Tibetans' mother tongue faces tide of Chinese

Tue Jul 13, 2010 10:54pm EDT
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By Ben Blanchard

SHIGATSE, China (Reuters Life!) - Teenager Dawan Dunjhu is Tibetan and lives in Tibet, but says that if his friends and classmates can't master Mandarin Chinese, they have little hope of a professional future.

"I want to be a lawyer, and for me Chinese plays a very important role both in my life and my study," Dawan Dunjhu, 16, told Reuters during a government-organized visit for foreign media to Tibet.

"If someone can't speak Chinese then they might as well be mute," added the student at the Shigatse Shanghai Experimental School, built with aid from the Shanghai government in a run-down monastery town several hours drive from Tibetan capital Lhasa.

Tibetan is an official language in Tibet and parts of China where Tibetans have traditionally been the main ethnic group, in what the government calls "autonomous" regions and areas.

Yet Beijing has for decades promoted "Putonghua," or standard Mandarin Chinese, as a way of unifying a diverse country.

This makes language choices fraught for groups that are not ethnically Chinese, many of whom chafe under Communist rule.

For Tibetans, the route to jobs and a better income often requires mastering Chinese, leaving many worried they will lose their own ancient tongue and its unique writing system.

While Dawan Dunjhu's school is technically bilingual, the only classes entirely taught in Tibetan are Tibetan language classes.   Continued...