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Textbook preserves Hezhe language
By Li Fangchao (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-06-06 05:22

HARBIN: The Hezhe people, one of the smallest ethnic minority groups in China, have improved their chances of preserving their dying language with the publication of a new book.

Teachers from Jiejinkou Hezhe Central School in Tongjiang, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, recently finished compiling probably the first Hezhe language textbook.

The Hezhe people are nomadic people with a population of about 4,600 nationwide. They mainly live in the counties of Tongjiang, Fuyuan and Raohe by the Songhua, Heilong and Wusuli rivers in Heilongjiang.

Their language, which belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic group of the Altaic family, has previously had no written form. For communication with outsiders, the Hezhes usually use Chinese.

The language has been moving towards extinction as only those above 50 can still understand and speak the language.

"I am afraid that nobody can completely understand the language as it also has many dialects," Jing Changzhi, headmaster of the school, told China Daily.

Jing said it was no use trying to create a completely new written form for Hezhe as the language itself has lost its "significance in communication."

"But it is vital to save the oral language as it carries the culture and tradition of the Hezhes from past generations," he said.

Most of the history and tradition of the Hezhe people is handed down by "Yimakan," a form of folk song that has nearly died out over recent years, according to Jing.

The language book the school is now promoting comes after four years of effort, he said.

"We labelled commonly used words and sentences with Chinese pinyin and characters, as they all know Chinese," said Jing.

The school now has about 150 students, of whom 40 are Hezhes.

(China Daily 06/06/2005 page3)

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