The Tibetan language has been laboring under much more significant threats than most others over the past few decades, as China continues to consolidate their control over the occupied country. It comes as a shock to many in the outside world to learn that even the act of learning Tibetan within Tibet itself can lead to persecution from the Chinese government. A recent report out of Tibet claimed two brothers were arrested for the crime of trying to promote the Tibetan language and Tibetan nationalism – an arrest which has caused an outcry from humanitarian groups and governments the world over.
The drive for Tibetan independence within Tibet itself remains strong and often raises its head in rather disturbing ways, such as self-immolation – many Tibetan monks in particular have engaged in the practice of setting themselves on fire in order to make a point about their devotion to their country and make a statement to the world about the fierceness of the Tibetan dedication to independence. Recently Nyingkar Tashi, a 24-year-old Tibetan self-immolated in protest against the Chinese occupation, leaving a note written in Tibetan calling for the return of Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who is currently in exile from his homeland.
A beacon of hope remains for Tibetan language in the Tibetan autonomous region in Lhasa. One school in Lhasa is making concerted efforts to cross barriers between Tibetans and other ethnic groups, including Han Chinese. These attempts involve cross-cultural language learning sessions, including Tibetan language classes. The school currently has just under 1000 students with five classes every year taught in Tibetan. The school attempts to identify students from different ethnic backgrounds who share common interests, who can be paired up and shown that they actually have a lot in common.
Unrest in Tibet remains at a high level, and restrictions around freedom of language are a key cause of that unrest. Students protests are a regular occurrence along with self-immolation. Recently, thousands of Tibetan students staged a protest outside a monastery in China as a result of the peak in self-immolation incidents.