Push to Preserve the Tibetan Language in China

tibet-mother-tongue-poster-feb-2013-crop.jpg A poster in China calls for study of the Tibetan language in a file photo.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener

Tibetans marked a special day this month to promote the use of traditional Tibetan language in China, calling for a return to a spoken language unmixed with Chinese in an attempt to reassert Tibetan identity, according to sources.

The move comes amid reports of a revival of the Tibetan mother tongue in Beijing-governed Tibetan areas.

Flyers posted in advance of the Feb. 21 Tibetan Mother Language Day in Gansu province’s Kanlho (Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture urged readers to “defend their mother tongue and give up impure mixed speech forever,” an area resident told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to reassert national identity in recent years, with Chinese authorities frequently closing language classes taught outside the state-controlled education system and Tibetan students protesting against the use of textbooks written in Chinese.

'A golden cup'

Posters describing the Tibetan language as “the golden cup that holds the essence of Tibetan culture” have now appeared in public places across Kanlho’s Luchu (in Chinese, Luqu) and Machu (Maqu) counties, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, in Chigdril (Jiuzhi) county in neighboring Qinghai province’s Golog (Guoluo) prefecture, Tibetan organizers of a Mother Tongue Protection Association observed the Feb. 21 event by setting up a portrait of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, the source said.

“”Several hundred Tibetans gathered before the portrait, and some read poems aloud on the need to protect our language,” he said.

“Local authorities discourage activities related to the preservation and propagation of the Tibetan language, and at times they openly express their dislike and try to put restrictions in place. But the Tibetans were determined and went ahead with their programs,” he added.

'Unexpected revival'

China has jailed scores of Tibetan writers, artists, singers, and educators for asserting national and cultural identity and civil rights since widespread protests swept Tibet and Tibetan-populated areas of China in 2008.

“China has spent the last six decades trying to eradicate the Tibetan language by portraying it as an old language that has outlived its use,” Tenzin Dorjee, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, said.

“As a result, the very act of speaking Tibetan has become a form of resistance,” Dorjee said.

“Now we are seeing an unexpected revival of the Tibetan language as Tibetans embrace their mother tongue as a marker of distinct Tibetan identity in a movement to overcome China’s cultural imperialism.”

Reported by Lumbum Tashi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.


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