Monday, 18 January 2016

Fourth Comment On Marie-Alice McClean-Dreyfus Article At "Thinking Taiwan" On Minority Languages

As below. Quotations from others in italics as usual. I think the "value" of preserving minority languages is almost entirely as electoral gimmick; there is very little point to it besides helping politicians to pile up a few more elders' votes on the cheap. Young people in Taiwan would be better advised to acquire both English and Mandarin, rather than expend additional time and energy to preserve whichever minority language their family bestowed upon them.


OK so first there has been a misunderstanding that I need to clear up: I do not think that there ought to be language policies in Taiwan to protect English. Such a position is absurd, and your drawing of that inference made me say "wot?" out loud with a shake of the head (well it didn't actually, but that's the best way I can think of to describe my reaction). I was asking what reasons there may be for political action to preserve minority languages, and putting that question into comparison with the possible benefits of acquiring English and the obvious absence of English from the identity card games which Taiwanese politicians play with minority languages in order to get votes. Basically I'm saying there is no good reason to preserve minority languages beyond (1) their value for cynical exploitation by politicians at election time, and (2) the subjective value these languages may have for this or that enthusiast. The first point was my main point - that language preservation is basically an electoral racket; a sort of identity card game aimed at racking up a few extra votes. Point number two means it is perfectly acceptable for individuals to freely devote their time and money to the cause of language preservation, but it is at least arguable whether there is sufficient justification for government to get involved and spend tax-payer's money as the benefits are so small and accrue to so few people.

" schooling seems an interesting option..."

Thank you for saying as much. I think it deserves more attention than either the media or the Ministry of Education would like it to have.

"The thing is that after martial law, biases against these languages are likely to be very important for many “good” jobs and key positions. Of course it is changing, I don’t know at what pace and towards what new situation. But to get a good job it is probably still a better idea to speak Mandarin (or English)."

My suspicion is that, even without the martial law suppression, we would probably arrive at a situation where one or two languages tend to dominate - given the transaction costs necessary for translation, one or two dominant languages just makes so much of everyday life so much more convenient and efficient for most of us.

"... the main point of it is probably getting your way inside a network of people who will help you with your career..."

Indeed, which is why much of higher education is basically a licensing racket which saddles young people with unnecessary debt in exchange for being allowed to get into a career. And yet this is not how higher education is marketed or how the people who work in it view it themselves. The promoted images are all about the "quality", "intelligence" and "objectivity" of the institutions of higher education, when very often much of their teaching and research tends to be of dubious, politically-contrived value (with the partial exception of the STEM subjects).

"I’m (stupidly would you say?) working on Taiwanese processing when I could probably get rich working on Chinese processing."

No I would not say so. I support the free market because freedom. That it also allows some people to get rich just happens to be a pretty cool side effect. I am coming to the end of my own (five year) research project on Taiwan's reservoirs as it happens, and from which I expect to earn next to nothing. I did it out of enthusiasm and interest, and a desire to be better educated on the subject than most people.

"Science in its expression requires the use of an incredibly large number of metaphors, and language matters."

Yes of course, but that is a different point which I am not contesting. Both English and French have different words for metals like gold, iron and tin, yet the knowledge of these elements is common to both cultures. Ergo, expression is not the same thing as knowledge.


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