Women's-Only Language preservation

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Fri Apr 19 12:25:16 UTC 2002

>>From BBC News:  China's women-only language under threat


China plans to spend $1m to save what is believed to be the world's only
language used exclusively by women.  The language, on the verge of
extinction, is spoken only by elder women of the Yao ethnic group in Hunan

           Some linguists say the language may be one of the oldest in the
world.  Now China plans to set up a special protection zone and a museum
in Hunan province's Jiangyong county.  The Xinhua news agency says the
museum will house written examples of the language, which has 1,200
characters, though fewer than 700 are still in use.

           Experts believe much of the language's written heritage, mainly
preserved on paper fans and silks, has already been destroyed.  Dr Zhang
Xiasheng, of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, says the
language was handed down from mothers to daughters and developed in
cut-off rural areas.  Men were not interested in the secret
coded-language, he says.

           A publishing house in Hunan is putting together a dictionary
covering the language's history and the pronunciation, meaning and written
style of its characters.  According to China's People's Daily, the Yao
ethnic group has a total population of 2.9 million.

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