Tibetan Language Mirrors Social Progress

"Look! The latest news about the US decision to deal with terrorism. I've just downloaded it from the Internet," a Tibetan youngster told customers at a tea house in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, excitedly holding high a transcript.

The word immediately drew a large crowd of other Tibetans, who were sipping buttered tea while chatting.

"I've received an E-mail from my friend who says the terrorists who destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center may launch a second wave of violence in the United states," chipped in Benba Cering, a university graduate who carries a Motorola V998, a fashionable phone model in China.

It is common in Tibet now to hear the same phrases in the Tibetan language which are used by people in many other Chinese cities. With the recent social and economic development, a great number of new words and special terms reflecting the spirit of the age are being introduced into the Tibetan language.

High-sounding terms prevalent in coastal areas such as "market economy", "reform and open-door policy" and "high-tech" have become important parts of daily life in Tibet by way of Tibetan- language newspaper, radio and TV.

Young people are the active disseminators of modern terms. Their pet phrases include "stock market", "taxi" and "karaoke". Some even utter a few foreign words now and then.

Owing to the rapid development of the information industry, more and more Tibetan residents are becoming familiar with the words "mobile phone", "computer", "IC card" and "Internet".

Moreover, now that tourism is emerging as a pillar industry in Tibet, the words "foreign tourist","luxury hotel","cableway" and "theme park" are becoming widely accepted by local people.

The term "wage-earning class" has recently appeared in Tibet in the wake of the snowballing growth of industrial enterprises here in recent years. The names of companies of all sorts suggest brisk commercial development and economic exchanges among various nationalities in China.

On the other hand, the number of phrases relating to the traditional way of life and production in common use is gradually shrinking. The honorifics which were used in the old hierarchical Tibetan society have been discarded; some are classified as obsolete terms.

The Tibetan language has a written history of more than 1,300 years.

Gunqo Jamzen, a Tibetan linguist, said that in old Tibet only slaves and lords were recorded in the vocabulary of the Tibetan language, with not a word about ordinary people. The term " democracy" came into being in 1959, when a democratic reform was launched in the region.

Since the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, and especially since the 1980s, the Tibetan language has been greatly enriched. Local academic departments have approved 3,000 new words and special terms in the Tibetan language over the past five years.

Dainzin, a Tibetan-language translator, said that he and his colleague translated 40 million or 50 million new words into Tibetan annually. "It is difficult to keep abreast of the new things and new words," he added.

The encoded Tibetan language became the first ethnic minority language in China recognized formally by the international standards body.

Sociologists have attributed the changes in the Tibetan language to alterations in social relationships and social development.

"The inflow of commodities has brought about language changes. This is a good indicator of the social transformation in Tibet," said a sociologist.

(People's Daily 09/24/2001)

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