The Corner

Language Affiliations as Political Tools

As an example of what I meant by “ethnic/patriotic assertiveness,” I note

that as part of their training for dealing with foreigners, Chinese govt.

officials are taught to fend off questions about Chinese rule over Tibet by

pointing out the true fact that the Tibetan language and the Chinese

language belong to the same family. As an argument, of course, this is

laughable: equivalent to the assertion that Jews have a right to

sovereignty over Arabs (both languages Semitic), or Norwegians sovereignty

over Iran (both Indo-European), or Samoans sovereignty over Madagascar (both

Austronesian). I have heard it offered in all seriousness, though, three or

four times, by Chinese govt. spokespersons.

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