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Premier's comments over language status draws anger

Premier Yu Shyi-kun said yesterday Mandarin is undeniably the nation’s official language although it is no stipulated so in the constitution, according to a Cabinet spokesman.

Judging from its present status, Mandarin is practically and functionally the official language of Taiwan, the premier was quoted by spokesman Lin Chai-lung as saying during a weekly Cabinet meeting.

The premier made the remarks following a discussion on a recent controversy over the government’s language policy, Lin said.

Pointing out that Taiwan is not among the world’s 112 countries that stipulate official languages in their constitutions, Yu proposed revising the constitution and writing new laws to give one or even several languages official status.

He was quoted as saying the government is open-minded concerning the issue, inviting opinions from all walks of life.

The government’s language policy has come under fire recently as growing emphasis given to the Taiwanese and Hakka tongues in the so-called “localization” movement has come as a threat to Mandarin as a common vehicle of communication.

Rows have been sparked recently over the use of Taiwanese in civil servant exams, and over the Education Ministry’s planned geopolitical re-categorization of the ROC’s history — both of which, observers say, fall in line with the localization movement’s attempt to break Taiwan loose from China.

The premier’s remarks were a guarantee of Mandarin’s status, but his suggestion of more than one official language also served a message of support for the localization trend.

Education Minister Huang Jung-tsun told the Cabinet meeting that if the constitution was to be revised, Mandarin and others should all be considered potential official languages, according to Lin.

Yeh Chu-lan, head of the Council for Hakka Affairs, said the government considers all languages in Taiwan as official languages, upholding the spirit of cultural diversity, reported the Cabinet spokesman.

The Hakka people, forming one of the largest groups of ethnic Chinese in Taiwan, have been angered by the use of the Taiwanese-language in national exams.

Calling a press conference to protest what they called “unfair” national exams, several Hakka groups use of a particular dialect in the tests ignored cultural diversity and the rights of other ethnic groups than Taiwanese.

They said localization should come in the form of respect for all different cultures in Taiwan, and they will not allow a small bunch of people to abuse the national apparatus for ideological purposes.

The Kuomintang’s (KMT) Central Standing Committee (CSC) also saw many of its members condemning the government’s language and cultural policy.

“The DPP administration should be condemned for trying to confuse the national consciousness,” said KMT Chairman Lien Chan in reference to the exam row and the Education Ministry’s planned changes to the historical views in senior high school history textbooks.

The ministry has proposed that the ROC’s history be re-categorized as part of world history, and national history be centered on Taiwan.

Critics who have studied the proposal have pointed out that the birth of the republic is only briefly mentioned in the new texts.

Lien said he supports giving more emphasis to Taiwan history, but the island is inseparably linked to the ROC.

No narrow-minded geopolitical ideologies should be allowed to distort the country’s history, he stressed.

Other CSC members, Lu Hsiu-yen and Hung Hsiu-chu, likened the government move to Japan’s revising its history textbooks to erase its crimes during World War II.

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou pointed out “Taiwanese” is a misnomer.

The “Taiwanese” as it is commonly referred to should be actually called the “Minnan” dialect, he said.

He said the Hakka people in Taiwan also consider their own dialect as “Taiwanese.”

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