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Life

Once-taboo language lives again in rural Myanmar

Shan-ni tongue and culture revive after years of suppression and conflict

Former Kachin State Minister for Shan Affairs and Shan-ni advocate Daw Khin Pyone holds a 50-year-old Shan-ni script. (Photo by Lorcan Lovett)

LONE TON, Myanmar -- A punchy cadence echoes from a one-story school building toward verdant mountains -- the familiar sound of children reciting lines to learn a language. But in this part of northern Myanmar, speaking Shan-ni, the local dialect, only a decade ago was seen as taboo, and treated as a crime.

Soldiers on both sides of a long-running conflict would punish those who spoke it, according to locals, and for decades the government banned the language in schools. Yet on the shores of Indawgyi Lake, Myanmar's biggest lake, determination to restore the tongue is strong.

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