The Development of National Languages Act came into effect on January 9, 2019. From that point onward, the Ministry will continue to promote the preservation and revitalization of these national languages in line with the provisions of the Act.
Matters pertaining to national languages primarily concern the protection of the natural languages of Taiwan's many ethnic groups, along with Taiwanese Sign Language, including the continuation, revitalization, and development thereof. National language affairs on a broader scale are multifaceted, requiring cooperation on implementation across governmental agencies concerned with education, cultural heritage, health and welfare, communications, internal affairs, and transportation in order to effectively energize these languages and improve their current, critical status.
This Ministry will carefully study the details of the Development of National Languages Act, first distinguishing the scope of powers and responsibilities of each competent authority given its particular focus and clarifying the direction of subsequent implementation. Following this, the Ministry will also engage in further discussions regarding mixed duties and work with other authorities to implement such duties and protective works.
3. Frequently Asked Questions(1) What is the legislative purpose of the Development of National Languages Act?
The Development of National Languages Act lays out clear guarantees for the passing along, revitalization, and development of the natural languages of Taiwan's various ethnic groups, as well as Taiwan Sign Language, out of respect for the nation's linguistic diversity. The goal of this Act is to ensure the ongoing development of Taiwan's diverse languages and cultures, to protect the rights of all ethnic groups to education, communication, and public services in their mother tongues, and to ensure that all Taiwanese can use their native languages with pride. The government intends to fully support the revitalization, passing on, and development of all of Taiwan’s languages into the future.
The spirit of this new Act is built around the preservation, revitalization, and equal development of the languages of Taiwan's ethnic minorities, particularly those that are under threat. While it does not establish them as official languages, through facilitating plans for the preservation of linguistic diversity and sustainable cultural development, it aims to ensure that these languages, including Taiwan Sign Language, enjoy the protections necessary for them to develop and be passed down to future generations. Through such work, it is hoped that languages facing endangerment or extinction will be able to survive and thrive, helping the cultures and histories of Taiwan’s various ethnic groups continue to be passed on to later generations and to enrich the culture and spirit of the nation.(2) What is the relationship between the Development of National Languages Act, the Indigenous Languages Development Act, and the Hakka Basic Act?
With their amendments in June 2017 and January 2018 respectively, the Indigenous Languages Development Act and Hakka Basic Act have already clearly established the Hakka language and the many Aboriginal languages as "national languages." However, beyond these, no other "national languages" had been afforded a legal foundation for revitalization and preservation efforts. To protect the linguistic diversity of Taiwanese society and the prosperous development of both Taiwan and her various minority languages, the Ministry of Culture crafted the Development of National Languages Act, providing a comprehensive, fundamental direction for national linguistic policy. At the same time, this Act aims to provide protections to Taiwan Sign Language and the various natural languages of the Taiwanese people, facilitating equality in revitalization and development.(3) Why does the Development of National Languages Act not specify national languages by name?
The National Languages Development Act does not specify the languages covered by name out of respect for the rights of the groups that use each language to use the names they are most familiar with. In addition, this also takes into account that ethnic groups in Taiwan, such as the lowlands indigenous peoples, who continue to fight for national recognition. As such, the adoption of a more general legislation is more conducive to including the languages of such groups should they obtain formal recognition.
Furthermore, when the Enforcement Rules for the Act are drafted in the future, the names of the various languages will be specified after long-term research and investigation, as well as broad consultation with all relevant parties and the establishment of consensus. The guiding principle of this is coexistence in diversity rather than mutual representation.(4) What key points does the Development of National Languages Act cover?
The key points of the Act include:
* That the government shall convene regular conferences on the development of national languages
* Prioritizing the promotion of efforts to revitalize and pass on threatened national languages
* Establishing a mechanism for surveying of national languages, along with an associated database or databases
* Protecting opportunities for pre-school learning of national languages
* Planning basic courses and educational resources for the learning of national languages at all levels of core education
* Protecting communication rights for national languages
* Setting out regulations pertaining to grants and awards for the promotion of national languages
In addition, in view of the increasingly serious problem of language loss among various ethnic groups, language restoration work can be delayed no longer. This Act is designed around the concepts of "promoting ethnic harmony" and "respecting linguistic & cultural equality and diverse development," with a number of measures outlined for the protection of national languages facing endangered status. We hope that these will spur all corners of society to work together on the protection and development of these languages and cultures. In the future, the Ministry will work further with other relevant agencies on drafting Enforcement Rules and more concrete measures.(5) Are Mandarin and written Chinese as used in the current educational curriculum under the Chinese term guoyu/guowen (lit. "national language") considered "national languages"? Are there plans for classes in all national languages?
