Cotu man preserves minority language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Dec 12 20:54:11 UTC 2006

Forwarded from edling list

Cotu man preserves minority language


QUANG NAM Bhriu Liec has broken new ground by becoming the first member of
the Cotu ethnic minority people to write a book about the little-spoken
language. Clutching a copy of the book, entitled Cotu Common Language
Canons and Village Culture of the Cotu, Liec says: "I wrote this book to
express my love for my village, and out of fear the language will be lost
when the old people of the village die." Liec, who is also chairman of the
Tay Giang District Peoples Committee in the central coastal province of
Quang Nam, spent 16 years writing the 300-page book, since becoming a
teacher in the district school in 1990.

Linguists say Liecs book is the most significant contribution yet made to
preserving the ethnic language, and that it has the advantage of being
easily understood by both the Cotu and the Kinh majority people. Musician
Huy Hoang, who is himself compiling a record of the Cotu peoples folk
songs, says Liecs book has been indispensable to his work. "Thanks to
reading Liecs book I know Cotu handwriting and understand its songs,
culture and customs well enough to record the words to songs in an
accurate way. Liec has always encouraged me to accurately record Cotu

Writing the book has not always been an easy endeavour and a lot of
leg-work was involved: there are few roads connecting remote mountain
hamlets and villages. His juniors often joke that Liec must have
clocked-up more walking miles than any other district committee chairman.
Liec has also had to visit the Ethnology Museum in Ha Noi to study old
maps made by the French after 1938. He even had to live deep in the forest
for nearly a month to write three pages on how to make Trdin wine - a
process that has virtually fallen into oblivion. Making his research still
harder was the reluctance of Cotu villagers to share their wine-making
secrets with outsiders.

Liec believes one of the main reasons for the demise of Cotu culture has
been contact with the modern world. He said young people are not
interested in learning their minority mother tongue. That is why his
mission in life has become to preserve the ancient language and culture.
And he said he hopes his book will instil in the wider public a sense of
curiosity in the Cotu culture. And in a further attempt to preserve the
Cotus way of life, Tay Giang bulletin was set up to report on the
activities of the ethnic group. Liec has also instructed senior officers
in the district to learn the Cotu language. Learning the language is also
mandatory (as is learning English and French) for entry into the civil

But he is no task master - he leads by example, and his efforts to keep
the Cotu language alive have earned him the admiration and respect of
villagers and colleagues alike. "Nothing is impossible for Liec," says one
young admirer. "He can be a farmer or a teacher. Now, he has written a
book about the Cotu people."  VNS


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