Language shift among Tibet’s minority languages

umelb_logoContemporary China Seminar – University of Melbourne

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, University of Melbourne

5.30-7.00pm Thursday 11 August, 2016
Evan Williams Theatre (Room G03), Richard Berry Building, Monash Road, University of Melbourne

Admission is free, but places are limited so registration is essential

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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.

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. 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. 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.