Professor James H.-Y. Tai of National Chung Cheng University who loves life and cares about public interests, helps people with his on-going donation for more than 20 years

Published on Jun 24 2019

James H.-Y. Tai, Professor at the Graduate Institute of Linguistics of the National Chung Cheng University (CCU) was born and grew up in Lukang, a rustic town in Taiwan. He always has a smile in glowing spirits on his face and moves as fit as a fiddle. None can easily tell that Professor Tai is actually in his 78th of age this year. He has inherited a strong sense of social responsibility, and has started donating money for good causes 20 years ago and has been doing so from then on. Some of those greatest causes are particularly worth being remembered as describing below. In addition to the set-up of a scholarship to commemorate his parents and to support CCU students in financial difficulty, Prof. Tai also offered one million NTD to help establish the Taiwan Center for Sign Linguistics on CCU campus and consequentially led a team of linguists and specialists to construct the first Taiwan Sign Language (TSL) online dictionary and its reference grammar, promoting TSL linguistics research onto the international stage.

"I learned how to treat people with difficulties from my parents." Prof. Tai recalled in an interview. In those days, his father was a doctor in Lukang and mother was a midwife. To his memory, there were always people queuing outside their home waiting to see the doctor. The World War II was just ended, Tai’s parents saw many people around them suffering from straitened conditions, therefore often offered the services straight away regardless if the patients could afford to pay or not. At that time, his father had already shown his interest on public health. When he treated patients, he would make records of which villages the patients came from, then carefully analyzed how the epidemic disease was distributing in each village around Lukang rural areas.

Prof. Tai obtained his Ph.D. in linguistics in the United States then soon started his teaching career as a linguistics professor there until 1995, when he was recruited back to Taiwan to found the Graduate Institute of Linguistics at the then newly established CCU. This position also provided him with the opportunity to look after his mother whom was in a critical health condition at that time. After his parents had passed away, Prof. Tai felt with his parents’ good deeds that had long been exercised during their lifetime, decided to set up a scholarship in memory of his parents for the students with financial difficulty at CCU.

In the 1990s when the Institute of Linguistics was founded at CCU by Tai, most of the linguistic discussions were centered around English teaching and less on the nature of human language itself. To this day, despite of the situation on linguistics research is slightly better than the past, nationwide, only the National Chung Cheng University (CCU), National Taiwan University (NTU), National Chengchi University (NCCU), and National Tsing Hua University (NTHU), have an independent Graduate Institute of Linguistics. Among them, CCU Institute of Linguistics is the only institute which has a focus on Sign Linguistics study. Tai explained that, without deep understanding of spoken and signed languages, linguists are not able to grasp the full picture of natural language of human beings, nor are able to figure out how the cognitive neural system processes languages in our human brain.

Consequently, Prof. Tai and his research team on Sign linguistics, in their collaborated efforts for many years dating back from year 2001, have constructed the "Taiwan Sign Language Online Dictionary" with written description in Chinese and in English versions separately. This dictionary provides valuable resources for the general public to access TSL data and for academic scholars to widen their research scales, at home and abroad. Meanwhile, the big task of completing the "TSL Reference Grammar" is still in progress. For the first time in Taiwan, in 2018, the CCU Institute of Linguistics started Master’s program in sign language linguistics. Besides, Tai has also been actively engaging in language and aging research for more than 10 years, to explore the relationship between aspects of language declining, memory, attention, and the degradation in brain neural tissues, hoping to learn from the research findings to delay cognitive aging process through language training.

A previous life-threatening event happened as a striking blow against Prof. Tai can probably make people understand his passionate love for life. "I often joked about that my biggest contribution to Taiwan is the promotion for AED." Tai said. Actually, that might be true. Before 2007, the automatic external defibrillator (AED) was still uncommon in Taiwan. In 2007, Tai was invited to give a keynote speech in Japan. Immediately after he had finished the speech, he collapsed and lost the consciousness in front of hundreds of listeners. Fortunately, he was saved by the AED placed nearby.

Prof. Tai again then mentioned that, for what had happened to him made the current vice president of Taiwan, Chien-Jen Chen, who was once a colleague of Tai in the National Science Council, realize the importance of the AED, and began to promote the installation of the AED nationwide. "The year of 2007 is just like a brand-new start of my second life. I often wonder, what does the mighty one up there want to keep me alive again?" As a result, Tai donated some AED devices to be stored at different sites on CCU campus to prevent the unexpected tragedy from occurring. He also gave out another donation last year to help the Guochuan-Maymiao Foundation purchase 10 AED devices to benefit more people in Chiayi district. That trip of near-death experience to Japan in 2007 made Tai cherish life even more than ever.

Prof. Tai stated that in his early life, people in rural areas would normally have to deal with great hardships. He saw his classmates walking to school without shoes on and were forced to work in the fields as soon as graduated from the elementary school. All that made Tai to have a strong belief in social fairness and justice. Tai stated “people were not born equal, so when we have the ability to help others, we should just take actions any time.” Today, Prof. Tai would still give a hand to the needy students.

After returning to Taiwan for nearly 24 years, Prof. Tai has spent all these years to accompany CCU to its growth all along. This year, as it coincides with the CCU 30th anniversary, and the hosting of the National Intercollegiate Athletic Games, Prof. Tai has donated another one million NTD to support the university. He wants to contribute something for such a special moment and to share the joy of the celebration while he is still capable to do more for CCU, the university he always feels deeply connected with.