Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Young man with a mission: Language activist Jimmy Huang (Highway 11)

Jimmy Huang is a special assistant to the chairwoman of the Siraya Culture Association (SCA). This Tainan County-based group is endeavoring to reconstruct Sirayan culture and win government recognition for the Siraya tribe, a lowland aboriginal group that used to dominate Southwest Taiwan, but whose language has not been spoken for a hundred years.

In 2008, Huang was awarded a grant by the Foundation for Endangered Languages, a charity registered in the United Kingdom, to help fund the preparation of Sirayan-language teaching materials and the compilation of a Sirayan dictionary. Highway 11 recently interviewed Huang, a PhD student at the University of Florida, by e-mail.

H11: When did you realize you were of Siraya descent?

HUANG: In the summer of 2005, I came back to Taiwan and visited the National Museum of Prehistory in Taitung. There I saw a display entitled ‘Siraya tools’ that included fishing equipment, bamboo utensils and a cradle. I realized that these things were common in my own home. I was confused because back then I had thought of myself simply as a ‘Taiwanese’ – ethnically speaking, Southern Min. I called my native home in Jiali Township, Tainan County, to ask about my identity. Surprisingly, the elders in my home told me, “Oh yes, our family is actually ‘fwan-a’ [‘barbarian’ in Taiwanese].” That’s when I first learned I was in fact a Siraya aborigine. The discovery of my true identity got me into thinking about issues such as the social connotation of labeling and the survival of minority languages in modern nation-states: Why did my folks feel ashamed about our aboriginal ethnicity...

The rest of the interview can be read online.

1 comment:

Brian Barker said...

As the "International Year of Languages" comes to an end on 21st February, you may be interested in the contribution, made by the World Esperanto Association, to UNESCO's campaign for the protection of endangered languages.

The following declaration was made in favour of Esperanto, by UNESCO at its Paris HQ in December 2008.

The commitment to the campaign to save endangered languages was made, by the World Esperanto Association at the United Nations' Geneva HQ in September. or