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Tibet's Invisible Languages and China's Language Endangerment Crisis: Lessons from the Gochang Language of Western Sichuan

  • Gerald Roche (a1) and Yudru Tsomu (a2)


China is facing a language endangerment crisis, with half of its languages decreasing in number of speakers. This article contributes to the understanding of language endangerment in China with a case study of the Gochang language, which is spoken by about 10,000 Tibetans in western Sichuan. We describe Gochang as an “invisible” language – one that is overlooked by the state's ethnic and linguistic policies and thus is more vulnerable to the social transformations wrought by statist development. Using UNESCO's language vitality and endangerment framework to assess the endangerment of Gochang, we conclude that the language is “definitely endangered.” Our comparison of Gochang with other “invisible” languages in China shows that most are in a similar predicament, suggesting that China's language endangerment crisis is likely to continue unless these languages receive formal recognition or local governments take advantage of ambiguities in the policy framework to support them. The social impacts of a continuing, deepening language endangerment crisis in China are as yet unknown.

中国现正面临着语言濒危的危机, 其一半以上的语言的使用者人数正在减少。语言消亡和语言转变的动态是复杂的。一方面作为中国国家标准语言的普通话正在产生广泛地影响, 而汉语的一些 “方言” 也正在取代另一些。另一方面, 一些少数民族语言的发展也是以牺牲其它少数民族语言为代价的, 同时受汉语方言和少数民族语言影响的带有地方口音的普通话也出现了。在本文中, 我们以川西地区约 10,000 人使用的贵琼语为个案进行研究, 从而使我们进一步了解中国语言的濒危现象。我们将贵琼语描述为一个 “隐形” 语言, 即它是一种被国家的民族和语言政策忽略的语言, 因此, 它更容易受到由国家发展项目而引起的社会变革的影响。我们通过运用联合国教科文组织制定的有关语言活力和语言濒危的框架来评估贵琼语的濒危程度, 并得出了该语言是 “绝对处于濒危状态” 这一结论。我们将贵琼语与中国的其它的 “隐形” 语言进行比较, 结果显示它们中的大多数都处于相似的困境。这意味着除非这些语言得到国家的正式承认, 或当地政府利用政策框架中的模棱两可之处来支持这些语言, 否则中国语言的濒危危机很可能会继续。在目前我们还不清楚在中国持续的、不断加深的语言濒危危机对社会有什么影响。


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Tibet's Invisible Languages and China's Language Endangerment Crisis: Lessons from the Gochang Language of Western Sichuan

  • Gerald Roche (a1) and Yudru Tsomu (a2)


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