Stop killing the language of Tibet

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Stop killing the language of Tibet

More people are moving to cities in Tibet, there are not so many people who speak Tibetan, and Chinese policies are a threat, writes Sam Wylde.


© Free Tibet

The Tibetan word nying-je means many things: compassion, love, kindness and generosity of spirit. The Cherokee word oo-kah-huh-sdee describes when something is so cute, it is almost too much to accept. These ideas are unique and can get lost if we translate them. One of the 6,000 languages in the world disappears every two weeks. So these unique words may soon disappear completely.

It’s the same with many other languages that face this threat - Tibetan has big challenges with many people moving to cities and not so many people who speak Tibetan. But the greatest risk to the Tibetan language, campaigners say, is Chinese government policy.

China has occupied Tibet for almost 70 years. Mandarin Chinese has become the official language of education, business and government. So Tibetans who do not speak Mandarin well have many problems.

Tibetan Tashi Wangchuk was arrested in January 2016 after he made a legal complaint against his local authorities because they did not protect the Tibetan language (which China had promised to do). Wangchuk could be put in prison for up to 15 years. He said he started his campaign after local officials closed down Tibetan language classes: ‘My nieces want to become fluent in Tibetan but don’t know where to go… Our words will be lost to them.’

Many other Tibetans have been put in prison or tortured for fighting for their language. Golog Jigme Gyatso is a Tibetan monk and human rights activist who now lives outside Tibet. He was put in prison and tortured because he said they must keep the Tibetan language. In 2012, 20-year-old Tsering Kyi burned herself alive in protest after her school changed the language of teaching: from Tibetan to Mandarin.

There is a campaign to get Wangchuk out of prison, with protests in New York and London, and global petitions saying that governments must put pressure on China. At a January 2017 protest outside the Chinese embassy in London in January 2017, an elderly Tibetan protester explained: ‘The language is the culture, and if you kill the language then the culture follows.’

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have changed).