Asia is the world's most linguistically diverse continent and its diversity largely conforms to established global patterns that correlate linguistic diversity with biodiversity, latitude, and topography. However, one Asian region stands out as an anomaly in these patterns—Tibet, which is often portrayed as linguistically homogenous. A growing body of research now suggests that Tibet is linguistically diverse. In this article, we examine this literature in an attempt to quantify Tibet's linguistic diversity. We focus on the minority languages of Tibet—languages that are neither Chinese nor Tibetan. We provide five different estimates of how many minority languages are spoken in Tibet. We also interrogate these sources for clues about language endangerment among Tibet's minority languages and propose a sociolinguistic categorization of Tibet's minority languages that enables broad patterns of language endangerment to be perceived. Appendices include lists of the languages identified in each of our five estimates, along with references to key sources on each language. Our survey found that as many as 60 minority languages may be spoken in Tibet and that the majority of these languages are endangered to some degree. We hope our contribution inspires further research into the predicament of Tibet's minority languages and helps support community efforts to maintain and revitalize these languages.
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36 People cannot be treated by a doctor they cannot communicate with, cannot learn from a teacher they do not understand, cannot obtain information from media services that are unintelligible to them, and cannot express their political grievances to people who do not understand them. Identifying languages is a critical step in language development, for example, developing orthographies.
37 Piller, I., Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice: An Introduction to Applied Sociolinguistics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2016.
38 We have placed Tibetan and Chinese in inverted commas here, since neither of them are languages, but rather clusters of related languages that are often considered to be single languages. From this point onwards in this article, we use the term ‘Tibetic’ to refer to the languages typically described as ‘Tibetan’ (Tournadre, ‘The Tibetic languages’) and ‘Sinitic’ for language typically described as ‘Chinese’. Regarding the term ‘Tibetic languages’, Zeisler employs ‘Tibetan languages’ instead (Zeisler, B., Relative Tense and Aspectual Values in Tibetan Languages: A Comparative Study, Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, 2004); however, we prefer the term ‘Tibetic’ to avoid conflation with the ethnic term ‘Tibetan’, as Tibetic languages are spoken not only by Tibetans, but also by other ethnic groups—see Tournadre, ‘The Tibetic languages’. Additionally, there are also Tibetans who do not speak Tibetic languages, such as rGyalrongic languages, which are often insisted on being ‘Tibetan dialects’ even by Tibetan scholars such as Wang Jianmin 王建民 and bTsan-lha Ngag-dbang Tshul-khrims (Anduoyu Jiaronghua duibi fenxi 安多语嘉戎话对比分析, Sichuan Minzu Chubanshe, Chengdu, 1992) and Sum-bha Don-grub Tshe-ring (Bod skad kyi yul skad rnam shad, Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, Beijing, 2011, pp. 50–1); Tournadre, ‘The Tibetic languages’.
39 This is the name used by the community to refer to the language. Linguists call it Wutun/Wutunhua—see Janhunen, J., Peltomaa, M., Sandman, E., and Dongzhou, Xiawu, Wutun, Lincom Europa, München, 2008.
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54 For example, in Muli Tibetan Autonomous County in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Jiulong County in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and Shangri-La Municipality in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
55 For example, in Ninglang Yi Autonomous County in Lijiang Municipality.
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85 See, for example, Sum-bha Don-grub Tshe-ring, Bod skad kyi yul skad rnam shad.
86 On this issue, see Tunzhi (Sonam Lhundrop), ‘Language vitality and glottonyms in the ethnic corridor: the rTa'u language’, International Journal of the Sociology of Language, vol. 245, 2017, pp. 147–68.
87 Bourdieu, P., Language and Symbolic Power, Malden, Polity Press, 1991.
88 However, we do not include the area claimed by China but controlled by India, which they refer to as Zangnan and Arunachal Pradesh, respectively.
89 Although officially identified Tibetan towns and townships do exist (see Appendix 4), these have no role in terms of autonomy.
90 Also within the TAA in Huangnan TAP.
91 Basum was described by Chinese scholars as a Tibetan dialect, but Tournadre (Tournadre, N., ‘L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes’, Lalies, vol. 25, 2005, pp. 7–56) re-analysed it as a non-Tibetic language that has been heavily influenced by the local Tibetic variety.
92 When this language name is written as it is here, it directly designate one language. However, if it is written in Chinese characters, the situation is confusable because there are two languages designated in one manner of writing.
*The authors wish to thank Juha Janhunen, Nicolas Tournadre, and Katia Chirkova for their valuable feedback. Any remaining errors or omissions are our own responsibility. Gerald Roche acknowledges the support of the Australian Research Council for his Discovery Early Career Research Award project ‘Ethnicity and Assimilation in China: The Monguor of Tibet’. Hiroyuki Suzuki would like to thank the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for the support of his research entitled ‘Study on the Dialectal Development of Tibetan Spoken in Yunnan, China, through a Description of the Linguistic Diversity’ (Grant No. 25770167).
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