Monguor 蒙古儿，土 Culture
Dr. Wang Xianzhen, Dr. Limusishiden (Li Dechun) and Ms. Lu Wanfang.
The Monguor population (called 'Tu' by the Chinese) is recognized as an official ethnic group by the Chinese government, and has a population of 163,800 (1996 Qinghai Statistical Yearbook). Approximately 42,000 of this group still speak Monguor.
There are actually four main language varieties identified under the term of "Monguor" 蒙古儿，土 : Huzhu 互助蒙古儿, Minhe 民和蒙古儿, Niandhu/Baoan, and Wutun. The variation between the four varieties is due in large part to the intensity of language contact, especially with Tibetan. The latter two, Niandhu and Wutun, are highly divergent language communities located in three Tongren county townships. Wutun has aroused a good deal of interest in recent creole and language contact research, containing Chinese, Monguor, and Tibetan strata. Huzhu Monguor appears to have two subvarieties, Tianzhu and Datong Monguor.
The number of fully-fluent native speakers of both subvarieties is rapidly decreasing. If we define fluency as competence in oral forms central to culture (storytelling, oral history, singing, oratory, ritual) rather than just conversational fluency, we find the high official population statistics belie the low number of competent speakers. In many areas, only 30 percent of the population has an active command of the language. We see this with Dahejia Monguor (estimates based on Zhu, Chuluu, and Stuart (1995:200)).
Generational differences are particularly acute for all Monguor areas: speakers over 60, and particularly women, are fully fluent and competent in oral art forms and are native-language-dominant. Speakers over 35 have a passable-to-fluent command of their native language, but are multilingual and have no command of oral art forms. Children increasingly grow up with one of the dominant languages (Tibetan or Mandarin) as their native language, and little or no instruction in Monguor.
Those areas where Monguor language and folklore are best preserved are characterized by remoteness, extreme poverty, and lack of education. These include villages in Huzhu and Minhe counties. Due to the lack of a writing system and native-language schooling and for Monguor children, the future of the language looks bleak.
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