Mosuo Language Project
The Mosuo have their own unique language; it belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language group, but is a distinct language, not simply a dialect of another language. However, the Mosuo language is oral only…there is no written form of the language. As a result, all history/stories/geneology/etc. are passed from generation to generation by word of mouth.
One of the greatest priorities for the Mosuo is to create a written form of their language; this is, in many ways, crucial to long-term preservation of their culture. The reasons for this are:
* The Daba priests are responsible for memorizing huge amounts of information, which make up the majority of the Mosuo oral history and tradition. Yet there are fewer and fewer Daba priests, and as each one dies without passing on his information, a wealth of knowledge, history, and tradition is lost forever. Of course, this information could be recorded and transcribed in Chinese (or other languages), and this is in fact already being done to a certain extent. However, just as reading an English story translated into another language can lose some of its more subtle aspects, the same is true of the Mosuo oral history. The best way to preserve this heritage for future generations is in their own language.
* While other minorities are able to have some classes conducted in their own language, the Mosuo are not, for the simple reason that there is no written language for them to study/learn. Therefore, all classes are in Mandarin Chinese only. This leads to a situation where many young Mosuo are forgetting their own language entirely.
* Language is every bit a part of a local culture as any other aspect. The complete loss of a language represents the loss of yet another part of our diverse human heritage. Creating a written language helps to preserve that heritage, for the Mosuo, and for others who are interested in their culture.
It is important to point out here that this is not an attempt to create an ‘official' written language. Only the Chinese government can designate an official written language. Rather, we seek to set up a prototype, and test it with distinct groups, to determine the viability and set a precedent for the adoption of an official written form.
There are three stages to our project: first, to develop the written form; second, to teach that to designated groups of adults and children; and third, to begin creating records of Mosuo oral history/heritage in that written form. For more information, to share your own ideas and suggestions, or to find out where we are in our progress, please check out our discussion forums.