The Critical Role of Language and Semantics in Taiwan

January 18, 2018


Taiwan is a culturally rich, small island off the coast of China where "what you say" and "how you say it" can cause a quick rise in international tension. Already in 2018, the Chinese authorities have demanded that major companies like Marriott, Delta Airlines, Medtronic and Spanish fashion brand Zara remove from their websites and online marketing materials any reference of Taiwan as a "country". Although the violations cited may seem like an insignificant argument in semantics to us, China sees Taiwan as part of its territory and not a separate country. Since China is second among the world's largest economies, each company was quick to comply and issued public apologies for their oversight.

Hong Kong and Macau are also frequently listed as regions. To the Communist government in China and the democratic ruled region of Taiwan, semantic differences are a reflection of powerful political rhetoric. Taiwan has prospered under democratic self-rule but the Chinese government insists that the Chinese flag should fly over the region. Webmasters for many multinationals who understand the sensitive nature of what is said about the island of Taiwan already include on site "country or region" for users searching for airline tickets, hotel prices, etc. However, the economic impact goes deeper as Taiwanese consumers often stop doing business with companies who comply with China's demands.

 If you are curious as to the national language of Taiwan, it's complicated. The official language is listed as: None, de facto status in Taiwan as one of the statutory languages for public transport announcements and for the naturalization test in Taiwan. In reality, about 70% of the population speaks Taiwanese Hokkien. The official languages are listed as Standard Mandarin Chinese and Hakka Chinese. The Indigenous languages are Formosan languages with the Vernaculars being Taiwanese Hokkien, Taiwanese Hakka and Taiwanese Mandarin. Among the foreign languages frequently spoken are English, Japanese and Vietnamese. The Official script is Latin (Formosan alphabet) and Traditional Chinese.

For those lucky enough to visit the island region, Taiwanese architecture, art and cuisine reflect both the beauty and stark contrast of cultural influences, as well as capture the past and present of this region in a most unique way.

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