Tibetan Writing from the Socio-linguistic Margins of Tibet

Deaf Students, Tibetan Literacy and WeChat at the Lhasa Special School





Deaf Tibetans, margins and marginalization, Tibetan Sign Language (TSL), Special Education, Lhasa


Through the writings of Tashi and Yangzom, two young deaf Tibetans, and my narrative of our encounters during ethnographic fieldwork at the Lhasa Special School (LSS) in 2016-2017, this article explores their lives, the role of and their views on the Tibetan language. While their writings reproduce important state-endorsed categories for disabled people in China (Kohrman 2005) and of the state’s ‘civilizing project’ of deaf Tibetans (Hofer and Sagli 2017), they also creatively challenge, critique and ultimately escape those terms and categories through their writings and through the creation of novel, meaningful social networks. Their use of written Tibetan in WeChat posts and their desires expressed therein for strengthening of Tibetan literacy among deaf Tibetans stand out; they are also in stark contrast to those of most other deaf Tibetans and the trend of literacy in the Tibetan language being increasingly considered “useless”, even by educated, urban-based Tibetan parents under duress of coercive state structures (Leibold and Dorjee 2023). I examine and draw on anthropological, analytical concepts of ‘margins’ and ‘marginality’ (Das and Poole, 2004; Tsing, 1994) to make sense of this phenomenon and to look at the role of Tibetan language in moving in and out of various positions on the socio-linguistic margins of Tibet and China. By using written Tibetan and asking for support and the strengthening of literacy in written Tibetan for young deaf Tibetans, Tashi and Yangzom are able to join a wider Tibetan language-related activism (Robin 2014a, Roche 2021), can “practice hope” (Mattingly 2010) and experience meaningful senses of belonging beyond those envisioned and created by the Chinese state.

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How to Cite

Hofer, T. (2023). Tibetan Writing from the Socio-linguistic Margins of Tibet: Deaf Students, Tibetan Literacy and WeChat at the Lhasa Special School. HIMALAYA - The Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, 43(1), 42–70. https://doi.org/10.2218/himalaya.2023.8884

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