Tibetan language/A history and context

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Tibetan is the language of the population indigenous to the Tibetan Plateau, a vast geographical region that encompasses land in modern-day China (Xizang, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunan provinces), northern India, Nepal, and Pakistan. The Tibetan script is also used to write Dzongkha and Ladakhi.

  • Tibetan language and its relationship to Sanskrit, including phonemic relationship...
  • Tibetan_language
  • We should all be aware of the Tibetan Language Wikipedia. I feel it would be wise to notify this Wikipedia community of our intention and ask them for their support. Also if there is a Wikisource for Tibetan we should establish linkages with them as well, or if not when we digitize text or find text in Tibetan or Wylie to translate we should upload this in a Tibetan Wikisource. Both these communities may help support and nourish our endeavour and be a valuable source of mentoring and check our learnings as well as potentially providing a source for texts to translate, what we translate can also somewhere feed into the Wiki-verse. Would somebody please take the initiative to investigate and establish linkages and inform them of this learning initiative?

Robert Thurman (1994) states:

"Tibetan is quite different from Chinese. It used to belong to the "Tibeto-Burman" family, although recently some linguists have taken up the label "Sino-Tibetan" (to include Sinic, Daic, Bodic (Tibetan) and Burmic, with the first two and the last two forming distinct subfamilies). These terminological games do not alter the fundamental difference in the languages. Chinese is written in ideograms and is monosyllabic, non-inflected and tonal. Tibetan is written in an alphabet and is polysyllabic, is inflected with case, declension and gender structures adapted from Sanskrit, and is not semantically tonal. Tibetan borrows some words from Chinese, but it also borrows Indian, Nepali and Mongolian words. After 30 years of occupation, a mere handful of the present Chinese colonists speak Tibetan, although a younger generation of Tibetans has been forced to learn colloquial Chinese."[1]

The printed word[edit | edit source]

"Tibetan texts are traditionally published in "pecha format," on long, rectangular pages, unbound and printed on both sides. The front of one page and back of the next are usually read together."[2]

If locally manufactured, the paper may be constructed from a range of materials from rice to mulberry bark, depending on the botanical resources of each locale. Historically, texts were either hand-written or printed from carved wood-blocks.

Register and dialect[edit | edit source]

An understanding of register and dialect is imperative, as the Lotsawa School holds:

Anyone even vaguely familiar with the characteristics of the Tibetan language will know that spoken Tibetan is not at all homogenous. There are, in fact, many “spoken Tibetan”s. First of all, there is a distinction between the technical language of the Dharma (chos skad) and the colloquial language spoken by ordinary Tibetans in everyday situations (phal skad). Then, of course, colloquial Tibetan itself must not be thought of as uniform. Not only does pronunciation vary from region to region, but many words do too; making it possible to speak of, for example, Amdo dialect or Kham dialect, as if they were distinct languages in their own right. These regional variations are also detectable, to some extent, in any Dharma teaching, and so there is really no such thing as pure ‘Dharma Tibetan’.

Ideally, you should aim for some familiarity with all forms of spoken Tibetan. If there is a particular teacher for whom you will be translating, then of course concentrate on his or her particular style of spoken Tibetan, but, we would argue that it is always best to begin your studies with the form of Tibetan known as ‘settlement dialect’ (gzhis chags skad).[3]

New vocabulary[edit | edit source]

  • ཆོས་སྐད chos skad: technical language of the Dharma
  • པཧལ་སྐད phal skad:colloquial language spoken by ordinary Tibetans in everyday situations
  • གཟཧིས་ཆགས་སྐད gzhis chags skad:‘settlement dialect’

Readings[edit | edit source]

  1. http://www.freetibet.org/about/tibetan-culture
  2. Source: http://www.nitartha.org//collections.html (accessed: July 9, 2009)
  3. Source: [1] (accessed: July 26, 2009)