08 January 2009

Uighur Bilingual Education Debate

From Under the Heel of the Dragon: Islam, Racism, Crime, and the Uighur in China, by Blaine Kaltman (Ohio U. Press, 2007), pp. 18-19:
The use of Mandarin as a vehicle for instruction and the benefits of learning Mandarin versus the Chinese government policies designed to maintain Uighur culture and language were issues that frequently came up during interviews. According to one Uighur businessman who was in his midforties, "This [the Uighur need to learn Mandarin] is a tricky problem because, while more and more schools [in Xinjiang] are teaching in Mandarin, there are still far too many that don't. Many Uighur teachers don't speak Mandarin. This is especially true outside Urumqi. Furthermore, the Han government wants Uighur to maintain their local language, so they encourage Uighur schools to teach in Uighur." He thought for a moment and then added, "But this should be a Uighur responsibility. The Han know little of our culture. It's up to Uighur parents to teach their children our language and about our Uighur culture. But it's up to the schools to teach our children Mandarin and Han culture."

Although many Uighur parents want their children to have a proper education and to learn Mandarin—which almost always means attending a predominantly Han school—they feel that being a Uighur student in a school where Han teachers and students make up the majority population is difficult because of racist attitudes and language difficulties. Some Uighur believe that Chinese government policies encouraging instruction in Uighur, not Mandarin, are designed to limit Uighur development in Chinese society.
Speakers of minority languages the world over face similar choices.

3 comments:

Brian Barker said...

As the "International Year of Languages" comes to an end on 21st February, you may be interested in the contribution, made by the World Esperanto Association, to UNESCO's campaign for the protection of endangered languages.

The following declaration was made in favour of Esperanto, by UNESCO at its Paris HQ in December 2008. http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.php-URL_ID=38420&URL_DO=DO_PRINTPAGE&URL_SECTION=201.html

The commitment to the campaign to save endangered languages was made, by the World Esperanto Association at the United Nations' Geneva HQ in September.
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7vD9kChBA&feature=related or http://www.lernu.net

Joel said...

You must be kidding. An association that sponsors a spectacularly underachieving and thoroughly Eurocentric world language is going to save endangered languages in the Amazon or New Guinea? Arid declarations in Geneva by people far removed from the actual sites of language endangerment will make no difference whatsoever to anything except the self-regard of those who waste their breath in such conclaves.

Joseph K said...

The situation is very similar, possibly worse, in Inner Mongolian. Many Mongols in Inner Mongolia can no longer speak their own language, because going to Han schools is the path to affluence. Going to Mongolian schools isn't.