Thursday, December 4, 2008

Breathing life into the Sirayan language (Taiwan Journal)

In 1624, the Dutch East India Co. established a trading post on Taiwan's southwestern coast, at what is now Tainan City's Anping District. Dutch merchants, soldiers and administrators were joined by a small number of Protestant missionaries who traveled into the interior to convert to the Christian religion the aborigines who, at that time, outnumbered Han Chinese settlers.

To reach out to the native population, the pastors studied the language of the Siraya tribe, the ethnic group that once dominated what is now Tainan County. Few people alive today know much about their culture, and even fewer identify themselves as part of the tribe, but this is something the Siraya Culture Association is endeavoring to change.

The SCA is a non-profit organization that, according to its mission statement, aims to "reconstruct Siraya culture seek government recognition, and revitalize the Siraya tribe."

Prior to the arrival of the Dutch settlers, the Siraya people had no writing system, so the missionaries devised an orthography based on the Roman alphabet which they used to translate the Gospel of Matthew; copies survive of a bilingual edition which has Sirayan on the right side of each page and Dutch on the left.

This writing system lasted much longer than the Dutch occupation, which came to a violent end in 1662. For at least 150 years after the Europeans left, the Siraya people in the Tainan region used the Roman script when drawing up leases and mortgages contracts...

The rest of the article is here. An earlier article on the same topic can be found here.

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