A language to love

Updated: 2012-08-14 13:50

By Li Yingqing and Liu Wenwen in Lijiang, Yunnan (China Daily)

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A language to love

Guo Dalie teaches Dongba pictographs at Huangshan Primary School in Lijiang, Yunnan province. Photos by Liu Wenwen / For China Daily

A language to love

Students in unique Dongba attire attend a Dongba culture class. Photos by Liu Wenwen / For China Daily

"I speak the language I love, for that is me myself, I teach the language I love to children, to let them know who they are."

This quote from a UN report on endangered languages reflects the thoughts of Guo Dalie and Huang Linna.

Huang and her husband Guo, a Naxi Dongba culture scholar, have set up a class in 1999 at Huangshan Primary School to pass on Dongba culture, which they run every Thursday afternoon.

They teach children the Naxi language and culture.

Naxi people predominantly live in Lijiang, an ancient city on the UNESCO World Heritage List and about 600 km northwest of Kunming in Yunnan province.

The Naxi's culture derived from the Dongba religion about 1,000 years ago and the 1,300 Dongba written characters are the only existing primitive pictographs in the world.

Under the impact of modernization and globalization, however, just 20 percent of Naxi people can speak their own language and the proportion is declining.

This situation worried Guo and his wife, which is why they turned to running classes.

"At a school we don't have to worry about a lack of students," Guo says.

In his Dongba language and culture class, poems are written both in Dongba pictographs and Chinese characters. Students read rhyming poems in the Naxi language. On each of their desks is a Dongba "picture-like" character card, from which they copy and learn characters.

"Most of the students, including the ethnic Han, can understand 400 Dongba characters. They can read and know the basic meaning of each character."

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