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Indigenous languages development act takes effect

Law designates the languages of 16 officially recognized indigenous tribes as national languages of Taiwan

Indigenous Taiwanese people singing

Indigenous Taiwanese people singing (CNA photo)

An act to promote and preserve the languages of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes took effect June 14, furthering efforts to protect the nation’s diverse aboriginal cultures and facilitate transitional justice for indigenous peoples.

The law designates the languages of the country’s 16 officially recognized indigenous tribes as national languages of the Republic of China (Taiwan). It also requires the government to establish a foundation dedicated to researching and supporting indigenous languages as well as assisting in the development of more comprehensive writing systems and dictionaries.

According to the Cabinet-level Council of Indigenous Peoples, there are 42 dialects of Taiwan’s 16 officially recognized indigenous languages.

Under the act, indigenous peoples can use the dialects in legislative and legal affairs. Local government agencies in aboriginal areas, which comprise 55 townships across the country, can also compose official documents in indigenous languages as well as Chinese.

CIP Minister Icyang Parod said that in addition to fostering language preservation, the act marks a significant step in advancing transitional justice for indigenous peoples by safeguarding their right to use native tongues in official settings.

The languages act is the third enacted in Taiwan aimed at advancing aboriginal rights and cultures, following the promulgation of the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law in 2005 and the Indigenous Traditional Intellectual Creations Protection Act in 2007.

It states that signage for government agencies and public facilities in aboriginal areas must feature indigenous languages, while signage for mountains, monuments and streets in such regions should feature traditional indigenous names.

Other priority measures identified in the law include compiling teaching materials, cultivating educational personnel and promoting academic research. State-run indigenous media outlets are also required to produce programs and publications for promoting and teaching indigenous languages, according to the act.

Among Taiwan’s 16 officially recognized indigenous languages, Saisiyat is listed as severely endangered on the UNESCO atlas of endangered languages, while Kanakanavu, Kavalan, Hla’alua and Thao are designated as critically endangered. Bunun is identified as definitely endangered by the U.N. agency, with a further eight—Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Truku, Tao and Tsou—deemed vulnerable.

According to the CIP, since research points to Taiwan as the ancestral homeland of Austronesian-speaking peoples, the country’s indigenous tongues play a crucial role in understanding the distribution of Austronesian languages in the Asia-Pacific region.

Indigenous Malayo-Polynesian peoples have lived in Taiwan for millennia, with archeological evidence confirming their presence dating back 12,000 to 15,000 years. The latest CIP statistics revealed that the population of the country’s 16 officially recognized tribes stood at around 530,000 or 2.3 percent of the nation’s total.

Updated : 2022-01-22 10:53 GMT+08:00