Hakka Now an Official Language of Taiwan.

Of course I support recognition of minority languages in general, but this Taipei Times report by Cheng Hung-ta and Jake Chung makes my heart especially warm, because I lived in Taiwan forty years ago and got to know something about its linguistic situation personally:

Hakka has been made an official national language after the Legislative Yuan yesterday passed amendments to the Hakka Basic Act (客家基本法).

According to the amendment, townships in which Hakka people make up at least one-third of the population are to be designated key developmental areas for Hakka culture by the Hakka Affairs Council, and Hakka is to be used as one of the main languages for communication.

Such areas should strive to bolster the teaching and speaking of Hakka, as well as the preservation of Hakka culture and related industries, the amendment said.

Townships in which Hakka people comprise half the population should make the language their primary method of communication, with relevant regulations to be determined by the council, the amendment said.

Via the Log, where Victor Mair points out that Hakka joins Taiwanese/Hokkien/Hoklo and Mandarin as an official language, and commenter Guy_H adds that “the number of Hakka speakers in Taiwan is around 6-7% of the population.” We discussed the history of the Hakka and the etymology of the name in 2015.

Comments

  1. “Such areas should strive to bolster the teaching and speaking of Hakka, as well as the preservation of Hakka culture and related industries, the amendment said.”

    All well and logical.

    “Townships in which Hakka people comprise half the population should make the language their primary method of communication, with relevant regulations to be determined by the council, the amendment said.”

    How exactly is this going to work? Will these communities now be forced to speak Hakka? Will they become linguistic ghettos?

    It occurs to me that governments should well leave alone the practical choice of “primary language” in a local community. Setting aside funds for the teaching and preservation of language and culture is one issue; mandating the use of a local language is another altogether. The rest of Taiwan is highly unlikely to learn Hakka, so it sounds as though these people are essentially being forced into bilingualism, or worse, a community linguistically and thus socially segregated from the rest of Taiwanese society.

    It’s the equivalent of forcing Chinese Americans living in China town to speak Cantonese or Mandarin as their primary language, regardless of what that’ll do to their future prospects in the US. I don’t think any country should encourage that, even when it is perceived to be necessary to “save” a language.

    Ultimately, language is a method for communication, and policies should reflect that objective, not get in the way.

  2. How exactly is this going to work? Will these communities now be forced to speak Hakka?

    I mean, obviously it remains to be seen how exactly it will work, but I got the impression that they meant the official communities (government bodies, etc.) will use Hakka — it would obviously be absurd to try to force everybody living in a community to use one or another language. That kind of absurdity has frequently been practiced, of course, but I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt here.

  3. How exactly is this going to work?

    Based on living in an (officially) tri-lingual country (NZ), I imagine signage and official documentation might be written with Hakka most prominent, other languages appended.

    Will [these communities] become linguistic ghettos?

    All the Hakka speakers I’ve met in Taiwan (and Singapore) also speak Mandarin; and at least understand basic Hokkien. And vice versa. And older Taiwanese also understand Japanese. And most will cope with basic English. Normal polyglotism for Asia, I’d say.

    Why suppose anybody’s being “forced to speak” any particular language? Taiwan has a long and tortured linguistic history. If any forcing went on, it was the KMT imposing Mandarin post-1948. (The impression I get is they were more overbearing than the Japanese occupiers, certainly at first.)

  4. Isn’t Hakka (as well as Taiwanese version of Hokkien) primarily a spoken language lacking practical means of putting it into writing?

    Then its designation as “language of communication” likely means that local councils in townships with Hakka majority should conduct their meetings in Hakka (as they probably do already without instructions from above).

  5. Based on living in an (officially) tri-lingual country (NZ), I imagine signage and official documentation might be written with Hakka most prominent, other languages appended.

