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Language revitalization and identity politics: a case study of Siraya in Taiwan

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Title: Language revitalization and identity politics: a case study of Siraya in Taiwan
Authors: Huang, Chun
Issue Date: 14 Mar 2009
Description: You call yourself a Siraya person, which I have never heard of. So what is your language like? This is a common question facing many modern Siraya people who are fighting for official recognition of Siraya people by Taiwan's government. Unfortunately, many of them could not offer a proper response, for the Siraya language has been declared "extinct" by some linguists and no one speaks it natively nowadays. A dreadful consequence of the death announcement is Siraya people are also perceived as having "disappeared" or "completely Sinicized," implying that there is nothing culturally unique left among them. Despite the difficult circumstances, the Tainan Ping-pu Siraya Culture Association has since 1997 dedicated itself to Siraya revitalization. In the last decade, the association has achieved tasks such as composing modern Siraya songs, organizing summer camps that teach the re-learnt native tongue, and publishing a modern Siraya dictionary. Still, this cultural movement has a political end, namely, to attain official status of the (collective) Siraya identity. In this paper, I will introduce the revitalization effort of the Siraya association and my involvement with it as a native linguist. In particular, I focus on issues pertaining to the interconnection between language revitalization and identity politics. For example, while the denial of official identity precludes the (re-)claiming of native names by individuals, the Siraya association urges its members to use Siraya names. What is the motive behind this self-(re)naming? How does one evaluate the significance of this act against the political context (cf. Author 2007)? In 2008, the Chinese Nationalist Party replaced the localist Democratic Progressive Party in the central government of Taiwan; soon after, changes concerning indigenous policy took place. What is the implication of these changes to the future of Siraya movement? Also, most members in the association are affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, which is known for its association to political localism in Taiwan. How do these two associations interact with each other? Does the Church's political preference entail its support for native revitalization? Or does the Church perceive native revitalization, which may encourage (re-)embracing the traditional religion, as a potential threat? All in all, my aim is to bring together disciplines such as language planning, political discourse analysis, and language preservation, in response to the call for "responsible linguistics" (Hale et al. 1992). I believe it is time for linguists to confront our socio-political responsibility in actual practice.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:1st International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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