I just gave a talk at the Royal Asiatic Society about language loss in East Asia, typically due to the handiwork of those in various ministries of education in China, Taiwan and Singapore. In each of these places, the respective governments have similar policies to encourage the local version of Standard Mandarin wins out over the various other Sinitic languages.
In Singapore, the government has been pushing since the 1970s for Mandarin to replace Hakka, Min and anything else the Chinese population may speak. This is in addition to the English education system. Interesting, some of the backlash has come from non-Chinese Singaporeans, who are concerned that Mandarin will then transplant English as the lingua franca.
Meanwhile the Taiwanese Ministry of Education goes back and forth on what's to be done with minority languages. At least for now, things look considerably better than in other countries in the Sinosphere, despite continued decline in use of the language among Taiwanese youths.
China has had a policy since 1992 of pushing Standard Mandarin use in schools and not allowing other Sinitic languages to be spoken. In recent years there has been a big of push back from local governments and organisations, and while it may be the result of the recency illusion it does seem that the number of speakers of other dialects and languages are starting to see the threat to their languages and thus are starting to take action.
In all these places, the trend is definitely one of Mandarinisation. Fortunately, we're now seeing not just post-80s speakers taking action to preserve their languages, but post-90s speakers also taking an interest. This is key, since they are the ones that are most affected by the 1992 policy in China. As a generation they are unquestionably more Mandarinised and less confident in speaking the local languages.
It's too soon to say at this point, but I'm hopeful that there may be a reverse in the trend, at least among a certain part of the population.
I'll put the notes for my talk up here shortly, once I'm settled back in from the week of travel.
Leave a comment