Taiwan, as an island at the crossroad of civilizations, is bound to be in the middle of questions about identity and heritage. Today, we begin thinking about a central pillar of what drives our identities—the issue of language.
In many ways, the languages we speak, speak to who we are. The languages that our mothers and grandmothers taught us give us a link to the past from which we have come. But when those languages disappear, become extinct, what happens to that link to our past? Do we become someone else completely? Do our future paths diverge?
To help us orient ourselves to think about these questions, we talk to filmmaker Anita Chang, a documentary filmmaker who has also taught in universities in Taiwan and Hawaii. Her film Tongues of Heaven explores the stories of four young women in Taiwan and Hawaii in search of their native languages, which are facing extinction. We talk about her vision when she started out making the film, the issue of the will of our generation to re-learn those languages, and how does that will respond to the pressure of communicating in the modern world efficiently and speaking “official” or “formal”, or even “civilized”, languages. Of course, Anita also shares her own personal experiences of dealing with multiple languages, in her own heritage.
(Feature photo of Yan-Fen Lan, a 20-year old woman working to revitalize the Tsao Kanakanabu language in Taiwan, spoken by only about 10 remaining speakers. Provided by Anita Chang.)
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