Lifeline to help keep Xibe afloat

Updated: 2011-05-05 07:54

By Zhang Xiao (China Daily)

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Related video: Revival of a dying language

Kong Yanjun arrives for classes at the Party school in Qapqal Xibe autonomous county early in the morning. He has sacrificed his winter vacation to take part in a training program to improve his ability to speak and write the Xibe language.

Kong, who is majoring in biotechnology and will soon graduate, is from Qapqal Xibe autonomous county in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, where the language is spoken.

"When people ask me which ethnic group I belong to, I tell them I am Xibe," he says. "Then they ask me whether I can write my name in Xibe and I don't know what to say."

Most Xibe youngsters can't write in the language. The spoken language is quite different from its written form, hence, fewer people are writing it and it is in danger of dying out.

The Xibe are originally from Shenyang, in Liaoning province, and were ordered to move to Qapqal more than 200 years ago to guard the frontier.

Over the past two centuries, the Xibe language was developed in tandem with the Manchu dialect.

In more recent times, change has come to Qapqal, near the border with Kazakhstan, as more local people speak Mandarin because of the influence of television.

Kong believes it is an embarrassment not to have mastered his native language and like an increasing number of Xibe youngsters was keen to receive free Xibe language training.

An Ruyu is a former teacher from Qapqal bureau of education, who retired more than 10 years ago. She started a Xibe language training program in 2011.

"Most of the younger generation can speak some Xibe language but cannot write it," she says.

"I learnt the Xibe language in the 1950s and 1960s. Now it is time for me to teach what I have learnt."

Guan Meihua, another volunteer teacher, says: "The training program not only teaches the ethnic language, but also encourages students to engage with Xibe culture, as embodied in its dance, folk music and calligraphy."

The language is hardly used in daily life, except at school, Guan says.

Qapqal Xibe autonomous county has a population of about 200,000, 75 percent of whom belong to ethnic groups.

Before there was TV, Guan says, Xibe people used to gather and listen to readings of classical novels in the Xibe language.

In order to preserve the language, the local government is supporting the language courses financially and encouraging officials to speak the language.

On the streets of the county, all business billboards are written in both Xibe and Mandarin. On Feb 25, Qapqal TV started broadcasting Xibe language news daily. There is also the Xibe language Chabuchar Newspaper, first published in 1946 and published twice a week.

Over the past two years, the number of subscribers to the newspaper from outside Xinjiang has climbed from 20 to 123, which includes Xibe people scattered around the country, newspaper collectors and language researchers.

Cui Jichun, editor-in-chief of the paper, says she is happy to see the establishment of a language training course and hopes it will create "a wave of learning the Xibe language".

China Daily


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