Taiwan: a country with a dying language but growing popularity

Wow! Your child understands and speaks Taiwanese? That’s amazing!

Whenever I am in a taxi in Taiwan and speak to my parents in broken Taiwanese, the taxi drivers always react to my little understanding of the language with surprise and excitement since they don’t see a lot of younger children speaking the language anymore. At first, this reaction puzzled me as I was actually embarrassed that I, as a child with Taiwanese descent, could only speak a few phrases of Taiwanese. Later on, I learned that the happiness those taxi drivers exuded was because of Taiwanese being classified as a “dying language.”

Taiwanese (Hokkien) is a native language spoken in the country of Taiwan, or “the Heart of Asia.” This language is a branch of Hokkien, a Southern Min Chinese dialect group. Though Taiwanese is categorized as a separate language from Mandarin, Taiwanese speakers use Han characters (the same characters used in Mandarin), with only a few special characters unique to Taiwanese.

Since most Taiwanese people speak Mandarin, Taiwanese has become less prominently used, so to many Taiwanese Americans, understanding and speaking Taiwanese has been a constant struggle even when both their parents were born in Taiwan and grew up speaking its language.

In 1949, when the Kuomintang (KMT) fled to Taiwan and made Mandarin the official language and the use of Taiwanese was banned, many were afraid of how that would impact Taiwanese. Yin C. Chuang, an associate professor at National Taiwan Normal University “worried that the Taiwanese language would be gone in the future.” However, after the late 1980s, limits on the language was lifted and now more people are trying to introduce the language to not only Taiwanese adolescents, but also foreigners who are intrigued with the Taiwanese culture.

Slowly, the country is attracting more and more tourists from all over the world because of its ideology of preserving traditions. These traditions directly contribute to the growing popularity of Taiwan as a tourist destination, to the point that tourism now plays a significant role in the nation’s economy.

*According to the Word Travel & Tourism Council’s 2017 study, the “direct contribution of Travel and Tourism to GDP was…2.0% of total GDP in 2016 and is forecast to rise by 3.3% in 2017, and to rise by 2.0%… from 2017-2027.” *

Hopefully, as the nation’s popularity in the tourist industry grows, the spread of Taiwanese culture can shed light on Taiwan’s plight and discontinue the idea of Taiwanese being a dying language.

1 thought on “Taiwan: a country with a dying language but growing popularity

  1. Stephanie Kiang – Stephanie is a linguistics student at Pasadena City College. She also teaches English as a Foreign Language online. In her free time, she enjoys reading books, doodling wugs (the linguistics mascot), and skateboarding.
    Stephanie Kiang says:

    Thank you for writing this! I really enjoyed reading this article!

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