    I believe this is not possible with Hakka. The language doesn’t have a written standard or script (there are several romanizations or ingenious attempts to tweak Chinese characters to represent Hakka, but they must be standardized and taught to native speakers first)

  6. The language doesn’t have a written standard or script

    Yes it’s complicated. There is a Hakka bible https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hakka_Bible:_Today's_Taiwan_Hakka_Version

    On the ground (I can speak for Hokkien areas) there’s signage in Chinese characters that might have pinyin romanisation appended; or might have Wade-Giles. Only that’s likely to be for the Hokkien pronunciation. (I know because it’s not in the pinyin-to-English dictionary.) Practical example: in the street I was staying in, the name at one end was spelled different to at the other end was different to where it continued the other side of a main road was different to what it said on my tourist map. (Look at wikipedia for the variations of spelling Fengjia Night Market.)

    As Victor’s many posts on the Log will tell you, people seem to muddle through without being as anal-retentive as we are these days with spelling. Didn’t seem to bother Shakespeare, either.

  7. It’s true that there’s a lot of variation in spelling Shakespeare’s name. It’s also true that spellings other than “Shakespeare” are fairly rare, and are found mostly outside of London, whereas London scribes were pretty consistent in using the later-standard spelling.

  8. I don’t think AntC was talking about spelling Shakespeare’s name so much as the general variation in spelling in his day. (I could, of course, be wrong, but that to me is the important point.)

  9. The same point holds in general: in Shakespeare’s time the orthography is stabilizing, though it’s true we have little knowledge of what interest he may have taken in the question. He was, after all, working mostly with the spoken word.

  10. J.W. Brewer says:

    My impression (based on a grand total of one visit about a year ago) is that romanized street-signs and the like in Taiwan are pretty-much invariably romanizations from Mandarin, albeit with some variation in the romanization system used. (Some places I saw signs that were pretty obviously covered with stickers as a result of a quite recent Tongyong -> Hanyu switch that had not come with a budget sufficient to prepare a new sign from scratch; I do have a photo from a parking lot near the entrance to Taroko gorge where two different signs with different spellings of the same toponym a bit further into the park could be seen in frame simultaneously.)

  11. @JC, I meant spelling in Shakespeare’s manuscripts (thank you Hat).

    in Shakespeare’s time the orthography is stabilizing,

    Well nobody seems to have told Pepys or Evelyn half a century on: their diaries include all sorts of variant spellings, even withiin the same day’s entry. (Typical published versions are standardized.)

  12. @JWB how much did you visit out-of-the-way places? Did you have a local informant?

    Yes there are different romanization systems at different vintages; but I think it’s more complicated than that.

    The Mandarin names are often renderings of Hokkien names (which might be renderings of older names) — or I guess of Hakka names in Hakka areas. Then the Chinese characters might be chosen for their sound value or for some specious similarity between a Hokkien sound and a Mandarin toponym. My informant (who knew the Hokkien) was often bemused by the Mandarin rendering — which was I guess imposed in a hurry post-1948. Some of the romanizations appear to be approximating Hokkien rather than Mandarin.

    You should take a bus ride in Taichung (3rd largest city, not atall touristy) and try to figure out what’s going on: the stops are announced in Mandarin and Hokkien, and sometimes Hakka. They only very vaguely sound alike.

    Compare: British place names with their mixed-up etymology of -thorpe’s and -wich’s and -burgh’s and -cester’s. (York from Viking Jorvik in which ‘vik’ = -wich and Jor derives ultimately from Latin Eboracum: place of elm trees.)

    Note in particular that the whole name ‘Taiwan’, despite being composed of two Mandarin-sounding syllables is entirely confected. So Tai- in other place names such as Taipei, Tainan, Taichung is even more bogus. When the Portuguese arrived, there were no Han residents/no sinitic languages spoken/no apparent name for the whole island. So Ilha Formosa was good enough. There was a native name for a part of the island which the Portuguese rendered as ‘Taoyuan’.

  13. You can see the process in the very place-name JWB quotes:

    The name, Taroko (formally as Truku), means “human being” in the Truku language of the Truku indigenous tribe. [wikipedia]

    Sinitic languages wouldn’t cope with a consonant cluster Tr-, so it gets a vowel interposed. And still wouldn’t have a -r- in that position, so the Mandarin and Hokkien switch to -l-.

