Ku Kuo-sun: Scholar who established the Hakka phonetic system

Chinese name
: 古國順

Born: December 20, 1939

Birthplace: Taoyuan County (Northern Taiwan)

Ku Kuo-sun is an educator and scholar specializing in the Hakka studies and language. Over the past three decades, Ku has been dedicated to creating a system of phonetic symbols for the Hakka language while cultivating teachers to pass down the language. His contribution earned him the Hakka Contribution Award for lifetime achievement in 2015.

Growing up in a rural village, Ku started studying books about the Hakka since young age. He later became an elementary school teacher, and his teaching experience allowed him to see student needs in terms of language learning.

After the lifting of martial law in 1987, Taiwan started witnessing dramatic social changes. Anxious about the continuity of Hakka culture and language, he decided to focus his teaching and research on Hakka affairs. Along with many Hakka social activists, Ku joined the Hakka movement to reconstruct the Hakka identity and culture as well as restore Hakka language, which had been banned in the public during the martial law era.

Since 1989, Ku has helped draft and edit articles for the Hakka Monthly (客家雜誌), an iconic magazine covering stories related to Hakka people and events. Through the magazine, Ku helped raise awareness of Hakka issues and introduce Hakka culture to the public in Taiwan and overseas.

In 1995, the Ministry of Education incorporated native languages, including Hakka, into the curriculum for elementary education. Ku then joined the teacher training program to cultivate Hakka language teachers across Hsinchu, Yilan, Taipei, and Kaohsiung.

Ku believes that preserving language is the key to passing down the culture. Therefore, he engaged in studying the pronunciation and phonetic symbols of Hakka language, which contains several kinds of dialect. To make it easier for everyone to learn, Ku co-established the phonetic system for the language. In 2004, Ku also participated in establishing the Hakka language proficiency testing system.

Ku is also a prolific author. He compiled his research results systematically and has published books featuring in-depth studies of Hakka phonology, slang, and folk songs to offer a comprehensive understanding of the language and its development.

Moreover, he helped collect Hakka vocabularies, idioms, and edited Hakka teaching and learning materials for educational purposes. In recent years, he also served as the lecturer for the Hakka Culture Touring Workshop to promote the language across the world.

Ku noted that language is the root of a culture instead of a tool for communication only. In addition to his individual efforts, he called for the government to finance all TV stations in Taiwan for Hakka language dubbing, as it will be more efficient than establishing another Hakka TV station. He hopes that people from different ethnic groups can learn each other’s mother tongue and build mutual respect between people of different cultures.