MANDARIN, HOKKIEN (TAIWANESE), AND HAKKA LANGUAGES

The government is making a strong effort to preserve Taiwan’s endangered languages so as to maintain a multicultural society.

Taiwan has long been a place of linguistic diversity. Besides the Chinese languages of Mandarin, Hokkien (Taiwanese), and Hakka, the various indigenous tribes have each had their own version of an Austronesian language, and many senior citizens are still fluent in Japanese due to Japan’s previous colonial rule over the island.

Today many of Taiwan’s languages are in decline despite government revitalization campaigns begun in the 1990s.

Over the past few years, the authorities have redoubled efforts, including programs that are part of the public education system, to prevent the disappearance of endangered languages.

Although evidence of a human presence in Taiwan dates back 20,000 to 30,000 years, the ancestors of the present-day aboriginal groups are believed to have come to the island from the Asian mainland starting about 5,000 years ago. The first Chinese-speaking settlers were mainly from Guangdong and Fujian, the provinces closest to Taiwan, through waves of immigration beginning in the 17th century. Neither the Dutch nor the Spanish, who both sought to colonize Taiwan in the 1600s, left any lasting linguistic impression.

Over the next several centuries, immigrants from China continued to pour in, establishing Hokkien, the southern Fukien dialect (Minnan yu), as the main language in Taiwan.

After the Qing Dynasty’s defeat in the 1895 Sino-Japanese War led to Taiwan’s cessation to Japan, strict language policies were imposed on the colony.

The controls were a source of resentment and occasional pushback. For example, troupes putting on local forms of entertainment such as puppet shows would often begin the performance in Japanese for the benefit of the local authorities, and then slip into Taiwanese once the Japanese censors had left.

The end of World War II in 1945 brought the departure of the Japanese presence and Taiwan’s return to the Republic of China. After losing a civil war to the Communists in 1949, the ROC government under Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) retreated from the mainland to Taiwan.