    Pe̍h-ōe-jī rendering: Thài-ló͘-koh; Pe̍h-ōe-jī (also known as Church Romanization) is an orthography used to write variants of Southern Min Chinese, particularly Taiwanese Southern Min and Amoy Hokkien — which might go to answer @SFReader’s points.

  14. Well nobody seems to have told Pepys or Evelyn half a century on: their diaries include all sorts of variant spellings

    Four more centuries on, YouTube commenters include all sorts of variant spellings too. But the fact is that Old English has a standard spelling, Middle and early Early Modern English don’t, and all later Modern English does (well, one in each country), however much individuals do or don’t conform to it.

    See Eboracum/Eoforwic/Jorvik/York discussion.

  15. Yes, I mentioned these romanizations, but my impression was that native speakers in general don’t know and don’t use them.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Note in particular that the whole name ‘Taiwan’, despite being composed of two Mandarin-sounding syllables is entirely confected.

    Note further that this is the case even though the characters chosen to spell Táiwǎn happen to produce an unremarkable meaning (in this case “terrace bay”). This doesn’t necessarily happen even in names of two syllables – Běipiào in Liáoníng, doubtless from Manchu or something, is spelled “north(ern) ticket” (and not in fact understood as such, or so I was told).

  17. David Marjanović, do you have any specific reasons for suspecting a non-Han etymology of 北票 Běipiào? It would seem quite plausible given the area’s history, but the Mandarin pronunciation (which would not have changed that much in the last few centuries) doesn’t look very Manchu-like in terms of the vowels. I can’t find much on the history of Běipiào except that it was formerly called 川州 Chuānzhōu, a perfectly ordinary Han name meaning “river prefecture”.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    doesn’t look very Manchu-like in terms of the vowels

    Now that you say it, that’s true. I don’t have any reason other than the meaning, and can’t find what 票 piào meant before it meant “ticket” (and, in compounds according to Google Translate, other kinds of small pieces of paper with important stuff written on it, like “invoice”). …”Northern land grant”? Just guessing.

    Probably I just picked a really bad example.

  19. J.W. Brewer says:

    I suspect that Taroko may be a romaji spelling of a katakana rendition of the indigenous (non-Sinitic) name that was standardized while Taiwan was under Japanese rule. The tr- cluster is a problem for Japanese phonotactics just as much as for Sinitic phonotactics.

    To AntC’s broader point, what is visually distinctive about romanized versions of Taiwanese/Hokkien and also Hakka is that you can tell they aren’t Mandarin w/o actually knowing any of the tongues in question because even a fairly short text will tend to have some syllables that aren’t permissible within Mandarin’s fairly restrictive phonotactics. By the toponyms I saw on signs in Taiwan being romanized “Mandarin” all I really meant (because it’s all I’m personally competent to evaluate) is that they all fit Mandarin’s phonotactic strictures. That certain toponyms may reflect a Mandarinization (possibly one transforming a clear etymology to an opaque or nonsensical-seeming one) of a non-Mandarin original toponym (whether from a non-Mandarin Sinitic tongue or a non-Sinitic tongue) is not inconsistent with my observation.

    Putting up romanized road signs (in POJ or otherwise) that are clearly rendering Taiwanese rather than Mandarin phonotactics might be a cool way to strike back at the historical legacy of the KMT’s heavy-handed enforcement of Mandarin primacy, but I don’t think it’s happened yet.

  20. “Northern land grant”? Just guessing.

    A back-formation from Beipiaosaurus? 😉

  21. @AntC: I’ll grant you that Pepys did not use consistent spelling in his letters, but his diary is almost all in shorthand, making spelling a non-issue, except for proper nouns, which he generally wrote out.

