Report reveals determined Chinese assault on Tibetan language

Thursday, 21 February 2008

In a briefing released today to mark International Mother Language Day, Free Tibet Campaign reveals the threats posed to the survival of Tibetan as a written and spoken language in Tibet.

Forked tongue: Tibetan language under attack (1) begins by detailing the rights of Tibetans, under Article 5 of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity to "express themselves and to create and disseminate their work in the language of their choice, and particularly in their mother tongue", as well as being "entitled to quality education and training that fully respect their cultural identity".

The briefing makes a clear case that, whilst playing lip service to protecting the Tibetan language, the Chinese government seems intent on subverting and eventually eliminating the use of the Tibetan mother tongue.

According to Free Tibet Campaign, the Chinese authorities occupying Tibet are making life impossible for Tibetans who are not fluent in Mandarin Chinese by passing laws to minimise teaching of Tibetan in schools and by replacing Tibetan language with Chinese language in many spheres of public life.

Anne Holmes, campaign manager of Free Tibet Campaign, said: "To further its goal of making Mandarin the lingua franca of Tibet, the authorities are encouraging mass migration by Han Chinese who have no need or desire to learn Tibetan. Now Tibetan parents must choose between their unique culture and their children's future."

According to UNESCO there are between 6000 and 7000 spoken languages in the world today. Ironically, Tibetan is not listed on the UNESCO website as either an independent or a Chinese language.(2) Before releasing the briefing, Free Tibet Campaign left numerous requests for clarification of this oversight with UNESCO staff. None of the calls were returned.

Tsering Dorje, a former Tibetan schoolteacher from Amdo now living in India who contributed his first hand testimony to Forked tongue, asks an obvious question: "It is all very well for UNESCO to have a Mother Language Day every February, but how can this protect the Tibetan language?"

In the spirit of International Mother Language Day, Free Tibet Campaign is calling on China to pass -and enforce- a law making Tibetan the official language of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).

According to Tsering Dorje, such a law "is the only way to protect the Tibetan language and to provide equality of opportunities for Tibetans in their own country."

Norman Baker MP, a member of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, endorsed this call, saying: "The Chinese government are following a deliberate policy of extinguishing all that is Tibetan, including their own language in their own country. It may be obvious, but Tibetan should be the official language of Tibet. The world must act. Time is running out for Tibet."


Click to read the report; Forked tongue - Tibetan language under attack.pdf

For more information contact Joel Llewellyn on +44 (0)20 7324 4612.

Notes to editors:

(1) An embargoed copy of Forked tongue: Tibetan language under attack can be downloaded from

(1) Asian and Pacific languages listed by UNESCO at here

Matt Whitticase
Press Officer, Free Tibet Campaign


For further information please contact Joel Llewellyn at
Or call on +44 (0) 207 324 4605