Plat­form pre­serves a dis­ap­pear­ing eth­nic lan­guage

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By TIAN XUEFEI and ZHOU HUIYING in Harbin

Hei­long jiang province is launch­ing a project to en­cour­age more peo­ple to use the in­ter­net to learn the steadily dwin­dling lan­guages of some eth­nic groups.

The first course in the use of a learn­ing plat­form for the preser­va­tion of the Oro­qen lan­guage and cul­ture in north­east­ern China con­cluded re­cently in Tahe county. The two-day course at­tracted about 60 rep­re­sen­ta­tives, in­clud­ing ex­perts, of­fi­cials, teach­ers and Oro­qen peo­ple.

The lan­guage is only spo­ken; it has no writ­ten form. There are about 3,900 Oro­qen peo­ple in Hei­long jiang, ac­count­ing for 45 per­cent of all Oro­qen peo­ple na­tion­wide.

Although there are no ex­act num­bers, re­search in­di­cates that there are “very few peo­ple who can speak the Oro­qen lan­guage”, said Liu Jie, who planned the project. “Most peo­ple younger than 50 do not speak the lan­guage any­more.”

“De­spite gov­ern­ment ef­forts to pro­tect mi­nor­ity lan­guages, th­ese lan­guages are in dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ing due to mod­ern­iza­tion,” said the re­tired civil ser­vant, who works for the pro­vin­cial eth­nic af­fairs author­ity.

Start­ing in June last year, the Hei­long jiang Eth­nic Af­fairs Com­mis­sion be­gan to build an on­line plat­form of­fer­ing free learn­ing ma­te­ri­als to those in­ter­ested in learn­ing the dy­ing eth­nic lan­guage. Af­ter a year’s trial run, the plat­form was of­fi­cially rolled out in late July.

“Through the plat­form, any­one who reg­is­ters can ob­tain free learn­ing sources, in­clud­ing record­ings based on the text­book, vo­cab­u­lary in Chi­nese and English, and cul­tural dis­plays,” he said.

To pro­mote the use of the plat­form, the com­mis­sion or­ga­nized a train­ing course and re­ceived pos­i­tive re­sponses.

“It is a plat­form that can pro­vide ac­cu­rate and sci­en­tific learn­ing meth­ods for those who want to study the lan­guage,” said Guan Jin­fang, 62, a master of Oro­qen folk songs, danc­ing, tra­di­tional cos­tumes and pa­per-cut­ting, as well as Shaman danc­ing and cos­tume.

“The older peo­ple, like me, can speak it flu­ently,” she said. “But the younger gen­er­a­tions of Oro­qen are be­com­ing sim­i­lar to the Han peo­ple, and few of them can speak the Oro­qen lan­guage. I hope the Oro­qen tra­di­tions can be con­tin­ued gen­er­a­tion by gen­er­a­tion.

“Fur­ther­more, in the in­ter­net era, the plat­form pro­vides easy ac­cess to spread the Oro­qen lan­guage and cul­ture all around the world.”

Mo Ren­jie, 21, a ju­nior at Wuhan Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, is an Oro­qen from Hei­long jiang. He said he is ashamed every time a class­mate asks him to speak his eth­nic lan­guage.

“I can only speak sev­eral words in Oro­qen due to the lack of a lan­guage en­vi­ron­ment and good learn­ing meth­ods,” he said. “I reg­is­tered on the plat­form the first time I heard about it, and I will in­tro­duce the plat­form to my class­mates.”

Liu, the plat­form project plan­ner, said more train­ing cour­ses will be or­ga­nized. In the next stage, his team will ex­pand the plat­form to in­clude other eth­nic mi­nor­ity lan­guages, in­clud­ing Hezhe, Daur, Ewenki, Kir­giz, Xibe.

Con­tact the writ­ers at zhouhuiy­ing@ chi­


A trainee uses a learn­ing plat­form to teach Oro­qen, an eth­nic lan­guage, in Tahe, Hei­longjiang province. As the lan­guage doesn’t have a writ­ten form, the plat­form uses writ­ten Chi­nese and English, along with Oro­qen au­dio record­ings.

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