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Language and Ethnic Identity in Taiwan

 Wi-vun Taiffalo Chiung
The University of Texas at Arlington

        Taiwan is a multilingual and multicultural society. There are currently four basic ethnic groups: indigenous people (1.7% of Taiwan’s population), Hakka (12%), Holo (73.3%), and Mainlanders (13%). Unlike the first three groups, which have resided in Taiwan for hundreds of years, Mainlanders are the latest immigrant group which moved to Taiwan with the Chinese KMT regime in the 1940s. Under KMT’s monolingual policy, the foreign Mandarin language was adopted as the official language of Taiwan in 1945. This paper examines the relationships among three characteristics, i.e. mother tongue, language ability, and ethnic identity among the Hakka, Holo, and Mainlanders.

        An investigation was conducted with a total of 244 students with different ethnic backgrounds from Tamkang and Tamsui Universities in Taiwan. The subjects’ mother tongue, language ability, and ethnic identity were determined by their self-reports on a survey. The results of chi-square tests show that there are significantly different relationship patterns on the three characteristics among the Hakka, Holo, and Mainlanders categories. First, only the Holo category shows substantially interdependent relationships among self-identified Holo mother tongue, Holo language ability, and Holo identity. That is, if a person identifies her/his mother tongue as Holo, then she/he is more likely to have Holo language ability and Holo identity. Second, the Hakka category shows partly interdependent relationships among the three characteristics. The survey reveals there is a one-way dependency between Hakka mother tongue and Hakka identity. That is, a person with Hakka mother tongue is more likely to show her/his Hakka ethnic identity. However, a person with Hakka identity is not more likely to regard her/his mother tongue as the Hakka language. Third, for the Mainlanders category, there is no interdependent relationship among the three characteristics.

        The different relationship patterns among the Hakka, Holo, and Mainlanders reveal the effects of monolingual policy on the ecology of languages in Taiwan. The one-way dependent relationship in Hakka category reveals that people are losing their Hakka mother tongue faster than their Hakka identity. Since the Hakka are a minority compared to the Holo, the monolingual policy has had a greater impact on the Hakka than the Holo. As for the Mainlanders category, the interdependent relationships among the Mandarin mother tongue, Mandarin ability, and Mainlanders are not yet well established since Mandarin was introduced as the official language only about 55 years ago.

Key words: Taiwanese, ethnicity, identity, Hakka, Holo, Mainlanders