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Tibet's Minority Languages-Diversity and Endangerment.pdf (2.42 MB)

Tibet's Minority Languages: Diversity and endangerment

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-06-15, 04:55 authored by Gerald RocheGerald Roche, H Suzuki
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 quantifyTibet'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 ofTibet'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.


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).


Publication Date



Modern Asian Studies






52p. (p. 1227-1278)


Cambridge University Press



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