Article 3 or the Development of National Languages Act states that "'[n]ational language" as referred to in this Act shall mean the natural languages and sign languages used by the different ethnic groups in Taiwan." The Act thus recognizes the legal status of all natural languages used by ethnic groups across Taiwan (including Penghu, Kinmen, Mazu, Green Island, and Orchid Island); as such, Mandarin and written Chinese are included.
Regarding plans for future mandatory classes in national languages at all stages of the 12-year compulsory education system, Article 18 of the Act states that such classes shall be "implemented over the course of three years starting with the first year of instruction at the elementary, junior high, and high school levels via the twelve-year compulsory education curriculum guidelines."
According to the Ministry of Education, the curriculum guidelines and outline of the syllabus will need to be further adjusted for the inclusion of national languages, and other related matters such as the editing and review of textbooks will need to be handled in detail. In the future, to protect students’ rights to education and selection, we will actively discuss content and regulations with the relevant ministries and local education authorities to formulate courses with reasonable course hours that are suitable for students to learn national languages. At the same time, we will also actively cultivate teachers and strengthen related education resources. The current overall implementation plan is as follows:
1. Curriculum adjustment, review, and issuing: July 2019–November 2020
2. Textbook editing and introduction: November 2020–August 2022
3. Full implementation of mandatory national language courses at all stages of compulsory education (elementary, junior high, senior high): Beginning in 2022.(6) The Development of National Languages Act states that the government should draft standardized writing systems for national languages—what does this mean and how will it be implemented?
The Act stipulates that the government should develop standardized writing systems for the purpose of properly recording and preserving national languages. The government will work with civic groups to develop each orthographic reference standard, including both Sinitic and roman orthographies, digital input methods, and other methods of expression. It does not, however, place restrictions on how people may write, allowing for the coexistence of multiple varying forms of writing. In the future, central government agencies will cooperate closely with the Ministry of Education to ensure the preservation of all national languages.(7) The Development of National Languages Act stipulates that when citizens participate in administrative, legislative, and judicial procedures, they can freely choose to use their national language, and government agencies or institutions should provide interpretation services when necessary. Is this feasible?
The Development of National Languages Act guarantees the right of people to freely choose to use their national language. It also refers to the meaning of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, establishing that when people participate in administrative, legislative, or judicial governmental proceedings, they may use the national language of their choosing and the government shall provide interpreting services as needed. However, the various government agencies will adapt to local conditions to protect the rights of users of all ethnic groups, rather than having all national languages used in parallel everywhere.
In order to enable government agencies to serve the people in the most appropriate way and implement the regulations of this Act, they will first take the form of uncertain legal concepts, and each government agency will provide the most appropriate services when necessary based on its duties, manpower, budget, and so on. At the same time, to effectively bolster the quality and effectiveness of these services, the government should actively train interpreters in the various national languages.(8) How does the Development of National Languages Act regulate the division of powers and responsibilities of the various competent authorities?
Matters pertaining to national languages primarily concern the protection of the natural languages of Taiwan's many ethnic groups, along with Taiwanese Sign Language, including the continuation, revitalization, and development thereof. National language affairs on a broader scale are multifaceted, and Articles 7 through 15 of the Act address to the implementation of various protective measures, and cooperation will be necessary across governmental agencies concerned with education, cultural heritage, health and welfare, communications, internal affairs, and transportation, in order to effectively energize these languages and improve their current, critical status. Given particular concerns around ethnic diversity, specialization, and regional language status and needs, it is necessary to carry out further comprehensive review and establish a mechanism for resource allocation and cooperation for the development of the various public services and support measures needed by the various government agencies.(9) Why does the Development of National Languages Act not include the languages of "new residents" [primarily Southeast Asian immigrants]?
Generally speaking, these languages should be considered immigrant languages, and thus different in nature from "national languages" as defined by the Act: "the natural languages and sign languages used by the different ethnic groups in Taiwan." Looking at language policies around the world, there are many laws and regulations that protect the rights of immigrant languages, but few have designated immigrant languages as national languages. However, based on the principle of international human rights equality, Taiwan absolutely respects the right of "new residents" to use their mother tongues, and will actively help them to learn Taiwanese national languages so that they can understand Taiwanese culture and integrate into Taiwan as soon as possible. The government will also work with them to create a friendly and diverse linguistic environment.