and discrimination, largely because, unlike Japanese, it is the
mother tongue of the majority. After martial law was lifted, the Hoklo
language reached unprecedented levels of popularity, even among the young
and non-native speakers of Hoklo. Over the past 400 years, the Hoklo
language has been passed on by as many as 20 generations, despite
colonization and suppression by the Dutch, Koxinga, the Manchus, Japanese
and Mainlander Chinese. The willpower of Taiwanese to protect and preserve
their mother tongue and sociocultural unity is a truly inspiring story.

As many as 85 percent of Taiwanese speak Mandarin, but from an electoral
perspective this statistic can be misleading. Removing people below the
age of 20 (27 percent of the population, of whom 100 percent are fluent in
Mandarin but cannot vote) brings the number of eligible voters to 73
percent of the population. A breakdown of eligible voters is as follows:
aged 20 to 49 (42 percent);  50 to 64 (31 percent). The majority of
individuals in the 50 to 64 age group are non-Mandarin speakers, with the
exception of some mainlanders.

The more Mandarin speaking 20 to 49 age group, for its part, constitutes
approximately 60 percent of total eligible voters. A DPP policy of using
Mandarin would risk alienating about 40 percent of eligible voters in the
50 to 64 age group. As individuals in this category are predominantly
heads of families, their views and opinions are widely respected by the
younger generations and as a result they are well-positioned to influence
family members on political issues -- and which party to vote for.

Michael Lin, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia



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