Safeguard mother tongues

THE powerful forces of globalisation pose a threat not only to the biosphere but also to the continued existence of indigenous cultures and languages worldwide.

It has been estimated that up to 90percent of the world's languages might become extinct by 2050. Active measures are therefore needed to prevent the loss of the world's linguistic diversity.

The Republic of China (Taiwan) has taken a proactive step to preserve the rich legacy of its linguistic heritage.

This year Taiwan will apply to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) for the formal recognition of traditional Chinese characters (hanzi) as a world cultural heritage item.

Traditional Chinese is arguably the world's oldest and most beautiful written language. Worldwide, it is one of the few classical written languages still in daily use. Traditional Chinese characters are not only a beautiful art form, but form a bridge to the past, granting ordinary people the ability to connect with Chinese history and heritage when reading ancient Chinese literature dating back thousands of years.

In 1956 mainland China initiated a drive to simplify Chinese characters in order to make them more readily accessible to the uneducated rural proletariat. This policy meant that the everyday use of traditional written Chinese was then limited to Taiwan, Hong Kong and various overseas Chinese communities.

With a population of 23 million people, Taiwan views herself as an important custodian of Chinese cultural heritage and will continue to endeavour to safeguard and promote the use of traditional Chinese characters.

Unesco recognition represents an important milestone in this endeavour.

Greg Lishman, Bryanston