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Law Passed to Protect Tibetan Language
Tibetan Legislators on Wednesday passed a special law to encourage use of the Tibetan language, the first such requirement since the language evolved 1,300 years ago.

The law approved at the 15th session of the Seventh Regional People's Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region, says that the Tibetan language must have equal emphasis and legal status to the standard Chinese language in the region.

According to its 19 articles, pupils must study the Tibetan language during their nine years of compulsory education, while standard Chinese is also taught. When assemblies and government meetings are held, or at court, people can choose between using the Tibetan language or standard Chinese.

Other ethnic groups and people of Han origin living in Tibet are also required to study the Tibetan language.

"Tibet has long valued the Tibetan language. However, to study it remained at the administrative level in the past, and now it isprotected by the law," said Dainba Qoidar, deputy director of the Tibet Regional Committee on the Guidance of Tibetan Language.

Doje, a peddler in Lhasa's Bagort Street, welcomed the new law,saying, "Though lots of Tibetans have learned to speak standard Chinese and English for commercial reasons and cultural exchanges,the Tibetan language is still important in our lives and is the symbol of Tibetans as an ethnic group."

Goinqog Gyaco, a linguist with the Tibet Regional Academy of Social Sciences, said the Tibetan language faced a challenge in the wake of globalization and cultural influences, even though it was one of the best-preserved languages in the world. The law would play an active role in protecting it.

The law stipulates that the language should be widely used in mass communications, including advertisements.

It requires the regional government to take active measures to train more teachers, editors and writers to be fluent in the language.

This is also the first government regulation ever passed in China on preserving an ethnic language.

China has 55 ethnic minority groups, apart from the Han people who are in the majority. All major ethnic groups still use the language of their forebears.

Their rights and freedom to choose their languages are prescribed in China's Constitution and relevant law on ethnic regional autonomy.

In Tibet, the Tibetan language is the only everyday oral and written means of communication for 84 percent of the 2.4 million ethnic Tibetans.

But as Tibet modernises and opens up to the outside world, the regulation also requires its officials to study standard Chinese and even English if possible, said Dainba Qoidar.

The new law which evolved from a 1987 provisional one, took nearly 20 years to be formally adopted. Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, and the late 10th Panchen Lama had worked hard for its introduction.

(People's Daily May 23, 2002)

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