There’s a Tibetan dialect called ‘Mustang,’ and it’s staying alive in the US

Stepping off the train in Jackson Heights, Queens, on a recent Sunday, I discovered two groups doing sonic battle in a courtyard ringed with shops: a Tibetan religious service led by crimson-robed monks versus a “Bangladeshi Americans for Bernie Sanders” rally. Later I looked up the name of the place: Diversity Square.

No surprise, given this is the epicenter of the most diverse neighborhood in America.

More than 130 different languages are spoken in Jackson Heights, but many of them are from places so small, so remote, they get lost in the commotion. Take Mustang, a dialect of Tibetan with only 7,500 speakers worldwide — 800 of whom live in the US.

Dialects like Mustang — also referred to as “Mustangi” — are waging quiet fights here, for time, attention, and survival. What exactly are they fighting against? You could say it’s the pursuit of the American Dream itself. Given the challenges of starting a new life halfway across the world, even when a language is spoken at home, English is often what kids focus on learning.

As language activist Nawang Gurung explains: “Parents work 12 to 15 hours in restaurants, nanny jobs, as nail technicians. … Now if parents talk to their kids in Mustangi dialect, kids are gonna respond in English.”

Nawang has become a custodian of Mustang here in New York City. “Language represents your identity,” he explains. “Who you are. If the Mustangi dialect vanishes, it’s slowly gonna mean, it has a totally new identity.”

Read more: PRI

Tibetan Language Made Equal With Chinese in County in China’s Qinghai

The Tibetan and Chinese languages will now be given equal status in Rebgong (in Chinese, Tongren) county in Qinghai’s Malho (Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture after a storm of protest erupted online following a local hotel’s attempt to prevent Tibetan workers from speaking their native tongue.

In a Jan. 11 notice written in Chinese, county authorities have directed government offices, schools, and state-owned businesses to use both Tibetan and Chinese on official seals, signboards, letterhead, and other forms of communication.

According to the notice, a copy of which was obtained by RFA, the Tibetan language will also be given prominence in some cases, for example when used on a signboard or official letter. The notice also instructs people to print Tibetan and Chinese characters in the same size.

It was not immediately clear whether the new directive is intended also to apply to private businesses or shops.

The government action comes after the Shang Yon hotel in Rebgong on Jan. 7 forbade Tibetan workers from speaking their own language on the job, threatening them with a 500 yuan (U.S. $76 approx.) fine for noncompliance, according to social media accounts.

Read more: Radio Free Asia