On Language Location



Bhutan is a landlocked country in the eastern Himalaya, best known as a Buddhist kingdom where the policy of 'Gross National Happiness' replaced GDP. Anthropologist and linguist Mark Turin has special access to enter Bhutan as part of a major collaborative research project to document the country's endangered oral traditions. He is there to help identify which of Bhutan's languages and cultures are most at risk as the country opens up to global influences through television and the internet.

Mark takes a journey from Thimphu, the capital, across high mountain passes, to the village of Ura in rural Bumthang district. There he participates in a dramatic five-day festival of rituals and fire dances. He meets members of parliament, teachers, and broadcasters who speak not only Dzongkha, the national language, but English and their local indigenous languages. Along the way, Mark learns more about the challenges facing communities who live in Bhutan's remote valleys.

A journey through the cultural and linguistic landscape of the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, presented by anthropologist Mark Turin.

Producer Mark Rickards.

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Formerly known as Burma, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar is in a state of upheaval. Business is booming in Yangon, thanks to new access to international markets. And while the country is offering greater stability for investors, ethnic and political tensions still run high. Burma/Myanmar is a rapidly changing and challenging place.

Anthropologist and linguist Mark Turin travels to Myanmar to explore what these transformations mean for the indigenous ethnic groups that make up much of the population, and specifically for their languages and cultures. Myanmar is a hugely diverse nation: according to a contested recent census, it is home to 135 distinct ethnic groups who are in turn grouped into eight "major national ethnic races." Among them are the Mon, whose Austroasiatic language is still widely spoken and who lay claim to an ancient script that's used to write Pali and Sanskrit. In highland areas, the states of Chin, Kachin and Shan derive their names from the dominant ethnic groups of the region, but these states are also home to many smaller, distinct communities. To date, the state has focussed on national building around a united Burmese identity rather than supporting minority communities. Official government education policy, for example, still prohibits the teaching of ethnic languages in schools.

Mark Turin speaks to government representatives, teachers, religious leaders and language experts in the field to find out whether these minority languages can survive in 21st Myanmar. Is the growth of English threatening Myanmar's indigenous languages? What is the role of religion in maintaining linguistic diversity? What does the future hold for Myanmar's unique tapestry of cultural and linguistic diversity?

Producer Mark Rickards.