Ethnic group revives near-extinct language

Updated: 2011-04-29 20:33


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HOHHOT - Ao Cheng, a 10-year-old Ewenki boy, is reading loudly in the Ewenki language under his teacher's instruction in a primary school in North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

"I can teach a little Ewenki language to my family now," Ao said proudly.

The boy is an Ewenki in his third grade at the No. 1 Experimental Primary School in Ewenki Autonomous Banner, but he could not speak any Ewenki before he was taught in class.

The Ewenki ethnic minority has a population of about 30,000, distributed across the Hulun Buir Grassland in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. It has no written script.

Ewenki people nowadays more often than not converse in Mongolian or  Chinese mandarin, as they receive Mongolian and mandarin language lessons from an earlier age at school. Most youngsters cannot speak their mother tongue.

"Ewenki has become a near-extinct minority language as few people pass it to next generations," said Bai Lan, a researcher with the Academy of Social Sciences in Inner Mongolia.

To preserve the unique language, the government of Ewenki Autonomous Banner organized experts to compile the Ewenki language textbook, which was published last year at a cost of 200,000 yuan ($30,760). The textbook was put into use recently.

The textbook, the first ever in the Ewenki history, is compiled with international phonetic signs along with Mongolian and Chinese.

Ao has been attending Ewenki lessons twice a week since this term, and has formed the habit of reading new words to his parents after class.

Ewenki folk songs are also compiled in the textbook. "I can sing Ewenki songs now as my grandma does, and I like these beautiful songs," Ao said.

The little boy does not fully understand the importance of learning his mother tongue, but obviously he loves it.

"Ewenki lessons have gained popularity among students, including Mongolian students with support and appreciation from their parents," said Su Youle, headmaster of the primary school where Ao Cheng studies.

All the other primary and secondary schools in Ewenki Autonomous Banner will introduce Ewenki language courses from the second term of this year, according to the local education bureau.

"The Ewenki has started a new way of saving its near-extinct language through a written form, and this has set an example for other ethnic minorities to preserve their own languages and cultures," Bai said.


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