Categories
Altaic Peoples & Tales (阿尔泰各民族及其故事) Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸)

“Last Quarter of the Moon”: Evenki Place Names behind the Hànzì

I grew up in places with names like “Winnetka” and “Sewickley,” spellings no doubt based on mangled transliterations

1,800+ Evenki place names: many inspired by Russian, Mongolian and Manchu

of old, even ancient Native American words. I vaguely recall that Sewickley meant “sweet water,” but no one seemed sure.

How many cities, mountains and rivers in China, I wondered, hide their non-Han origins?

Categories
Non-Han Languages in China (中国少数民族语言)

Tungusic Languages Under Threat: Statistics, Research Projects, Strategies for Protection

Following a conference on the dire straits of Tungusic languages in China — virtually all of which are under threat — four very informative articles have just appeared on the Institute of Ethnic Literature site.  Since they are in Chinese, I hope to summarize the best parts later, but for now, I site some basic statistics here, and follow with a brief description of the articles and list their URLs.

Tungusic languages in China: Hezhen, Evenki, Elunchun (Oroqen), Manchu and Xibe

Distribution: Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Jilin, Beijing, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang

Populations (2010 census): 10.6 million total, of which 10,387,958 Manchu; 190,481 Xibe; 30,875 Evenki; 8,679 Elunchun; and 5,354 Hezhen

Used as mother tongue: 30,000 persons

大经费投入培养后背高层次人才(赵阿平)

  • Proposals for measures such as bilingual education and establishment of a “linguistic and cultural eco-protection zone” for threatened Tungusic tongues.

不放过田野记忆中任何一个原始符号(朝克)

探访满语“活化石”:黑龙江三家子村考察记(曾红、郝欣)

  • History of field research in San Jia Village since the 1960s, famous for its population of native — but aging — Manchu speakers.

抢救临危语言就是抢救人类文化(郝欣、曾红)

  • Details of discussion at the conference by experts in various Tungusic languages, including up-to-date assessments of the state of each of the major languages, and proposals on how to address the threat of extinction.
Categories
Non-Han Languages in China (中国少数民族语言)

By the Numbers: Endangered Tongues in the People’s Republic

In <四成少数民族语言临危,> Wang Bo at Chinanews.com reports that up to four of ten languages native to minorities in China are threatened with extinction.

Here are a few numbers that appear in the report:

  • Non-han languages: 55 officially designated “peoples” (民族) speak an estimated 130 languages
  • Scripts in use: 40, including Mongolian, Tibetan, Uighur, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Korean, Yi, Dai, Lahu, Jingpo and Xibe
  • Populations: one-half of non-Han languages are spoken by groups that number under 10,000 members, of which 20+ have 1,000 speakers or less
  • Endangered languages: Manchu, Tatar, She, Hezhen can no longer be used for conversation; another 20 percent, such as Nu, Yilao, Pumi and Jinuo are approaching that state; and a total of 40 percent are in danger of extinction in the mid-term.
  • Manchu: 11 million ethnic Manchus, but only 100 or so can speak fluently and less than a dozen read and write well.
  • Jing (京族): with a population of 20,000 in Guangxi, one-half can still speak their mother tongue.

Wang Bo notes that fluency in seven non-Han languages continues to be passed on to the next generation fairly well: Mongolian, Tibetan, Uighur, Kazakh, Korean, Zhuang and Yi. He attributes this partly to the fact that they have a written script, and interpreting services are often offered at official meetings.

What he doesn’t note—like many PRC-centric writers—is the fact that except for Zhuang and Yi, these other languages are spoken and written by large numbers of native speakers outside China.