In Ho̍k-kiàn (Fujian Province), the ancestral home of Southern Min (of which Taiwanese is one form), the local language is under pressure from the growth of Mandarin. In the past few decades the People’s Republic of China has pursued an aggressive campaign of Mandarinization, resulting in many areas which were formerly bastions of other Chinese languages (Min, Wu, Gan, Cantonese and more) becoming progressively stronger in Putonghua (Mandarin) and weaker in the local language.
A recent China News article raises some points which will seem very familiar to those who follow the demographics and trends of the Southern Min-speaking population in Taiwan.
In Xiamen City in the past few days a committee named the “Southern Min Language and Literature Academic Discussion Forum” has been convened by the Xiamen City Language Committee; the experts suggest a “tiered exam” system to help preserve Southern Min.
According to Hong Kong’s Ta Kung Pao newspaper Southern Min has a long established history, bringing together a profound culture and South-Eastern China’s oldest Chinese topolect, which has been dubbed a “living fossil of Ancient Chinese” and is spoken in Southern Fujian, Taiwan, Chaoshan and Hainan, amongst other places.
As a consequence of the proliferation of Putonghua more and more families are emphasising Putonghua education for youngsters, meaning that the language is gradually replacing Southern Min in the Min heartlands.
(My English translation is rough and ready, as always)
China’s record in protecting minority Chinese languages is just as poor as Taiwan’s and it remains to be seen whether this initiative will bear any fruit (and what exactly is a tiered system of testing supposed to do anyway?). It is both heartening that the problem is being recognised and worrying that Southern Min is under threat on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
Photo: Xiamen University at night, by Miaobz.