Taiwanese: Flemish reflections on (some) academics

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Aug 6 13:52:12 UTC 2007


Flemish reflections on Taiwanese language education
 8/05/2007 Reflections on (some)

A number of ambitious academics on this island know to combine personal
interest with political loyalty. They abuse their scholarly reputation and
pretend to be working on a solution for education in Taiwan. Then, if
educational solutions are not forthcoming or productive, we tend to blame
'the government' while the ambitious academics retreat in their offices and
classrooms. Later, they reassure other ambitious academics at, for instance,
local conferences, only to re-emerge with "fresh proposals" for Taiwan's
ineffective language education.

Still I do believe the government to be responsible for Taiwan's weak and
messy language policy, since uninformed administrators in Taipei rely on the
above-mentioned academics to peel their hot potatoes. Other academic voices,
arguing that a good language policy requires a priori a thorough analysis as
well as a strong will for change, are largely ignored - except in long
scholarly journal articles without significant audience. As an academic, one
has to be extremely bold or very foolish - or probably both – to propose a
complete overhaul of Taiwan's language education. I guess I am one of those

A few years ago, a colleague and I attended an 'international' conference on
the Romanization of Taiwanese in southern Taiwan. After we presented our
research findings on the use of Taiwanese among students, an academic from
Taipei said he "could not believe" that students in Taipei spoke as little
Taiwanese as our survey indicated. He had never undertaken a similar survey,
but he was "quite sure" the language situation was not as we "claimed" it to
be, he smilingly reassured us. The academic in question is a prominent
member of a National University and an advisor to the Ministry of Education.
No doubt, our survey finding must have been that much off the mark that no
further similar research is necessary.

Taiwan's language situation is not exceptional; neither are its woes
concerning language education. But quite unique, I believe, are some of the
half-hearted and badly researched language policies. As Scott Sommers once
rightly pointed out in his blog:

" The DPP may have been willing to go to jail for their language, but only a
few of them seem to have the will to face all the trouble making it
(Taiwanese) a truly national language. "

I am not suggesting that a future change in government would offer a
solution. Should a nationalist government come into power again, they will
bark upon the same tree, possibly with one difference: they will consider
even less to adopt a "pro-Taiwanese" language legislation. For anyone who
disagrees, I can respect that, although language policies of previous
nationalist governments in Europe indicate otherwise. And Taiwan is,
linguistically and educationally speaking, no different.

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