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Dialect Clash?

21 March 2007

Taiwan to stop recognising Mandarin as sole official language in move set
to anger China

TAIPEI - Taiwan plans to abandon its long-standing policy of recognising
Mandarin as the island's only official language, Premier Su Tseng-chang
said yesterday in a move that would likely anger rival China.

Mr Su said the Cabinet is examining a draft for a National Language
Development Act to promote the use of local dialects and prohibit
linguistic discrimination.

"Taiwan is a plural society and all languages should have equal standing
and be respected and supported," Mr Su said, indicating an intention to
confer equal status on the Taiwanese dialect - Fukienese, as well as

Such a move would likely be denounced by Beijing, which regards Taiwan as
part of its territory and opposes any efforts by the island's leadership
to loosen cultural and other bonds.

Mandarin has been Taiwan's official language since 1949, when the Chinese
Nationalist Government lost the Chinese Civil War and fled to Taiwan to
set up its government-in-exile.

Mr Chiu Chuang-liang, director of the Cabinet's council for Cultural
Planning and Development, told Parliament that under the revised Language
Development Bill, Taiwan will stop defining Mandarin - the lingua franca
of China - as the "national language".

Instead, it will list Mandarin, Fukienese, Hakka and Taiwan's aboriginal
tongues as its national languages, Mr Chiu said. He denied that scrapping
Mandarin as the national language is part of Taipei's policy of disowning
Chinese influence but to protect endangered languages.

"United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has
listed Taiwan's aboriginal languages as facing extinction. So the
amendment is to protect different languages and to make them equal," he

Mr Su's announcement is consistent with recent efforts to distance Taiwan
from mainland China in the run-up to this December's legislative elections
and next year's presidential poll.

The push for independence has become more stark under the leadership of Mr
Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party, which took over from
the Kuomintang Nationalist Party in 2000.

- Agencies