Cultural Resistance in Tibet: Language


ཀ་ཁ་ག་ང་། ཅ་ཆ་ཇ་ཉ། ཏ་ཐ་ད་ན། པ་ཕ་བ་མ། ཙ་ཚ་ཛ་ཝ། ཞ་ཟ་འ་ཡ། ར་ལ་ཤ་ས། ཧ་ཨ།

Languages are not neutral. They convey very specific social and cultural behaviors and ways of thinking. So, the extinction of the Tibetan language will have tremendous consequences for the Tibetan culture. The culture cannot be preserved without it. […] It is important because the Tibetan language and culture are extremely original. Forget about linguistics, medicine, or architecture; just take literature. Tibetan is one of the four oldest and greatest in volume and most original literatures of Asia, along with Sanskrit, Chinese, and Japanese literature.
So, that is a very good reason for the heritage of humanity to keep this culture.

Nicolas Tournadre, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Provence

The Tibetan language is fundamental to Tibetan identity, culture and religion, and is one of the four oldest and most original languages of Asia.

In 2010, Qinghai Provincial government revealed plans to replace Tibetan as the primary language of instruction in schools with Chinese. In response thousands of students across Amdo, eastern Tibet, took to the streets to defend their fundamental right to study in their mother tongue. For more information about these protests and the policy change click here.

International Campaign for Tibet’s researcher Zorgyi, based in India, explained, “The education policy inside Tibet has created a very tense environment for Tibetan schoolchildren and students. The Chinese authorities state that every minority nationality has the right to preserve their own language and writings. But the reality is that Tibetan university students cannot get a good job without good Chinese language after graduation, and even then it is difficult. The Tibetan language is central to our identity as Tibetans, but in every way the Tibetan language is being downgraded.”

Woeser, a prominent Tibetan blogger, recently commented in a Reuters news article, “Whether you can speak Tibetan has already become a secondary issue, but whether you can speak Chinese has become crucial to your livelihood. So, the Tibetan language has in reality reached a very serious point.” Further analysis by Woeser on language rights and the student protests can be read here, ‘When Tibetan Students Fight for the Tibetan Language’.

Take Action Now! Send a message to Qiang Wei, Qinghai Province Party Secretary and Liu Yandong, State Councilor in charge of Education in Beijing to reverse this discriminatory policy.

As highlighted throughout, language has become a tool of cultural resistance for Tibetans in Tibet with musicians, writers, bloggers, and now students, using language to celebrate, express and promote their own rich and unique culture.

“Thirty Alphabets” is a recent Tibetan music video, popular both inside and outside Tibet, that stresses the importance of learning your own language. The chorus notes “…although it is good to know other languages, it is a shame to forget your own.”

Please watch and listen to ‘Thirty Alphabets’ by Kelsang Tenzin, a very powerful and beautiful song.

The full lyrics of ‘Thirty Alphabets’ can be read HERE in Tibetan, English, French, Japanese and Spanish.

Check out the video and the website showing how Tibetans in Tibet are embracing a home grown campaign to preserve Tibetan identity. This video from Dhondup Wangchen, director of Leaving Fear Behind, who is serving lengthy prison sentences for recording common Tibetan’s views on Tibet as well as their passion for their culture and identity. This website includes different activities taken place inside Tibet as well as solidarity movement mirroring the campaigns from inside Tibet: The Lhakar Movement.