Preserving tribal languages is proving difficult: official


TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan faces a great challenge in keeping indigenous tribal languages alive, as the government’s tribal language proficiency test program is seeing fewer and fewer participants, an official warned yesterday.

Chiang Wen-chuan, an official of the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP), said that for the last two years, no-one has signed up for the test for the Thao language, one of the 43 languages and dialects spoken by the 14 officially recognized aboriginal tribes in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, the tribal language tests for Saaroa and Tona Rukai have had no participants this year, the first time this has happened, Chiang said.

There are around 600 Thao people living in the Sun Moon Lake region in central Taiwan’s Nantou county, Chiang said, adding that today, only the tribe’s middle-aged and elderly can speak fluent Thao.

Young indigenous people normally speak Mandarin when communicating with tourists visiting the area, leaving fewer occasions on which they can use their mother tongue, Chieng said.

The CIP has started to compile a digital tribal language dictionary and it also organizes language courses and promotes tribal language-speaking within indigenous communities.

Its language program is expected to recruit 400 students in January next year, Chieng said.

A total of 1,160 people took part in the tribal language exams this year, with a pass rate of 47.4 percent — a 5-percent drop compared to last year, according to the CIP.