Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Language, place and identity: the politics of place and language in the formation of indigenous identity in hualien, taiwan

Melissa Shih-hui Lin, Yi-fong Chen


The making of place is at the core of human geography. Geographers explore the various processes of place-making in terms of individual emotional attachment, election campaign strategy, the competitions among various cities and communities for economic opportunities, political economy, etc. What is absent from this place-making process is the recognition of the crucial role of language(s) in the establishment of landscape characters. Although the various ways in which language policies contribute to the identity formation are well documented, language’s influences upon place construction are overshadowed by the omnipresent identity and nation-building politics in the postcolonial era for the indigenous population in Taiwan. The paper will first examine the literatures of place construction and identity formation in human geography, particularly the links between power and politics of naming places, and the broader social, spatial and historical circumstances. The authors will then review the politics of “national” language policy and its role in the development of indigenous rights movement in Taiwan. A unified official state language, though undermined and eroded the identity base of young indigenous population, provides paradoxically, a common foundation for communication and the emergence of pan-indigenous identity for the future political activism. The intensity of indigenous rights movement, together with other social and political movements, precipitates the alteration of the hegemonic language policy toward a more tolerant and inclusive one. A series of field works interviewing indigenous elders produce abundant contents for the use of discourse analysis to interpret the relations between place naming and sociocultural identity. The contemporary indigenous rights’ discourses and politics that frame narratives are included in our interpretation. The revitalization of indigenous language and culture has many geographical implications, including, among others, the delimiting of cultural and autonomous regions, the re-construction of place identity within traditional territory, and the representation of social and physical characteristics embedded in place names. From the geo-linguistic perspective, this paper aims to investigate the newly emerging role of language and
discourse in the making of place and identity in indigenous population in Hualien as the primary step toward a more comprehensive cartography of sociolinguistic mapping in Taiwan.

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