  22. It looks like the original meaning of 票 piào was “sparks of fire” before the meaning expanded to cover “light flight” and “slips of paper or bamboo”, hence the modern meaning of “ticket”. 熛 biāo was later created with the fire radical to convey the original meaning. I don’t know if the older meanings would still have been current when the toponym 北票 Běipiào was coined.

    Of course, toponyms borrowed from other languages could also be calques or hybrids rather than a straight phonetic transcription of the original.

  23. I suspect that Taroko may be a romaji spelling of a katakana rendition of the indigenous (non-Sinitic) name that was standardized while Taiwan was under Japanese rule.

    I agree. And I can’t find a reliable pronunciation of ‘Truku’ (nor IPA) — by which I mean the pronunciations I can find are by “Taiwanese” speakers, with very clearly three syllables. What language’s sound values do we assume for the letters in ‘Truku’? So I’m nervous about coming to any conclusion.

    But the broader point stands: if official signage is to show Hakka or Hokkien (either romanized or borrowing Chinese characters for their sound value, plus some topolect-specific invented characters), it doesn’t matter if gweilau passing through can’t tell them apart from Mandarin: Hakka/Hokkien speakers will have enough of a grasp of all three topolects to figure it out.

  24. jdmartinsen says:

    “Land grants” is supported by the Beipiao entry in a dictionary of geographical etymologies 中国地名语源词典 (quoted here), which cites a Liaoning provincial gazetteer tracing the name Beipiao to four imperial patents 龙票 granted in 1907 for mining coal in the northern part of Chaoyang, hence 北四票 “Northern four patents”, shortened to 北票.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    “Patent”! Perfect.

  26. 龙票 literally stands for “dragon ticket” or “dragon patent,” where 龙 “dragon” stands figuratively for the emperor. The 龙票 were official documents representing historical grants or, more commonly, sales of land by the late Qing government, which from around 1850 or so, began to sell off court and banner estates in large quantities to private owners. I guess 北票 came from this process.

    Liaoning, despite being the seat of the Manchus before their conquest of China, has relatively few obviously Manchu county and city names. On one hand, most of Liaoning was a Ming colony, and so many of its major settlements already had Sinitic names; on the other, it was subject to reorganization and revision after the fall of the Qing. Obvious Manchu place names like Mukden were changed to their corresponding Chinese names – ie, Shenyang. The local etymologies are probably preserved in the single syllable forms of local rivers and mountains, by which many of these counties were named; but the affixes are nearly all Sinitic, indicating they were coined in a Chinese context.

    Heilongjiang, on the other hand, has many Russian and local county names, such as Harbin, Qiqihar, Jiamusi, Yichun, etc.

  27. I’ll go out and say that Harbin is a Mongolian name which means Black Pancake (second syllable is a borrowing from Chinese 饼子Bǐngzi).

    Maybe there was a tavern there which served their pancakes well-done…

  28. The name 瀋陽 (Shěnyáng in today’s Mandarin) was used at least since the Yuan Dynasty and is therefore much older than Mukden, which was given to the city by the Manchus in the 17th century.

    瀋陽王 (Simyang Wang in Korean, meaning “King of Shenyang”) was a title bestowed on a king of Goryeo/Koryŏ by the Yuan emperor in 1307 or 1308 to rule over the sizeable Shenyang Circuit (瀋陽路 Shěnyáng Lù), corresponding to the greater part of today’s Liaoning Province and parts of northwestern Korea, which was inhabited by Jurchens and Koreans. The title, soon simplified to 瀋王 (Sim Wang), remained in the hands of his descendants for the next three quarters of a century, though the first King of Shenyang was the only one who was also King of Goryeo/Koryŏ and who nominally ruled over both territories.

  29. I remember reading somewhere that the Manchu elite were already well Sinicized before the conquest.

  30. They were heavily Mongolized (if not outright of Mongol descent) before they were Sinicized.

  31. The Mongols are supposed to have treated Jurchens (predecessors to the Manchus) as Han Chinese when they were already Sinicized and as Mongols when they were not, leading to Mongolization of the latter.

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