Taiwan celebrates linguistic diversity at annual music awards

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan celebrated linguistic diversity at the Golden Melody Awards late Saturday with big wins for singers who primarily sing in Mandarin, at one of the most prestigious entertainment events in the Chinese-speaking world.

The awards celebrate not only Mandopop but also artists singing in Taiwanese – also known as Hokkien – Hakka and indigenous languages, a visible sign of the government’s efforts to promote tongues other than Mandarin.

While Mandarin remains Taiwan’s main language of education and government, other languages are strongly encouraged and supported. In China, despite constitutional protections for minority tongues, in practice only Mandarin is promoted.

Veteran star Julia Peng was named best singer in Hakka, despite never recording an album in the language before, while Enno Cheng won for best female singer in Taiwanese and best Taiwanese album, a language she does not speak.

“My friend asked me, why don’t you sing good songs in Chinese?”, Peng said upon receiving the prize in Taipei. “I don’t think there should be language restrictions on singing.”

Cheng, speaking in Mandarin, thanked the Taiwanese language for “teaching me how to bow my head and slow down”.

In the indigenous language category, the Paiwan singers Kasiwa and Matzka rapped and sang in their native tongue, with Kasiwa getting the prestigious jury award.

While Taiwan has only 23 million people, its music scene has an outsized influence in the Chinese-speaking world, in part due to creativity unhindered by censorship.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wrote on her Facebook and Instagram pages that at the show the love of music had “eliminated language boundaries between different ethnic groups.”

“Here, no matter what language everyone uses – Taiwanese, Hakka, indigenous languages, Mandarin, English and Japanese, – they can all sing freely, which also brings us together.”

Disco queen Ouyang Fei Fei, one of two special contribution award winners and as famous for her big hair as her big voice, broke through in Japan in the 1970s singing in Japanese.

“Singing and performing have always been my dream. If I can, I will continue to sing and never give up,” Ouyang, now 73, told the audience.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by William Mallard)