TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The National Languages Development Act passed the third reading Tuesday at the Legislative Yuan, paving the way for the establishment of a public television channel promoting Taiwanese Hokkien.
“The language diversity embedded in Taiwanese society is our common asset. We should not have those languages endangered or extinct,” said Minister of Culture Cheng Li-chiun (鄭麗君) in a statement issued on Tuesday. She lauded the legislation as a historic moment for the nation.
The act designates various local languages practiced in Taiwan, including aboriginal languages, Taiwanese Hokkien, and Hakka, as well as Taiwanese Sign Language, as national languages, which are different from an official language. The nation does not legally recognize any official language as of now, even though the majority of the Taiwanese population use Mandarin.
One article in the act states that the government should encourage and financially support the establishment of public broadcast systems, such as radios and TV channels.
Ever since the Executive Yuan passed the draft act proposed by the Ministry of Culture in January, discussions among lawmakers and civil society groups have mostly centered on the establishment of a public TV channel for Taiwanese Hokkien, which is spoken by 80 percent of the population in Taiwan, according to government’s statistics calculated in 2010.
Even though cable TV channels produce dramas and news in Taiwanese Hokkien, there is no public TV channel dedicated to promoting the language. TV channels intended to promote indigenous cultures and Taiwanese Hakka were launched respectively in 2005 and 2003.
Premier William Lai (賴清德) said in January that Taiwanese society boasts ethnic and cultural diversity, but many locally spoken languages are facing challenges to survive. The work of the preservation and revival of those languages is therefore urgent, added Lai.
Cheng said during a Legislative Yuan negotiation session on Monday that the ministry will fund the planned TV channel for Taiwanese Hokkien, which will be owned and managed by the Public Television Service Foundation.
In addition to founding a TV channel promoting Taiwanese Hokkien, the National Languages Development Act aims to protect local languages in Taiwan. The act states that all national languages are equal. Taiwanese people using any of the national languages should not face stigma or discrimination.
In accordance with that provision, academic institutes ought to provide courses on national languages. Public organizations should also provide language interpretation services when citizens speak only one particular national language.