Taiwanese slipping

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The following article is in Chinese and is smothered in colorful ads, but you can see with your own eyes from the headline the dismaying figure of 22.3% young people who can speak their mother tongue:

Zhuānjiā bào Táiyǔ xiāoshī wéijī `nánbù yě hěn qīcǎn' quán Tái jǐn 22.3% niánqīng rén huì jiǎng

專家爆台語消失危機「南部也很淒慘」 全台僅22.3%年輕人會講

"Experts reveal the crisis of Taiwanese disappearing; even the South is in a miserable condition:  in the whole of Taiwan, only 22.3% of young people can speak it."

Eoin Cullen, who called this news item to my attention, notes that there is a lot of discussion on social media about the survey mentioned in the article.  Many people are surprisingly ambivalent about the decline of Southern Min and other languages of Taiwan other than standard Mandarin.

I myself have noticed with alarm and sadness the gradual decline in the amount of Taiwanese that I hear being spoken in Taiwan.  When I first went to Taiwan, in 1970, it seemed as though about three quarters of the people I encountered could speak Taiwanese, but with each passing year, the proportion of Taiwanese speakers has diminished.  During the last ten years or so, I was astonished at how few people, especially those under thirty or forty, who could speak Taiwanese fluently, much less read and write it.

This is particularly sad in light of the fact that, in the last year, we have featured several heartwarming stories of foreign residents of Taiwan who speak Taiwanese quite well.


Selected reading


  1. Chas Belov said,

    December 9, 2020 @ 11:04 pm

    Sorry to hear that. I have and treasure a few albums in Taiwanese by Wu Bai 伍佰 and China Blue (who also record in Mandarin), Lim Giong (Lin Chiang) 林強* and the soundtrack album of Hou Hsiao-Ming's Dust of Angels 少年吔,安啦. (In fact, I haven't listened to them in a while and just started a play of the soundtrack, and rejoicing at a final consonant stop at the end of the second line of the first song.) I remember when I played a track from a Lim Giong album, Entertainment World, for a friend who had been born in Taiwan, and seeing the look of delight on his face when he realized it was in Hoklo.

    * – 強 was one of the characters I considered when I was choosing a Chinese name. While I don't recall the exact words he used, a Singaporean** friend of Hakka and Hokkien ancestry (and who spoke at least one and possibly both languages in addition to Mandarin, I don't recall) said 強 was not a good choice, and recommended 男 instead. Another friend who had immigrated to the US from China** said that 男 was not refined and recommended 漢 instead. When I raised that issue with my Singaporean friend, he said he was aware of the difference and preferred 男 because it was more macho. (If it's at all relevant, and I think it was in the case of the 男 recommendation, both the Chinese and Singaporean friends are, like me, LGBTQ.) I ultimately settled on 白力漢 as my Chinese name, "Belov" being related to the Russian word for "white."

    ** – When I introduced my Chinese-immigrant friend and my Singaporean friend to each other around 1987, after some conversation, the Chinese-immigrant friend complimented the Singaporean friend on the quality of his Mandarin. I'm not sure what the dynamics of that were but I imagine there was some.

    Hope this Russian doll of a comment was helpful.

  2. wanda said,

    December 10, 2020 @ 3:20 pm

    But is Taiwanese is the mother tongue of all people who are of Taiwan? I remember a friend of my mother's taking me to a store in Taiwan to buy a laptop. My mom's friend wanted to switch to Taiwanese, but the salesperson said he (the salesperson) couldn't speak that because he was Kejia (Hakka). Do the indigenous people of Taiwan speak Taiwanese as a mother tongue? So, I mean, 22% sounds low, but what is the highest that you would expect?

  3. Victor Mair said,

    December 10, 2020 @ 5:11 pm


    Around 70% of the population are of Hoklo / Hokkien ethnicity. Around 15% are Hakka. About 14% are mainland Han who came to Taiwan after 1949.

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