My research project is based on fieldwork among activists, educators, and students working to save the endangered Indigenous Pangcah (Amis) language in eastern Taiwan. It is focused around the themes of value, scale, and ideology.
The first theme, value, refers to the role language revitalization efforts play in valorizing (Shulist 2018) Pangcah identity. Unlike typical foreign language, the Pangcah language classes I attended were not primarily geared towards instructing students how to communicate with native speakers. Rather, teachers used language education primarily as a means for transmitting traditional Pangcah culture and values to the next generation, with little expectation that they would ever use the language outside of ritual or educational settings.
The second theme, scale, refers to the ways in which language connects or divides people across time and place. These linguistic chronotopes (Das 2016) help define Pangcah identities at the level of village, 'tribe,' ethnic group, and beyond. At the widest scale, Austronesian identity is used to incorporate inter-ethnic identities between Indigenous groups in Taiwan as well as forge connections to other speakers of Austronesian languages across the Pacific, such as the Māori in New Zealand.
Finally, language ideology (Schieffelin, Woolard, and Kroskrity 1998) refers to how people talk and think about the role of language revitalization. A wide variety of competing language ideologies were evoked by subjects during interviews, and many more can be inferred from official policy statements, social media posts, and popular culture as well. For instance, many interviewees expressed a feeling that they are not truly Pangcah if they don't speak their mother tongue, despite their own limited proficiency in the language. This ideology is quite different from that of the majority of Taiwan's Han Chinese population, few of whom would feel any less Chinese because they don't speak the same language as their grandparents.
Through an exploration of these themes, my research ties efforts to preserve and endangered Indigenous language to wider discussions about contemporary Taiwanese multiculturalism (Friedman 2018) and the relationship between language and identity.