Effort to understand literary language is irreplaceable


The China Post news staff

Taiwan has a nuanced linguistic landscape that sees two major cross-currents: a privileged official lingo and the widely used Hokkien, a southern dialect of Chinese now also called Taiwanese. Academic, government, scientific and public institutions are dominated by Mandarin, but in daily life much of the population uses Hokkien.

The classical terms used in the philosophy associated with Sun Yat-sen, often majestic in their exhortations of world harmony (�j�P) and compassionate love (���R), have been used as names for lands that have been taken from aboriginals, and protests on the recent Retrocession Day show how that history is being challenged. This reminds us that aboriginal languages, as well as Hakka and other minority languages, also exist in Taiwan’s multicultural fabric. Enter the colloquial metamorphosis of youth communication. On Tuesday, the United Daily News (UND) put out an offbeat article about how a student answered in ��Internet language�� when his teacher asked him why he didn’t do his homework. ��BJ4�� was the answer given. BJ4 represents the Chinese characters in ��I will not explain,�� (������) and their incompleteness is part of the intended joke. Other examples of Internet slang mostly include perversions of the language using more casual or vulgar words, such as ��give it one charge�� (�Ĥ@�o) as a term for giving all of one’s effort instead of ��risking my life�� (���R) in the more established colloquial system. The evolution of language is a fact to be both expected and respected. In languages like Japanese, a much greater percentage of vocabulary comes from foreign loan words, and Japan has a special subclass of writing called Katakana used for that purpose. As a naturally occurring phenomenon, there is no problem with recognizing the existence of language outside the understandable mainstream. Consolidating youth identity can be a problem if it is defined by an anger directed at other groups in society, the establishment or an elder generation. Slang should not detract from a proper understanding of the language as it is used in its current form. New expressions will have to earn the popularity of a wide part of the public if they are to become part of the mainstream lexicon. If a group is discriminatory and defined by negatives, its communication will remain a niche.