Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Transient Languages and Cultures

I would like to share with you a page from a very interesting blog which touches on Foochow as as dialect.

View the source when you are free :

Transient Languages & Cultures

Congratulations to Taiwan on saving languages big and small
by Hilario de Sousa
6 February, 2007I was thinking about tone-vowel and consonant sandhis in Fuzhou and I stumbled across this spectacular website from Matsu where they put up their primary school Fuzhou language textbooks with recordings of all the texts (and cutesy background music). There are also audio demonstrations of all the consonants, rhymes and tones. Apparently they are also working on putting up traditional kids stories on their website. All the Chinese characters are glossed with IPA and Zhuyin. (Sorry, no English.)

Fuzhou (Foochow/ Fuchow/ Hokchiew) is an Eastern Min language spoken primarily in Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province. Overseas, the Fuzhou language is alive and kicking in places like Sibu in Sarawak. In Mainland China, Fuzhou has got to be the most endangered metropolitan Southern Sinitic language (despite there being at least 6 million people in greater Fuzhou; languages with even millions of speakers can be endangered: e.g. this post cut-and-pasted from China News Service mentions that few youngsters in Fuzhou can converse in Fuzhou:
and this post laments the non-transmission of traditional Fuzhou lullabies:

Schools are taught in Mandarin (like most other places in Mainland China), and it seems that most Fuzhou people have rather low esteem for the Fuzhou language. I have read reports of non-immigrants born as early as 1970s who cannot speak Fuzhou, and primary school kids scolding their parents for not speaking Mandarin at home. The Fujian Government has promised to do something about the decline in use of the Fuzhou language, but so far the promises remain just promises.

Across the Taiwan Strait from Fuzhou is Taiwan; Taiwanese Aborigines speak various Austronesian languages, and the ‘native’ Chinese population traditionally speak Southern Min (‘Taiwanese’) or Hakka. The language policy of Taiwan in the 1950s was ultra-repressive. The Chinese Nationalist Government lost Mainland China to the Communists in 1949; they 'retreated' to Taiwan, and was determined to re-conquer Mainland China. For this reason the Nationalist Government was eager to supplant a 'Chinese' identity to the Taiwanese people, and this involves everyone speaking Mandarin. (Similar to how a 'French' or 'Japanese' identity involve everyone speaking the same language.) The first thing the Nationalist government did when they ‘retreated’ to Taiwan was to wipe languages other than Mandarin out of the public domain. The use of native languages — and the selling of Taiwanese Cuisine, amongst other local things — were suppressed. Teachers used ‘dialect tags’ to humiliate students who spoke non-Mandarin languages at school (similar to how the Japanese government used hougen-fuda ‘dialect tags’ to wipe-out the Ryukyuan languages). The use of languages other than Mandarin at schools was banned until the 1990s in Taiwan.

The Taiwanese Government gradually realised that there is no hope of re-conquering Mainland China. Since the 1990s, the government has become more and more interested in building an identity distinct from that of Mainland China. The language policy in Taiwan has become more and more ‘localised’, so localised that it is now compulsory (?) to learn a ‘native’ Sinitic or Austronesian language at school (all the other subjects, including 'Chinese', are taught in Mandarin). After the Nationalist Government ‘retreated’ to Taiwan in 1949, the Nationalist Government managed to keep three groups of islands just off the coast of Mainland China, and one of these is the Matsu Islands, just east of Fuzhou. Because local languages have to be taught in schools, (theoretically) the Taiwanese Government has to create a complete curriculum even for the smallest local language, and this includes the Fuzhou language, spoken by less than 10,000 people on Matsu which is less than 20 km from Mainland China but more than 260 km away from Taiwan. (A language with less than 10,000 speakers is a very small language by Chinese standards; there are curricula for the larger Austronesian languages, but I don’t know whether there are curricula for the moribund ones.)

What pleasantly surprised me when I looked at the Taiwanese Fuzhou language textbooks was that it is actually Spoken-Fuzhou which is being taught to kids. In the Cantonese world, ‘Chinese’ classes are most usually taught in Cantonese, but what they teach is actually Modern Written Chinese (i.e. written Mandarin) pronounced in Cantonese, rather than spoken Cantonese. The writing of spoken Cantonese is the biggest no-no in schools, and written Cantonese is still stigmatised in the Cantonese world. (For example, to get an office job in Hong Kong you have to have competence in written English and written Mandarin; if you fill in your job application form using written Cantonese, you are unlikely to get the job.) In comparison, the Taiwanese Government is so determined at ‘localising’ the education language policy that they teach kids that Chinese characters can be used to write Sinitic languages other than Mandarin, and non-Mandarin Sinitic languages are not subordinate and not inferior to Mandarin. For this I congratulate the Taiwanese Government.

Compulsory teaching of an Austronesian or native Sinitic language?
If only the Australian government had as much respect for indigenous culture.

Posted by: Jangari | February 6, 2007 02:49 PM

I am a Foochow (Fuzhou aka North or Eastern Min language). I was born in Malaysia and fortunately because I was born in a community where spoken Foochow was alive (funnily enough much more alive than it is in Fuzhou, Fujian province in China). However Fuzhou/ Foochow is always regarded as inferior to Mandarin even by its native speakers. This is more evident amongst the younger generation who underwent Chinese (Mandarin) School Systems.

The Matsu initiative in Taiwan is commendable and I had been to the Foochow language website. Although the accent is somewhat different to the one I am used to, I could immediately recognise the similarity and the many features it shares with the Foochow I know. There are so many Foochow idioms that are not satisfactorily represented by contemporary Chinese writing based on Mandarin-grammar of the North.

If drastic actions are not taken, I fear Foochow language heritage will disappear eventually although it will be a very gradual process.

Foochow kids in Malaysia and Taiwan should not be made to feel their language is inferior to that of Mandarin and Mandarinization policy of China and Singapore should be carried out with care and thoughtfulness. I believe every so-called Chinese Regional Dialect has a right to exist and to be preserved for posterity apart from Mandarin.

It saddens me a lot that Foochow-speaking individuals make the conscious efforts of not wanting to converse in Foochow. This attitude should change!

Posted by: Oliver Loi | January 28, 2008 09:14 AM

The Authors
Amanda Harris
Aidan Wilson
Hilario de Sousa
Ian Smith
Joe Blythe
Jane Simpson (This is a multi-authored blog, and the views expressed are those of the authors, not of PARADISEC or the University of Sydney. If you'd like to contribute, please let us know!)
James McElvenny
Linda Barwick (PARADISEC)
Tom Honeyman
Bill Foley

About the Blog
The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.

Indigenous Language SPEAK A forum for linguists, language speakers, educators and any other interested people to discuss any issues regarding language loss, language research, and fieldwork methodology within indigenous communities.

PARADISEC The Pacific And Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures

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Authorised by: Project Co-ordinator, PARADISEC.
The views expressed on this blog are those of the respective authors and not those of the University of Sydney.

2 memories:

Anonymous said...
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I Am Sarawakiana said...

Dear Yuany,
thanks for the visit.
I will check out the website and learn more Chinese.


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