Tsai Ing-wen's multilingual New Year's greetings

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The multilingual part of this message from the President of Taiwan comes near the end of this 2:26 Twitter video:

We hear President Tsai speak in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, Cantonese, and English.  When she says "Happy Lunar New Year" at the end, I could not help but have tears in my eyes each time I listened.

Gábor L Ugray, who sent this to me, comments:

What I find interesting is the multilingual part at the end. Obviously this is a political choice, but (also obviously) the entire discussion around what is a language is a political one. By which I mean, I think the inclusion of multiple languages, and the choice of these specific languages, are all meaningful in this message.


Selected readings



  1. yoandri dominguez said,

    February 10, 2021 @ 11:39 am

    Now let's hear Xi say in twenty languages. And Biden in thirty. Competition.

  2. cat said,

    February 10, 2021 @ 8:19 pm

    I guess it's her way of connecting with Chinese ethnic and cultural communities within Taiwan and overseas without having to cling to the pretense of being the head of a de jure, self-proclaimed Chinese state.

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 10, 2021 @ 10:22 pm

    For multilingual political leaders, check out this recent video (I don't think previously mentioned on LL?) by the Premier of Ontario telling residents of diverse ethnic and linguistic backgrounds to "stay home" (due to the pandemic) in over 20 different languages, including Cantonese. Part of the schtick, of course, is that it's pretty obvious he's doing all of them with a super-heavy Anglo-Canadian accent.


  4. Thomas said,

    February 11, 2021 @ 2:59 am

    Call me ignorant, but the similarity between the languages makes this rather low-effort. It's a nice gesture, but following the enthusiastic intro, I expected her to do the whole thing in multiple languages, i.e. more than just saying the same hollow greeting phrase in different languages. Maybe it is really just a political choice, but for me, what is says is that these languages exist, but are still mostly excluded from public discourse. I can't help but think about how ethnic minorities in the PRC are included into public discourse mainly through traditional dancing.

    More similar to what I expected for this video, Pope Benedict XVI used to do the Easter greetings in a multitude of languages. And for many of them, it was more than just the two words "Happy" and "Easter". It was really a joy watching it, even though there were no subtitles watching it live. Of course, at the end of his list came many, many languages where he did exactly what Tsai Ing-Wen did here: he just repeated the same two-word phrase and got applause for it like a monkey who did his trick.

  5. AntC said,

    February 11, 2021 @ 6:22 am

    @Thomas "similarity"? and "mostly excluded from public discourse"?

    Do you not follow Prof Mair's frequent posts on 'topolects' and how diverse they are?

    You can regularly hear Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka and English spoken on the Taipei Metro. Clearly they are different languages; clearly Cantonese is different again. (I lived in HK back when it was almost wholly Cantonese-speaking.)

    Tsai Ing-wen's doctorate is from LSE. Her English is excellent. A short greeting does not demonstrate that.

    Perhaps you're not aware Taiwan is not part of PRC? And that these days it encourages linguistic diversity/Tsai Ing-wen explicitly values her Hakka descent.

  6. ~flow said,

    February 11, 2021 @ 8:27 am

    @cat "having to cling to the pretense of being the head of a de jure, self-proclaimed Chinese state"

    I'm not sure what place the topic of the legitimacy of the ROC has in a discussion about linguistics. I am not even sure what is implied or insinuated by "de jure" and "self-proclaimed". The ROC in Taiwan is one of the lawful successors to the ROC on the mainland which was the lawful successor to the Qing empire. The PRC is another lawful successor, similar to how there various successors to the German Empire, among them the FRG, the GDR, the four sectors of Berlin, the Austrian Republic, and so on. Anyone who doubts the lawful status of Taiwan must answer the question whether Austria or Germany have the right to a seat in the UN. They must also be ready to admit that the admission of both East and West Germany to the UN in 1973 was a mistake because in case the claim is made that the Chinese Empire can have but one lawful successor, then clearly the same should be the case for the German empire.

  7. Thomas said,

    February 11, 2021 @ 1:10 pm

    @AntC, I do follow almost posts on Chinese languages on this site. By similarity, I mean that to my ears that are accustomed to Mandarin only, they sound like similar, broken versions of one another. Much like Dutch sounds like German and the Romance languages are all alike.

    I am not going into the other things you mentioned. I just want to clarify once again my view that in this video, the languages are reduced to greeting phrases anyone can recite if they want, and this belittles them with respect to Mandarin. They are acknowledged to exist and not more. Addressing the Hongkongers in Cantonese would have been a real gesture.

  8. AntC said,

    February 11, 2021 @ 5:25 pm

    Addressing the Hongkongers in Cantonese would have been a real gesture.

    Hmm apart from being political dynamite, that would have been false. Cantonese is very little spoken in Taiwan (except among the HK refugees). Tsai Ing-wen doesn't claim to speak it.

    I am astonished at the prejudice in your first paragraph. How to insult the Sinosphere and large swathes of Europe in one short dismissal!.

  9. David C. said,

    February 11, 2021 @ 6:07 pm

    Don't take this as saying that I think Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka are similar (they are distinct Sinitic languages), but I am reminded of the Taipei metro multilingual announcements that last the entire duration of the time it takes to travel from one stop to the next. Announcement for Zhongshan station

    One particularly memorable one was in the Kaohsiung metro where 巨蛋 Judan (the nickname for the city arena or stadium) pretty much has no equivalent in Taiwanese and Hakka and so it is just repeated in different accents. Announcement for Judan station (with the background noise, you may have to turn up the volume)

    Politics aside, I thought the video made by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin to say <a href="https://youtu.be/pIbt6XkDu2MNew Year's greetings in multiple languages was rather well done.

  10. AntC said,

    February 12, 2021 @ 2:29 am

    Heh heh, and just when I thought I'd figured which language was which, I travelled on the trains in the South East: Taimali, Beinan/Zhihben, Taitung, Hualien, Taroko.

    The announcements include languages clearly not Sinitic — they turned out to be 'indigenous'/Austronesian.

  11. AntC said,

    February 12, 2021 @ 2:34 am

    video … rather well done

    There's a break in the tape between each language. So spokesperson Wang at least took several takes for each language, that got spliced together. And I'm not sure the mouth movements correspond to the pronunciation — particularly for the English intro. Overdubbed?

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