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A language just for women

HU Xin can read and write the "women's language," a dialect spoken by females in her hometown in Hunan Province but faces the possibility of becoming extinct.

She demonstrates how to write the characters, which are quite different from Chinese characters, at the Baosteel Stage yesterday.

The language originated in Jiangyong County and is passed down from mothers to daughters and among sisters.

The language has a total of 2,000 phonographic characters, but Hu said only about 700 characters were passed down.

Local women use the language to communicate with sisters or female friends, mostly about their problems with the men in their lives.

A legend said the language was created by an imperial concubine in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) because the emperor did not love her. The concubine wanted to express her unhappiness to her mother but feared being caught by imperial guards. She then created the language and wrote on a handkerchief, telling her mother to read the characters by dialect.

Hu was taught by her mother. She said she watched her mother writing the language when she was a child and was interested in it. Her mother began teaching her when she was 12 years old.

She said most women spoke the language in early times as only men went to school to study. But since females now go to school, the language was slowly dying out.

Another reason for the language verging on extinction is an unusual tradition. It calls for a woman's letters to be burned after she dies.

The local government set up the Jiangyong Women's Language Museum in the 1980s to protect and research the language. Hu is a guide at the museum.

She also set up a classroom in the museum to teach local girls and tourists the language.

Hu said she hoped the Expo would be a great stage to promote the language and prevent it from disappearing.


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