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Academics urge prioritization of Taiwan's native languages over English

1,700 academics sign petition opposing 'Bilingual 2030,' calling for revitalization of native languages

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(Cabinet photo)

(Cabinet photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A group of academics on Friday (April 8) voiced their opposition to government policy promoting English education and called for native languages to be prioritized instead.

Taiwan Languages & Literature Society and three other groups launched a petition on Feb. 21, International Mother Language Day, opposing the government's "Bilingual 2030." They said it overemphasizes English at the expense of Taiwan's native languages.

Thus far, the petition has gained 1,700 signatures, including 400 teachers at college campuses and 400 at primary and secondary schools, reported CNA.

During a press conference on Friday, Chiang Min-hua (江敏華), head of the Taiwan Languages & Literature Society, said the government has promoted policies that have improved societal acceptance of native languages. However, the "Bilingual 2030" police is having a "crowding out effect" on these languages.

She added the policy, which aims to achieve a bilingual English-Mandarin country by 2030, is like "building a beautiful garden at the bottom of the mountain, but if the soil and water on the top of the mountain are not well conserved, it all may be destroyed overnight."

Academics urge prioritization of Taiwan's native languages over English
Academics protest "Bilingual 2030" policy on Friday. (CNA photo)

Academia Sinica scholar Paul Li (李壬癸) argued that Taiwan should not imitate the way Singapore and Hong Kong have developed English as the top priority language, and it should instead seek to maintain its own languages first. Li said the academic community largely recognizes Taiwan as the origin of the Austronesian language family, which has more than 1,000 varieties spoken by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

However, Li warned that many of these languages are in danger of extinction and Taiwanese languages are no exception. Li noted that many young Indigenous Taiwanese can no longer speak their native language and the government should first address this issue before adding more languages to the mix.

On March 28, the National Development Council (NDC), which oversees "Bilingual 2030," issued a press release in response to academic criticism of the policy. In the statement, it emphasized the core value of the bilingual policy is diversity and tolerance and that national languages such as native languages have already been included in compulsory courses in primary and secondary schools.

The NDC claimed that native languages are being promoted at the same time as the "Bilingual 2030" policy and that this policy is in line with the spirit of the petition.