Past Suppression of Hoklo in Taiwan

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This article is here for historical reference only. Today's Taiwan is a free and democratic society, where some events of the past may seem remote and unthinkable.

New York Times, September 15, 1974, Section 1, p. 15


Dictionary Tried to Render Local Chinese Sounds

Special to The New York Times

TAIPEI, Taiwan, Sept.14 - A Taiwanese-English dictionary in limited circulation has aroused a controversy that points up the sensitivity of the Taiwanese dialect as an issue here.

The dictionary was officially banned, but copies were brought into this Chinese Nationalist-controlled island by stealth -- smuggled, the Government says -- and the police have been trying to find their source.

The Government says that the dictionary, compiled by a Canadian Presbyterian missionary under the auspices of the Taipei Language Institute, a private organization, was banned because it supplies phonetic renditions of Taiwanese words in the Roman, or Western, alphabet as well as giving Chinese characters. The real objection appears to be that it employes the Taiwanese dialect, the use of which is not encouraged by the Government.

Romanization appears commonly in Chinese dictionaries and textbooks used by foreign students here, to facilitate correct reading of Chinese ideograms.

Use of Mandarin Pressed

Since the Chinese Nationalists arrived here after withdrawing from the mainland in 1949, they have carried on a "Mandarinization program". Though members of the native Taiwanese majority speak their dialect privately, only the Mandarin dialect -- from northern China -- is used in Taiwan's schools, the military service and in central Government offices.

Many Taiwanese resent the restrictions on the use of "local dialect." Programming in Taiwanese, for example, may be carried daily by each television station for only one and a half hours.

The editor of the dictionary Bernard L. M. Embree, and predecessors on the project did their research and compiling in Taiwan over a 10-year period. When the book was completed in 1972, permission to publish was denied by the nationalist Government, and the Romanization was cited as the reason. The Government ordered all print shops not to handle the dictionary.

Mr. Embree then had the manuscript taken to Hong Kong, where it was published last year by a sister institution of the Taipei Language Institute. In recent months some copies have been brought into Taiwan -- an act that Government officials refer to as smuggling, since no import licenses were obtained.

For a time, the book was on sale at a Taipei bookshop, but the copies were soon confiscated by the police, who have since been seeking to establish how the book entered Taiwan. Mr. Embree is currently on home leave in Canada, but some Chinese associated with the project have been questioned.

Objection Explained

An official of the Government's Information Office explained the Government position by saying:

"We have no objection to the dictionary being used by foreigners. They could use it in mimeographed form. But we don't want it published as a book and sold publicly because of the Romanization it contains. Chinese should not be learning Chinese through Romanization."

The book is entitled "A Dictionary of Southern Min." a reference to the speech of southern Fukien Province, the area from which the ancestors of the present-day Taiwanese migrated to Taiwan. The Government prefers to call the Taiwanese dialect "Southern Min" to emphasize its mainland roots.

All Chinese use the same written language, but in speech major regional dialects may differ from one another as much as, say, English and German. Younger Taiwanese have learned Mandarin in school, but few members of the older generation can speak or understand it.

Similarly, many younger "mainlanders" have picked up the local dialect from Taiwanese classmates, but most of their parents know only a few words, even after 25 years on Taiwan.