Introduction: The transformation of Tibet’s language ecology in the twenty-first century Academic Article uri icon


  • AbstractTibet’s linguistic diversity is undergoing drastic transformations in the twenty-first century. In this article, I begin my examination of this issue by outlining the extent of Tibet’s linguistic diversity, including not only its numerous Tibetic languages, but also its non-Tibetic minority languages. Using a “language ecology” approach, I examine the mechanisms that have produced and maintained this diversity, as well as the ways this diversity was spatially and socially patterned. I argue that these processes and patterns were largely maintained up until the twenty-first century, when the Chinese state’s program to “Open the West” unleashed an ideologically driven modernization program on Tibet, radically altering its language ecology. I argue that the present trends emerging from this process are likely to continue throughout the twenty-first century, resulting in both language loss and the emergence of new languages, leaving the overall language ecology fundamentally altered by the beginning of the twenty-second century. It is hoped that this article will not only provide a useful framework for future discussions on linguistic diversity in Tibet, but will also focus attention on the challenges facing individual languages in Tibet today.

publication date

  • 2017