[0703] Is Taiwanese Holo a Chinese language?

I was reading Michael's post Language and Culture Here and There, in which some language issues are discussed. I found this paragraph:

The weird fact is that the government here is recognizing other Chinese languages as national languages -- and both sides regard this as becoming less Chinese. In fact, I am sure that the pro-China crowd is going to scream that increased use of Chinese languages like Hakka and Taiwanese is an act of "de-Sinicization.

and don't quite agree with it. I wrote a comment below:

Michael, it seems that you consider the Hakka used in Taiwan and the Taiwanese(holo) are "chinese languages." I don't quite agree with this view.

First of all, a language, like biology species, evolves. When a language splits and each isolates from the other for some period of time, they evolve into different languages. This is a general case in all languages.

Taiwan in the ruling of Chiang kei-shih had prevented the contact between people from two sides of the Strait. That provided the necessary requirement -- isolation -- for languages on each side to evolve independently.

Secondly, Taiwan has gone through rulings of different countries, each contributes some of their cultural elements into Taiwanese. This is especially true for Japan. Many Taiwanese words are actually Japanese. I did have a chance to talk with a Holo guy from China. We can understand each other by about 60%-70% of the words we use, but not 100 or 90%. It's NOT like the case of "American English vs. British English," in which the English in USA is not that much deviated from its British cousin.

That means, even it's a fact that Holo was originally from China, the current Holo in Taiwan is a combination of many different influences and is already different from its origin language significantly. Therefore, labeling it a "chinese language" would be misleading.

When comparing the cultures between Taiwan and China, one common misconcept is that "Taiwan culture is part of China culture." Actually, to describe more precisely, we probably have to say, "China culture is part of Taiwanese culture," becaue Taiwan's culture is a combination of many different cultures and Chinese culture is just one of them.


Mark [10/11/07 08:56] said...

The term "Chinese language" generally refers to a language family, and it's normal for different languages of the same family to be mutually unintelligible. English, for example, is a Germanic language, but German is nearly completely incomprehensible to me.

Also, note that picking up words from other language families doesn't change the classification of a language. English has taken more words from French than from German, but it's still a Germanic rather than Romantic language. Similarly, while the Taiwanese flavor of Southern Min may have taken in a lot of Japanese words, it's still tonal, it still has grammatical features that identify it as a Sino-Tibetan language and it clearly doesn't share those characteristics with Japanese, Korean or other Altaic languages.

Taiwan Echo [10/11/07 10:45] said...

I tend to agree with you, Mark. The evolution deviates the languages in Taiwan from those in China, but doesn't kick them out of the big language tree. Thanks for the clarification.