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Portland State University

Publication Date

Spring 2013

Program Name

China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities


The fields of language endangerment and maintenance address language shift overwhelmingly in the context of a local language being replaced by that of a surrounding oppositional dominant cultural group. There are, though, situations in which a local language is competing with the dominant variety of the wider cultural group to which it belongs. How a situation like this is dealt with by linguists and language planners depends largely on the recognition of participant tongues as their own languages or one as a dialect of another. Reversing language shift for a “dialect” is difficult to garnish institutional and financial support for if its “mother language” is not endangered.

This paper is a case study of one such language: the variety of Tibetan local to Zhongdian, Shangri-la County of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan. Through an examination of the linguistic vitality of the local Tibetan variety, I discuss factors that have contributed to the language shift of local Tibetans to the regional Chinese variety. Reviewing Zhongdian Tibetan’s localized maintenance reveals the threat posed to it by Literary Tibetan and other prestigious forms.


Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Critical and Cultural Studies | East Asian Languages and Societies | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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