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Language policy and reforms of writing systems for minority languages in China

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This paper examines how China’s language policy, dictated by its ethnic minorities policy, has influenced reforms of writing systems for minority languages since 1949. Measured by the landmark publication of the Plan for the Phonetic Spelling of Chinese in 1957, reforms of minority writing systems can be divided into three stages. The pre-Plan stage featured efforts to match written and oral languages, and Russian influence including introduction of the Cyrillic script. During the Plan-oriented stage, romanization ruled not only the creation of new writing systems for oral languages, but also the reform of existing non-roman systems. The relatively Plan-independent stage, ushered in by standardization of the Yi writing system in a Siniform script, has opened the door, though only narrowly, to “native” writing systems. Examined from an international perspective, China’s language policy has undergone the same waxing and waning of assimilation and accommodation as those of industrialized and developing countries; but the Chinese experience demonstrates both the advantages and disadvantages of direct government involvement in minority language maintenance and development.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Colorado

Publication date: March 1, 2001

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