A long way to go

ChinAfrica - - Lifestyle -

Ex­perts say there are many rea­sons why lan­guages ap­proach ex­tinc­tion. “The loss of the func­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is one of the most im­por­tant rea­sons,” said Sun Hongkai, Pro­fes­sor at the Grad­u­ate School of the CASS.

“The sit­u­a­tion of the Manchu, She, Hezhen and Tatar lan­guages is due to this rea­son,” Sun said, adding that pop­u­la­tion base alone can­not guar­an­tee a lan­guage’s fu­ture.

Whereas only a few of the 10 mil­lion Manchu peo­ple speak the lan­guage, over half of the 20,000 or so mem­bers of the Jing eth­nic group in Guangxi use their tra­di­tional lan­guage for daily com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“In the 1980s, many ex­perts thought the Jing lan­guage would soon dis­ap­pear. Out of their ex­pec­ta­tions, the lan­guage lives on be­cause of its func­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tion among the Jing peo­ple,” said He Siyuan, Pro­fes­sor with the In­sti­tute of Chi­nese Mi­nor­ity Lan­guages at the MUC.

An­other im­por­tant rea­son for the pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion of eth­nic mi­nor­ity lan­guages comes from the fast devel­op­ment of mod­ern so­ci­ety and econ­omy. “To­day, with the devel­op­ment of the global econ­omy, there needs to be some com­mon lan­guages that can eas­ily link dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties. Against such a back­ground, it is ir­re­versible for weak lan­guages to be re­placed by pow­er­ful lan­guages,” Sun said.

Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey of Linzhou Mid­dle School in Lhasa, cap­i­tal of Tibet Au­tonomous Re­gion, by Sichuan Nor­mal Univer­sity, 80 per­cent of Ti­betan stu­dents be­lieve that Man­darin is more im­por­tant than Ti­betan.

This sit­u­a­tion is typ­i­cal among all 55 eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups in China. Some ex­perts ar­gue that the trend of ex­tinc­tion of mi­nor­ity lan­guages is in­evitable. “It is a ra­tio­nal choice by the eth­nic mi­nor­ity peo­ples, be­cause their ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties are lim­ited if they can­not speak Man­darin flu­ently,” said Li Zi­ran, Pro­fes­sor with the Col­lege of Pol­i­tics and Law at the Ningxia Univer­sity in Yinchuan, north­west China’s Ningxia Hui Au­tonomous Re­gion.

Bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion is one of the im­por­tant meth­ods pro­posed by the govern­ment to pre­serve mi­nor­ity lan­guages.

Ac­cord­ing to statis­tics pro­vided by the Re­search Cen­ter for Pro­tect­ing Lan­guage Re­sources of China, bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion is of­fered to more than 20 eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups, with 4.1 mil­lion stu­dents cur­rently be­ing ed­u­cated in more than one lan­guage.

The pro­tec­tion project launched by the govern­ment in 2015 and doc­u­ments sub­se­quently is­sued in 2016 and 2017 laid a solid pol­icy foun­da­tion for lan­guage preser­va­tion work to go deeper, said Pro­fes­sor Ding from the MUC.

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