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Uyghur Identity, Language Policy and Political Discourse

Arienne M. Dwyer

This study explores Chinese language policy and language use in Inner Asia, as well as the relation of language policy to the politics of Uyghur identity. Language is central to ethnic identity, and official language policies are often overlooked as critical factors in conflict over ethnic nationalism. In Chinese Inner Asia, any solution to ethnic conflict will include reallinguistic and cultural autonomy for major ethnic groups.

Language policy has been at the heart of Chinese nation building. Shortly after the inception of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), language policy in China’s border regions was responsive to local conditions and arguably one of the more flexible in the world. In the last 15 years, however, although China’s official language policy has remained constant, its covert language policy has become increasingly reactive, and tied to geopolitical considerations. This trend has been particularly salient in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where multilingualism and cultural pluralism have been progressively curtailed in favor of a monolingual, monocultural model, and a concomitant rise of an oppositional modern Uyghur identity.

The report, The Xinjiang Conflict:Uyghur Identity, Language Policy and Political Discourse, can be downloaded at: http://www.eastwestcenter.org/fileadmin/stored/pdfs/PS015.pdf

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