China's minority languages face threat of extinction

Thu Mar 11, 2010 11:26pm EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - From Mongolian to Manchu, Bouyei, Blang and U, China reverberates with a cacophony of languages and dialects. But the sounds of its 1.3 billion people are in danger of becoming dramatically less diverse.

The country's rapidly developing economy and a central government supported Mandarin promotion campaign is pushing some of these tongues to the brink of extinction, and Beijing must do more to help save them, their speakers say.

China has 56 officially recognized ethnic groups, and over 100 of their languages are in danger of dying out, according to the United Nations.

Yet more than 90 percent of China's population are the dominant Han, and a few of the largest groups, like the Muslim Hui, are so well integrated that they only speak Chinese.

This leaves many of the languages of the smallest groups, like the traditionally shamanistic Hezhen, Oroqen and Ewenki peoples who live in China's remote northeast, marginalized and under threat.

"I can only understand it a little and say a few everyday expressions. My children don't understand it at all. They only learn Chinese," said Du Mei, an Ewenki from Inner Mongolia.

"There are about 30,000 Ewenki and our language is on the verge of extinction. I often talk about the need here to speed up efforts to protect it," she told Reuters on the sidelines of the on-going annual meeting of parliament, where she is a delegate.

"The government must do more to protect minority languages, and record them. The pace has not been fast enough."   Continued...

<p>A Chinese national flag is seen in front of a residential site in downtown Shanghai in this March 4, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Aly Song</p>