Diametrically opposed language policies

« previous post | next post »

On one side of the Taiwan Strait, yesterday the PRC announced its draconian language policy for the coming decades:

"Important new policies on language and script in the PRC" (11/30/21)

Meanwhile, on the other side, Taiwan proclaimed a very different aspiration:

"2030 bilingual policy to help Taiwan connect with the world: NDC head", Focus Taiwan (12/1/21)

The policies are nothing new for either side, simply an intensification of their goals in recent years, the PRC more toward language standardization and monolingualism, and Taiwan more toward linguistic diversification and multilingualism.

The government's "Bilingual Nation 2030" policy will help boost the competitiveness of young people in Taiwan in the global job market and help them connect with the world, National Development Council (NDC) Minster Kung Ming-hsin (龔明鑫) said Wednesday.

Kung was invited to a forum to discuss the initiative, which was initially proposed by the NDC in 2018 to "improve the English proficiency of the general public" in order to make Taiwan a bilingual nation by 2030.

He said he had observed that more and more multinational corporations had invested in Taiwan in recent years, with demand for local professionals with English proficiency also increasing as a consequence.

Meanwhile, Anting Liu (劉安婷), founder of Teach for Taiwan, an organization promoting rural education, talked about other benefits of learning English or other foreign languages in addition to making people more competitive.

The government's plan to promote English-language education in Taiwan will help foster a more inclusive society, as those who speak different languages are usually more open-minded and embrace cultural diversity, she said.

Taiwan's embrace of English goes hand in hand with advocacy of local Sinitic topolects (other than Mandarin) and Austronesian languages.  Taiwan's aim to make English an official language surely sends shivers up and down PRC's spine.


Selected readings


[h.t. Don Keyser]


  1. Mark Liberman said,

    December 1, 2021 @ 7:03 pm

    Maybe a better comparison would be the Taiwanese government's treatment of the island's non-Mandarin languages, starting with Hokkien, which was the majority language until the KMT arrived in 1945-1949, and has not been treated very favorably since — see e.g. "The fight for Taiwan's linguistic diversity".

  2. alex said,

    December 1, 2021 @ 7:16 pm

    Its only a shame they didn't start this push much earlier. They made the same mistake Japan did in the 90s thinking everyone will learn Japanese. I find it amazing that Korea Japan and Taiwan didn't have the same push China had these past couple of decades. At least they will get some breathing room now that China has implemented some new policies. Over my years here in SZ ive met a few Taiwanese and Korean business people who were in their 30s, I was shocked by their limited English. I know in Thailand at their State owned Petro company they have signs that encourage English. I think they realize to communicate with IT specialists to document deliverables etc English is important.

  3. AntC said,

    December 2, 2021 @ 12:52 am

    @myl Maybe a better comparison …

    Thanks, I'm not sure what you're comparing with what. (U.S. political/cultural comparisons are getting way out of proportion; let's not equate Taiwan with PRC please.)

    Minister Chiu is "a retired general of the Republic of China Army." [wp]; so although part of the DPP government, possibly rather too much at the KMT end of the spectrum. Anyhoo verbal (and physical) fisticuffs is rather a hallmark of Taiwan's parliament — I think what we mean by a 'vibrant' democracy (wot U.S.A. does not 'ave).

    has not been treated very favorably since

    This is an out-of-date myth (quite true the KMT didn't treat non-Mandarin languages favourably during the Martial Law era); not true today, as you can see/hear just by travelling around the country noting all the diverse cultural/community centres, and listening to the talk in public places — that is, outside of Taipei. The KMT is on the out: they didn't fare well in the early 2020 elections — and that was before Covid (which the current government is handling well); and before the HK 'National Security Law' oppression — which has included suppressing Cantonese.

    Everybody I met could at least recognise and understand day-to-day 'Hoklo' (there's an early-evening TV soap mostly in Taiwanese), even if they didn't risk speaking it. And could recognise Hakka.

    I'm not underestimating the damage under the KMT/Martial Law era; but that was clearly as nothing compared to the CCP's treatment of Uighurs, Tibetan, Hakka, Cantonese and other Min languages, Shanghainese nowadays.

  4. AntC said,

    December 2, 2021 @ 2:02 am

    We should also bear in mind a comparison with Taiwan's competitor in the Sinosphere, Singapore — which also has a policy of promoting Mandarin and English. Mandarin was not the dominant Chinese language as at independence from Britain. " Hokkien (Min Nan) used to be an unofficial language of business until the 1980s." [wp]

    I'm totally impressed by Premier Lee Hsien-Loong's TV addresses: switching smoothly from English to Mandarin to Malay, pausing only for a sip of tea.

  5. jin defang said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 11:59 am

    What I found interesting was the CCP's goal of having 85% of the population use mandarin by 2025—meaning the public admission that many fewer people are capable of using it now. Since the ethnic minority population of China is at most 9%, and one of the larger minorities,the Hui, have always used mandarin, what does this say about the efforts to impose mandarin since 1949?

RSS feed for comments on this post