As Shakespeare Did

In the video, a quote, “wherever you find English, you find Shakespeare” has impressed me a lot.
There is no doubt that Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers in the world, his works have been read and liked for centuries, and his influence may continue to last. But, what about ourselves?

In Taiwan, there has been a trend of vernacular literatures recently. Besides using Mandarin, many people now want to use their mother tongues to write works, such as Holo (Taiwanese in strict sense), Hakka, and other aboriginal languages. Take Holo, which I am most familiar to, for example. In the past, some people may argue that there is no writing system in Holo, but the problem is going to be solved. There is a program of finding the correct Chinese characters in Holo, leading by a Chinese professor in National Taiwan University.

Once the problem is gone, what problem will come next? I think the biggest one is language identity. Even though the mother tongues of most people in Taiwan are not Mandarin, people speak their first languages not as proficient as a native speaker should be. People are familiar to use Mandarin and tend to regard it as their mother tongue, which may not be true. Some even think that “I don’t care what my mother tongue is and I don’t want to change my habit of using a language.”

If a language is used seldom, the language may die in some day. I think there is no connection between language identity and political identity, what I worry about is that most people do not think that languages and literatures of Holo, Hakka, and aboriginal are important. Some people even think that these literatures can not be equal to Chinese literature. The history of each literature is different, so it’s not fair to judge which literature is better which is not.

Let’s look at England in 16th century. Richard Mulcaster (ca. 1530-1611) said: “Is it not indeed a marvelous bondage, to become servants to one tongue for learning’s sake the most of our time, with loss of most time, whereas we may have the very same treasure in our own tongue, with the gain of more time? our own bearing the joyful title of our liberty and freedom, the Latin tongue remembering us of our thralldom and bondage ? I love Rome, but London better; I favor Italy, but England more; I honor the Latin, but I worship the English.”
I was quite shocked and impressed by this passage. What we have to do is just give time to vernacular literatures and, more importantly, give them same space and freedom to develop. Just like English versus Latin at that time, Holo (for instance) is not less elegant or complex than Mandarin at all. Indeed, in linguistic point of view, all languages are equal; there are no “better languages.” I believe firmly that there will be a great writer in Taiwan like Shakespeare after decades or centuries, as long as languages don’t fade.

We should be more confident to our mother tongues as some people at Shakespeare’s time in England did that we will feel most comfortable and natural to use our first languages. Once people go back to learn their mother tongues again, it will be very easy for them to pick it up. And with more people use mother tongues more often, some masterpieces of vernacular literatures may appear, like Shakespeare in England or Cervantes in Spain.

Shakespeare is a great writer as well as an ideal model for Taiwanese writers to emulate. The process is difficult but worthy. I do hope that one day there is a Taiwanese writer that s/he can rhyme, alludes, capture “the rhythm of language,” use alliteration, metaphor, paradox, irony, and so on, to the great extent as Shakespeare did.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” this is a famous quotation of Shakespeare’s in As You Like It. My interpretation is that Shakespeare had built a wonderful literary stage for us, and he was a great player indeed. We should all follow him to do our best as a player, a writer, or a person who loves her/his first language, and then try to build another tremendously abundant literary garden.

At last, the host in the video said, “he finds us.” Shakespeare finds us, we find Shakespeare, and we should find ourselves. We should find ourselves in our mother tongues and literatures.


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