Elazar, “Translating culture”

Elazar, Gideon.  2016. Translating culture: missionaries and linguists in contemporary Yunnan Province.  Asian Ethnicity.  Early online publication.

Abstract: In an attempt to emulate early modern missionaries to Yunnan who engaged in the invention of writing systems for various ethnic groups, contemporary evangelical missionaries in Yunnan have become heavily involved in the realm of linguistics, focused on the preservation of endangered languages. While such activity may potentially be perceived as a challenge to the state-Chinese linguistic hegemony, I argue that the presence of missionary linguists is acceptable to the Chinese authorities as it does not threaten the paramount position of Putonghua but rather serves to integrate minority people into the state system. In addition, based on interviews conducted with a missionary working to produce texts for Kunming’s Buoyi population in their language, I aim to demonstrate how missionary linguists attempt to remold local culture by attempting to reconstruct ethnic identity around a language core. The article is based on fieldwork conducted in Yunnan in 2009–2010 and 2012.