Between Chinese State and Tibetan Nation

university_sydney_logo2016 Chinese Studies Department Seminar Series – University of Sydney

Between Chinese State and Tibetan Nation: Language Shift among Tibet’s Minority Languages and the Case of the Manegacha Language of Qinghai

Dr Gerald Roche

4:00-5:30pm Monday 21 March, 2016
Woolley Lecture Theatre S325, The University of Sydney

Jointly organised with the Cluster of Language, Literature, Culture and Education (LLCE), China Study Centre

Linguistic research over the past thirty years has been gradually overturning the common perception of Tibet as a linguistically homogenous region, and of Tibetans as a linguistically unified people. There is now broad consensus among linguists that although Tibetan is a single written language, it also has numerous, mutually unintelligible spoken varieties that exist in a diglossic relationship with the written standard. Furthermore, approximately 60 non-Tibetic languages have now been documented in the region, among which, almost half are spoken by Tibetans. Most of these non-Tibetic languages—what I call the minority languages of Tibet—are presently endangered, with many communities presently undergoing shift to some form of either Tibetan or Chinese. This presentation will give a preliminary interpretation of recently gathered data in the first study of language shift among Tibet’s minority languages. The case study focuses on Manegacha, a Mongolic language spoken by about 5,000 people on the north-eastern Tibetan Plateau, in a region where Tibetans constitute approximately 75 per cent of the population. This data on language shift will be presented in the context of an ongoing social movement in the community that seeks to reclassify Manegacha-speakers as Tibetans, as opposed to their current official designation as Tuzu (Monguor). This situation will, in turn, be contextualized within the complex predicament faced by speakers of all Tibet’s minority languages, situated as they are between what I will argue are two fundamentally assimilatory institutions—the Chinese state and the Tibetan nation. In examining the case of language shift among speakers of Manegacha, I therefore hope to provide insights into the complex historical, social, and political factors currently impacting upon linguistic diversity in China, and what this might mean for both the Chinese state and Tibetan nation.

Dr Gerald Roche is an anthropologist and Discovery Early Career Research Fellow. His research focuses on the cultural and linguistic diversity of China’s Tibetan regions, and how this diversity is being transformed in the 21st century. More broadly, he is interested in Tibet’s cultural and human geography, early modern and contemporary history, and vernacular traditions. Before joining the Asia Institute, Gerald was a post-doctoral research fellow at Uppsala University’s Hugo Valentin Centre, a trans-disciplinary research center focusing on the ethnic dimension of human life, particularly in relation to discrimination, genocide, and assimilation. Prior to this, Gerald lived on the northeast Tibetan Plateau for eight years, working as an applied anthropologist, and also undertaking research for his PhD in Asian Studies from Griffith University. His PhD research examined issues of variation in change in a ritual complex of the Monguor (Tuzu) people. As an applied anthropologist, Gerald collaborated with local people on various educational and cultural initiatives, including the creation of the world’s largest online archive of oral traditions from the Tibetan Plateau. Gerald’s publications have appeared in Asian Ethnicity, Asian Ethnology, Language Documentation and Description, Anthropos, Himalaya,China Review International, Studia Orientalia, and Asian Highlands Perspectives. His current research project looks at ethnic politics and linguistic diversity in the Tibetan regions of China. The study examines the sociolinguistic predicament of the Monguor population of Rebgong, a multiethnic and multilingual region on the Northeast Tibetan Plateau where the Monguor constitute a linguistic minority.

Contact: Chiew Hui Ho
Phone: 02 9351 3083