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Now You're Speaking My Language

Recalling an encounter with an informant, April 29, 2013:

"As we walked down the street we played a guessing game of where from and what nationality the other passersby were. She said that although many local Tibetans dress like Han Chinese (China's majority nationality), she could still tell them apart. Bai and Naxi are also nationalities present in Zhongdian (Shangri-La), she said most are good at doing business. Critical of local Tibetans who adopt Han language and materialism, she said the great influx of Tibetans from Qinghai Province and India has the potential to incite a desire for ethnic revival among the locals. She hopes more come, especially Tibetan teachers. She reported that when local and outside Tibetans interact, the locals are impressed by the others' ability to speak, read, and write Tibetan. Though most people here cannot read or write Tibetan, even little kids may know some of the fangyan (local dialect), but all predominantly speak the local Chinese variety. The only people she reported overhearing speaking the local Tibetan variety are the old people, for whom she feels a great liking and admiration."

Through further field observations and interviews I found out that this informant's views about local Tibetan admiration of outside Tibetans are common among transplants from Qinghai. The locals that I spoke with, aside from intellectuals, did not express this sentiment.

Recap from interview and outing with informant, May 14, 2013:

"Yesterday I was quite lucky to hang out with that teacher, who I found out is not actually a teacher anymore, but a tour guide. The school where she used to work was demolished. She was uncertain if the school would be rebuilt or if its demolition was part of the new government policy to establish centralized boarding schools. At any rate, most of the teachers there had already found positions at other schools. She introduced me to some old local women in the old town. They all agreed that the local Chinese they spoke was very clear and easy for outsiders to understand because the town has long had a diverse ethnic population that included Han Chinese. They cited the example that local old town Tibetans always scored well on standardized Chinese tests, better than other minorities from other villages in the region. They were not apologetic for the Chinese borrowings that they used when speaking the local Tibetan. They said there had always been Han and other nationalities in the town and so their language has always been this way."

Both of these stories come from Simon Peters' field journal which he kept while studying in various locations in China.