Language learning app emphasizing linguistic diversity removes Tibetan and Uyghur languages

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Minority languages ​​in China are increasingly under threat. Over the past week, language learning app Talkmate and online video streaming site Bilibili appeared to remove Tibetan and Uyghur languages ​​from their platforms due to government policy, while continuing to allow Chinese. Mandarin and many foreign languages. This decision reflects the will of the CCP move to a more assimilationist position on linguistic and ethnic diversity.

On Friday, Talkmate’s Weibo account announced that Tibetan and Uyghur classes were being suspended indefinitely due to “government policies.” On Monday, the position itself was no longer available. Ironically, Talkmate is proud for having been “selected by UNESCO to become the only platform for the application of the World Atlas of Languages ​​to promote […] multilingualism and linguistic diversity in the world. Its partnership, which dates back to 2016, was updated ahead of the Year of Indigenous Languages ​​2019. A UNESCO brief on the partnership describes Talkmate commitments and objectives:

The joint partnership between UNESCO and Talkmate on the World Atlas of Languages ​​aims to develop an innovative and scalable ICT-based platform to access data on linguistic diversity around the world. This partnership not only contributes to the promotion of language learning via cyberspace, but also encourages the collaboration of stakeholders to raise awareness of the importance of multilingualism through the effective application of ICT, which are educational and communication tools. that help communities and organizations access education, share information, deliver services and goods, to which citizens are entitled in the context of open, pluralist, participatory, sustainable and inclusive knowledge societies.

In the long term, the partnership will contribute to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a whole, ensuring a multilingual cyberspace through the effective application of ICTs, which are essential educational and communication tools that support communities and organizations. to access education, to share information, to provide services and goods, to which citizens are entitled in the context of open, pluralist, participatory, sustainable and inclusive knowledge societies.

UNESCO, with Talkmate, is committed to safeguarding the world’s diverse linguistic, cultural and documentary heritage. [Source]

Bilibili revealed similar signs of censorship. On Monday, users appeared unable to comment on videos using Tibetan or Uyghur script, while languages ​​such as Hebrew, Russian, Thai, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese were allowed. When a user tried to use Tibetan or Uyghur, the resulting error message was “评论 内容 包含 敏感 信息” (“Comment content contains sensitive information”), which usually refers to politically sensitive content. The precedent of Bilibili history of censorship understand removal of certain LGBTQ + content deemed “inappropriate” in 2018, after strong criticism from regulators for hosting “vulgar content”.

CDT has translated several reactions of Internet users to the bans of Reddit:

Lubiaoyang: We respect minority cultures. Derp.

True-Pension5772: Come on, we printed these minority languages ​​on the yuan, didn’t we? / s

Madazuo: Why don’t you watch how America wiped out its indigenous peoples? What is more human: to kill them or to erase their languages?

Accomplished-Cat8996: Why don’t you take a look at how humans wiped out mammoths? [Chinese]

The suppression of minority languages ​​in China is the result of increasingly assimilationist government policies. In January, Shen Chunyao, head of the National People’s Congress Legislative Affairs Committee, said that the use of minority languages ​​in classrooms was “”incompatible with the Chinese constitution,” despite article four of the constitution guaranteeing all ethnic groups the “freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages”. In September, the draft child development policy of the National Commission for Ethnic Affairs omitted this guarantee of linguistic freedom and replaced it with the phrase “”promote the common national language. “The changes in assimilationist policy concerning minority languages ​​demonstrate the arrival of”second generation ethnic policies”, Which promote ethnic unity rather than diversity and are officially deployed nationally.

In this increasingly difficult political climate, the use of the Uyghur language has been particularly dangerous, as the CCP’s campaign against the “three evils of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism” confuses linguistic expression. and cultural with threats to national security. In the network of mass internment camps that are said to have housed more than a million Uyghurs, detainees are forced to endure intensive Mandarin course. Authorities targeted and detained numerous Uyghur writers, translators, poets and intellectuals in these camps, where some subsequently died. In some cases, Uyghur books have been blacklisted and removed from bookstores, and Uyghur textbooks were banned and their perpetrators arrested for inciting terrorism. The authorities have banned the Uyghur language in some schools in Xinjiang and sent around 500,000 Uyghur children to public educational institutions, where some children have been physically abused for speaking Uyghur instead of Mandarin.

Despite heavy censorship, some internet users are still finding ways to share their experience of the current state of ethnic languages ​​in China. A Han Chinese tourist who visited Xinjiang earlier this year noticed the lack of native writing in some areas:

Outside of Kashgar, you can barely see any traces of indigenous culture on the storefronts. When we arrived in Ghulja, our travel companion from Tieling [a city in Northeast China] joked, “Welcome to the Sichuan and Dongbei melting pot.” Szechuan restaurants were everywhere; just like the grayish or yellowish buildings that resembled those in Dongbei. There were rows upon rows of chain stores such as Dicos, Miniso, Chabaidao and other counterfeit brands.

Upon entering a tea room, I tried to make a joke with a Han Chinese salesman and asked why there were no Kazakh characters on the store sign. The employee suddenly got serious and replied in a loud voice, “We are all Chinese. Why should we use two different languages? I was taken aback and wasn’t sure how to respond. [Chinese]

The Tibetan language has also suffered from state politics. The development of bilingual education has Tibetan sidelined in favor of Mandarin and raised concerns at the UN. Public signs and banners have officially Chinese characters imposed above Tibetan writing, overturning a standard dating back to the 1980s. In 2015, Tibetan language rights activist Tashi Wangchuk was arrested on charges of separatism, was reportedly tortured during his two years in pre-trial detention and has remained under official surveillance since his release in February 2021.

Mongolian is another threatened minority language. Authorities quelled a wave of protests across Inner Mongolia end of 2020 more proposals for reform of language teaching which would gradually replace Mongolian with Mandarin. To silence popular unrest, local governments shut down more than 70 Mongolian WeChat groups, suspended online social networks in Mongolian, detained at least 23 people and offered rewards for identifying suspected protesters. In early 2021, state media reportedly began replacing Mongolian content with Han Chinese cultural content in a campaign whose official slogan is “”Learn Chinese and Become a Civilized Person. “CDT Chinese has published many examples of how increasingly restrictive language education policies in Inner Mongolia are gradually transforming the materials used in classrooms:

Legend: In the original textbook (left), the signs on the school gate were written in Mongolian script. In the new textbook, the signs on the school portal are written in Chinese characters. (Source material: Volunteers / Editor: Qiao Long)

Legend: Mongolian textbooks have suppressed nationalist poems about the love of the Mongolian people for their hometown, culture and mother tongue. (Twitter screenshot provided by Qiao Long.) [Source]

Alex Yu contributed to this article.



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