BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese government is neglecting and actively undermining the Tibetan language as part of continuing efforts to dilute the region's unique culture, a human rights group said on Thursday.
Schools are forcing Tibetan children to learn China's national language, Mandarin, at a younger and younger age and are failing to support use of Tibetan in official fields, the Free Tibet Campaign said in a new report.
"China's insistence on Chinese language in Tibetan schools has failed a generation of Tibetans who now lag behind the rest of China in terms of basic literacy," the group's Matt Whitticase said in an emailed statement.
"But the one-language policy in Tibet goes beyond education; it is part of a more general assault on Tibetan culture and identity," he added.
"The growing prevalence of the Chinese language in all spheres of Tibetan public life automatically advantages Chinese settlers over Tibetans ..."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao rejected the report's findings, saying Tibetan was widely used and properly respected.
"I believe bare-faced lies from such groups cannot deceive anyone," he told a regular news conference.
China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since People's Liberation Army troops occupied the region in 1950 and has vowed to bring economic prosperity to the poor Himalayan region.
Tibetan activists have warned that tourism and migration by Han Chinese could swamp Buddhist Tibet's distinctive culture.
Tibet is supposed to enjoy a high level of autonomy, which includes protection of and support for its language.
But the Free Tibet Campaign said this was not happening, and quoted an exiled Tibetan teacher, Tsering Dorje, calling for the Tibetan language to be made the region's official language.
Letters with addresses in Tibetan fail to get delivered, and parents are increasingly speaking to their children in Chinese, hoping to give them an edge in a society where their mother tongue is being marginalised, the report said.
"Certainly there are few lucrative job prospects for Tibetans who have not been educated in Chinese," it quoted Tsering Dorje as saying.
"Nor is it possible for a student educated in Tibetan to acquire professional qualifications at college or university."
Tibetan is not the only minority language in China that rights groups say is threatened.
The exiled Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre says Mongolian usage in Inner Mongolia has also withered, and that many signs written in Mongolian are poorly translated or just plain wrong.
In Mongolian's case, even the government has weighed in, admitting in an unusually frank report late last year that the language's use had declined, including a huge drop in the number of primary school students being taught Mongolian.
"The government must pay greater attention to these problems, and come up with specific measures as soon as possible," official government Web site www.nmgnews.com.cn reported.