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The Tibetan language is closely tied to the extraordinary culture and history of the Tibetan civilization. Its rich literary heritage holds a unique position in the history of world literatures. However, around the middle of the twentieth century, the environment for Tibetan-language use changed dramatically, undergoing a phase of active negation and suppression during the Cultural Revolution, followed by a period of rehabilitation and promotion for wider use in society. Since then, impressive efforts have been made to develop new terminologies and to translate works from other languages in subjects such as science, law, business management, and information technology.
In response to the increasingly precarious position of the Tibetan language in the twenty-first century, Trace Foundation, the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University, the Shang Shung Institute, the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, and TBRC hosted the Third International Conference on Tibetan Language at Columbia University. The conference comprised eleven panels of more than sixty scholars and linguists. Both Tibetans and non-Tibetans across the globe participated, addressing the history, current situation, and viability of the Tibetan language, as well as what practical steps could be taken to encourage its development.
The papers collected in this volume (the first of a three-volume set) were originally presented at two panels on the Domains of Use and Linguistic Interactions that convened during the Third International Conference on Tibetan Language in New York City in 2011. The papers explore the roles of demographics, public policy, culture, technology, and more and seek to define domains for Tibetan-language use and issues related to the history, evolution, and origins of the Tibetan language, as well as its relationship with other languages, language contacts, lexical exchange, lexical comparison, linguistic features, and linguistic classification.