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Move to Protect World's Only Women's Language

Xinhuanet 2002-04-17 19:56:34
   CHANGSHA, April 17 (Xinhuanet) -- In a bid to save a special
language used exclusively by women of an ethnic group in central-
south China, a protection zone will be set up in Hunan Province.
    The language, on the verge of disappearing, is believed to be
the world's only women's language. It is used among women of the
Yao ethnic group in Jiangyong County of Hunan.
   The language was usually written on silks, paper fans or
embroidery items. So far, more than 1,200 characters have been
identified. Less than 700 characters are in common use.
   Some experts hold that the language has a long history and may
be one of the world's oldest, but no conclusions have been reached
so far on when it originated.
   Chinese experts have called for efforts to save the language.
As the small number of women who use it die off, it draws closer
to oblivion. 
   Yang Huanyi, 93, and He Yanxin, in her 60s, are among the few
women who can read and write the language.
   Some samples of the language have been destroyed because of a
lack of protection, say experts.
   Within the protection zone in Jiangyong County, a museum will
be built to collect and protect cultural relics related to the
language. Symposiums on the language will also be held.
   The total investment in setting up the protection zone is
expected to reach 9 million yuan (1.08 million US dollars). The
Cultural Department of Hunan Province is applying for support from
the Ford Foundation of the United States.
   The Yuelu Publishing House in Hunan is compiling a dictionary
covering the history, pronunciation, meaning and written style of
the characters of the language.
   Ye Xumin, deputy director of the research center for the women'
s language of the Central-South China Institute for Nationalities,
called for greater efforts to protect and study the language. 
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