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Language vitality and language identity — which one is more important?: Tibetan-Chinese bilingual education in Maketang versus Huazangsi

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How to protect language diversity in the world is a hotly discussed topic in linguistic research. This study investigates the relationship between Tibetan language vitality and language users’ identity in Maketang and Huazangsi Tibetan Autonomy County. On the basis of empirical data, the study suggests that there are no strong, positive correlations between Tibetan language vitality and the speakers’ language identity (or with their language activities and inclinations). However, pragmatic matters constitute an important factor that influences speakers’ activities and inclinations. These findings can be explained by conflicting functions performed by language: language as a communication tool on the one hand, and language as a receptacle of culture on the other. Bilingual (or multilingual) education can fulfill a useful role in balancing these two language functions. As a result of the evidence in this study, we argue that language protection cannot preserve both language vitality and language identity, and that, therefore, language protection should pay more attention to issues of language identity rather than to issues of language vitality.
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Keywords: bilingual education; functions of language; language identity; language vitality

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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