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Preserving the aboriginal languages in Taiwan has been a great challenge in recent years. This year in UNESCO’s “Atlas of the World’s Languages in the Danger," the Pazeh language spoken by the Pazeh aboriginal people in Taiwan was labeled as “extinct."

According to the UNESCO report, in addition to Pazeh, there are five aboriginal languages in Taiwan that are labeled as “critically endangered," nine as “vulnerable," and 16 tribal languages are partially extinct. On November 26, the Executive Yuan passed the draft of the Aboriginal Language Development Act to help preserve the endangered aboriginal languages.

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Zhan Yi-ni, a sixth-grade student who recently won first prize in the Saisiyat language category of the national language contest, hopes young Saisiyat people can start identifying with the Saisiyat language.

The Saisiyat tribe is mainly located in the mountains between Hsinchu County and Miaoli County. They live between 500 to 1,500 meters in altitude with a total population of around 6,000 people.

The Saisiyat culture is one of Taiwan’s most endangered indigenous cultures. Before the Thao tribe was officially recognized as an aboriginal tribe, Saisiyat had the least population in the mountains. The scale of their habitation is narrow, and a tendency of being more deeply influenced by the Chinese culture is seen. The Saisiyat is known for their biennial festival, “Pastaai."

UDN reports, Zhan who speaks fluent Saisiyat, already holds the basic-level certification of Saisiyat language, and will take the exam for the intermediate-level certification. She also volunteers in the Pastaai festival every year. Zhan says that Saisiyat is difficult in pronunciation and spelling. It’s a challenge for people to start learning it. Moreover, with less chances to practice, it’s hard to internalize the language.

Zhan says that nowadays the young Saisiyat people don’t speak their tribal language at all. Normally they only use Chinese to communicate with others. Zhan worries that if one day no one speaks Saisiyat anymore, there won’t be anyone who will remember the Saisiyat people. “I hope the Saisiyat people will not forget the language spoken by our ancestors," Zhan says.

CNA reports, according to UNESCO’s report, Nataoran language, Kavalan language, Thao language, Saaroa language and Kanakanabu language are rated as critically endangered; Saisiyat language is severely endangered; Puyuma, Bunun, Amis, Tsou, Rukai, Yami, Paiwan, Atayal and Taroko language are rated as vulnerable.

Highlights of the new draft include that the Council of Indigenous People should establish writing systems for aboriginal languages to preserve the language data, hold regular examinations on the ability and conditions of aboriginal language usages, formulate policies for reviving aboriginal languages and prioritize the endangered languages to offer them first-hand assistance.

Translated by Vic Chiang
Edited by Olivia Yang