02/23/2008, 00.00
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The language of Tibet at risk of extinction

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Chinese authorities occupying Tibet are a serious threat for the survival of the local language, and are making life "impossible" for the Tibetans who do not speak Mandarin Chinese.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - A declaration written by Acharya Yeshi Phuntsok, a member of the Tibetan parliament in exile, denounces Chinese "heavy-handedness" as a threat to the survival of the Tibetan language in its written and spoken form.

The report was presented on the occasion of the annual International Mother Language Day, promoted by UNESCO since 2000 and celebrated each year on February 21 .

"Tibetans have the right to express themselves and to create and disseminate their work in the language of their choice, and particularly in their mother tongue, and are entitled to quality education and training that fully respect their cultural identity".  It is with these words, taken from article 5 of the universal declaration on cultural diversity, that Yeshi Phuntsok introduces the report in which he exposes what is truly happening in Tibet, meaning the apparent attempt of the Chinese government to sabotage the Tibetan language.

According to the Free Tibet Association, the Chinese authorities present in the region are passing laws to reduce the teaching of Tibetan in the schools and to replace it with Mandarin Chinese.

Anna Holems, leader of the Free Tibet Campaign, says: "To further their goal of making Mandarin the lingua franca of Tibet, the authorities are encouraging mass migration by Han Chinese who have no need or desire to learn Tibetan (the Han are the largest ethnic group in the world, constituting more than 90 percent of the Chinese population). Now Tibetan parents must choose between their unique culture and their children's future".

Data from UNESCO demonstrate that there are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, but oddly, Tibet is not mentioned by the UN agency, neither as an independent language nor among the Chinese languages.  Some exponents of the Free Tibet Association have repeatedly asked for explanations of this, but have not yet obtained a response.

Tsering Dorje, a former Tibetan schoolteacher from Amdo now living in India, asks "It is all very well for UNESCO to have a Mother Language Day every February, but how can this protect the Tibetan language?"

The free Tibet Association is asking China to approve - and put into effect - a law that would establish Tibetan as the official language of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

Tsering Dorje asserts that such a law "is the only way to protect the Tibetan language and to provide equality of opportunities for Tibetans in their own country".

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