Maja Buchler, Sprachplanung im Schafspelz ?! Robert Cheng und die Verschriftlichung des Taiwanesischen

In this work, Maja Buchler surveys the works of Robert Cheng,
who is one of the best known linguistic experts on the Taiwanese language. Its
publication is therefore a valuable addition to the series dedicated to the southern
Min language (minnanhua). Robert Cheng was born in 1931 and is one of the
Taiwanese exiles living in the United States. He gained his Ph.D. in 1966 at the
University of Indiana for his thesis, “Some Aspects of Mandarin Syntax”,
and he became a lecturer in Chinese at the University of Hawaii in 1970. His works
are critical of the Kuomintang’s language policies for their exclusive focus
on the promotion of Mandarin. At a time when the KMT was resolved on the elimination
of the Taiwanese language, this stance could be considered a political act. The
basic premise of all his works is that the minnanhua is threatened with
extinction.

Maja Buchler defends Robert Cheng’s position and maintains
his opposition to official language policy. She puts forward the following three
main arguments: that Taiwanese, which she defines as a regional language, is a
written language; that the standardisation and codification of the language does
not mean breaking away from China; and, that it could be granted official recognition.
In support of these arguments she analyses Robert Cheng’s works in the light
Robert Cooper’s theories in his Language Planning and Social Change
(1).

The first part of her book deals briefly with the ethnolinguistic
situation in Taiwan, from the Ming dynasty through to the Japanese colonial period
(1895-1945) and the Nationalist regime. In this part she lists the various systems
for transcribing Mandarin, Taiwanese and the Taiwanese indigenous languages.

The second section is devoted to a selection of Robert Cheng’s
sociolinguistic works. It is organised around four major thematic concerns: language
policies, the structural characteristics of the Taiwanese language, its standardisation,
and its preservation. In each case the author advances Robert Cheng’s own
leading arguments.

In the third section she tests these arguments against Cooper’s
theories and concludes that they are valid. This means that she endorses his aim
that the Taiwanese language should be treated as a possible equal partner of Mandarin
in Taiwan’s language and education policies.

Her book is interesting for the considerable store of information
it contains. For example, the reader learns that Robert Cheng was in favour of
a mixture of Chinese characters and Roman script (hanluo), which was associated
with a project for the adaptation of Taiwanese to the requirements of information
technology. The author also examines the relationship between this initiative
and the work of other Taiwanese language specialists, such as Hong Wei-ren, Ekki
Lu (Lu Yiqi), Pai Chou (Zhou Baixiang), and Tan Keng-chiu (Chen Qingzhou).

Maja Buchler acknowledges that Robert Cheng and his companions
had links with overseas Taiwanese political activists, but in general she does
not pay sufficient attention to the political context of his works. Some consideration
of the University of Hawaii’s programmes for the revival of the Hawaiian
language, through information technology and on-line education, would have thrown
light on Cheng’s intention to develop computer programming in the Taiwanese
language (2). She could also have attempted
to assess the political and educational issues influencing the language policies
of the Kuomintang. It is regrettable that she did not give more attention to situating
the complexity of these questions of language within the wider post-war political
context.

Translated from the French original by Jonathan Hall

Back to top