Mixed script writing in Taiwan

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[This is a guest post by Kirinputra]

Something happened* a few days ago that some of your readers might find surprising. It reflects a mood change that's set in over the last few years in Formosa.
[*VHM:  The content of the Facebook post linked here may not be available at this time, but you can still get the gist of what it was about from the remainder of this post.]
My apologies — the link has been set to private. But the incident has spawned a new Facebook group that anybody can view.
So this guy posts a message in mixed-script Taioanese (sinographs & romanization, mixed inline) in a pro-motorcyclist Facebook activist group…. The message was aligned with the views of the group, but the first few waves of comments were almost all reactions of disgust at the post not being in Mandarin; some group members blocked the guy right away. Some of the reactions were specifically against the romanized elements, but the reaction to the sinographic elements was pretty disparaging too….

To unpack, romanized Taioanese especially has made a bit of headway in the last five years or so, so that young mainstream society is aware of it now, very much in contrast to the previous 70+ years. However, young mainstream society loves to hate romanized Taioanese. The backlash against romanized Taioanese is most of the "mind share" that it has gained. And people often take writings in straight romanized Taioanese to task for being all romanized, but — as we see here [or not, unfortunately, since the post has gone private] — the mainstream reaction to the mixed script is also disgust, first & foremost at there being romanized elements at all. I would add that the sinographic elements of the post unintentionally skewed towards Mandarin-centric, non-native usages, as sponsored by the Chinese Taipei state. Had native usages been used instead, the audience would've been even more disgruntled.
One of the most interesting & damning aspects to unpack is where this took place: A niche citizens' rights group, for a "niche" demographic that skews Taioanese-speaking while subsuming nearly the entire working class of Formosa, & much of the urban middle class as well. It's been my experience as well — and I was taken aback too at first — that the backlash against non-conformity to Chinese Taipei nationalism is paradoxically heightened in so-called human rights circles, and — more generally — wherever people have gathered in the name of a conventionally literate specialty (i.e., most specialties, but maybe not local botany).
It is striking that despite how Chinese nationalist rhetoric militates against non-sinographic scripts, non-conforming sinographic scripts are not tolerated either outside of unambiguously low contexts like ads or KTV lyrics. The intolerance for actual written Taioanese in most contexts also challenges Chinese Taipei's current image — in the Anglophone media, especially — as a tolerant, liberal polity where Taioanese is newly flourishing & prestigious.

Selected readings
A note that Kirinputra wrote to me separately a few days ago:

BTW written Taioanese is far from new (and written Hokkien & Teochew are older than Taioanese itself). It has just been marginalized so that it perpetually seems new to some critical mass of observers, of which I used to be one.


  1. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 24, 2024 @ 7:11 am

    Thanks; fascinating… the first link is working for me and I no facebook.

    Some representative peanut gallery responses to the OP —

    Hanyu pinyin: "wo jue de yao zai tong yi ge guo jia fa wen tao lun shi qing , ying gai yao yong da jia dou kan de dong de yu yan shi ji ben Ii mao"
    (> I feel like if you're in the same country posting messages discussing stuff, you should use a/the language everyone can read, it's basic manners)

    English/Chinese mixed script: "me覺得這個writer say的very棒,every人都應該have用自己喜歡的language的power, if you no認同,你們就是在discrimination別人,我know大家可能feel我有something wrong with the 脑子, but我想說啥就啥,看不懂不是我的错"
    (> I think this writer makes a great point, everyone should have the power to use the language they prefer, if you don't agree, you guys are discriminating against people, I know everyone might feel like there's something wrong with my brain, but what I want to say is what it is, it's not my fault if you can't read it)

  2. Scott Robinson said,

    May 24, 2024 @ 5:17 pm

    To Victor Mair: don’t feed the trolls.

    Like anywhere else, the cultural lines of “Formosa” have been and remain complex. To wit, the OP for the posts to the group is a self-identified language activist! They went looking to cause trouble to intentionally get clicks.

    To Kirinputra: don’t feed the trolls.

    It’s hard to take seriously the judgement on the domestic or international
    image from someone who writes “Chinese Taipei” and equivocates human rights. And it’s wild to see niche forum drama used as a launching point to assert tenuous anti-Taiwanese state politics in LL of all places.

  3. KIRINPUTRA said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 12:01 am

    @ Scott Robinson

    No animals were harmed. I can assure you of this. The Chinese Taipei state is a state, not a person. It calls itself "China" — but there are others. There is nothing in fact niche about motorcycling in these parts, but the Chinese nationalist intolerance that lurks in niches is a thing anyway. Niches drive the growth of a specialized society. Taioanese tenuously survives; why the reports & comments asserting (sometimes defensively) that it's "never been better, thanks to the Chinese democracy"? It's not hard to take the dissonance seriously.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    May 29, 2024 @ 11:22 am

    From Kirinputra:

    A legislator named Puma Shen has been in the news here lately. This reminded me of something that happened in 2014, around the start of the Sunflower Movement. I was living overseas and tried to sign up with a "citizens'" org. as a volunteer translator, to translate written material into English and/or Spanish. Puma Shen was the coordinator. He replied to me once but ignored me after that. I wrote again in case there might have been a glitch, etc., but he never responded, and it didn't seem like they ever got a full team of translators. This interaction puzzled me for several years. Apparently, by writing in Taioanese, I must have crossed a line in Shen's mind where I didn't deserve a response; and — Shen being more prudent than the commentators in the motorcyclists' rights group — this (written Taioanese & Hakka, the line in his mind, etc.) is not something he would ever want to discuss, at least not on the record.

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