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derson's Vocabulary3; while in Jäschke, Desgodins and in the present Dictionary this same word is spelt Phral-Grig, and in either
case pronounced the same. The latter is, in this case, the correct spelling.
Spelling and pronunciation are in fact the chief difficulties in learning Tibetan. As regards the former, the two or three examples already given to some extent shew this, and it is perhaps not too much to say that the spelling of almost every word has to be individually known. As regards the latter, the difficulty is the number of similarly sounded but differently spelt words with different meanings, and also the system of tones by which the tone in which a word is pronounced is according to its spelling high or low pitched. The Tibetans divide all words into two broad classes, low toned which are called pho "male," and high toned which are called “female,” the one supposed to represent the deep toned voice of a man and the other the higher pitched voice of a woman; but between these two there comes another, ma-ning, “medium,” and there are also further modifications of these two broad classes. The right mastering of tones, a system so entirely strange to the Europeans, is essential to a knowledge of spoken Tibetan.
(5) The present system of translation of the Tibetan alphabet must be modified.
The present Dictionary has followed the system adopted finally at the Vienna Congress of Orientalists, for Sanskrit and allied alphabets. This system, however, has the drawback that in certain cases letters are selected to represent oriental letters which do not themselves correspond in sound with them, and hence a conventional diacritical mark is added to indicate that such letter is conventionally used to represent a particular sound; such letters are for ♫nga; ña for 3 nya; sha Qzha ; ça for +9 q sha; and ha for Qa. Every one of these should
be changed, and in each case the letter be transliterated so as to represent its actual sound. As will be seen, there is no difficulty in doing this.
One single objection is sufficient to condemn for practical purposes a system so artificial, namely, that there is no finality about it. These may
8 Tibetan Manual compiled by Vincent C. Henderson. Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs. Revised by Edward Amundsen, Calcutta, Baptist Mission Press, 1903,
J. 1. 11
be the accepted symbols to-day, but the fashion may change, and in fact has done so since Jäschke wrote his Dictionary in 1881, where it will be found that five out of these six letters are represented by a different symbol, and the only symbol in which they agree, namely ç, has itself been since abandoned by orientalists, and s substituted. The Asiatic Society of Bengal up to the present has adopted another system of transliteration for these letters, which it has only within the last few months altered to that approved by the International Oriental Congress of 1894, which is the system followed by the Royal Asiatic Society in England.
The confusion produced by this "multitude of councillors" will be best gathered from the following comparative table in which I give the transliteration I propose in the last column.
In the above tables
have been left blank under the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and the Royal Asiatic Society, as no transliteration appears to be prescribed, and the transliteration followed in any case would therefore be that followed by the contributor.
Apart from the want of finality, there is also the great opportunity for error due to the omission in copying or printing of the small diacritical mark which alone distinguishes the one letter from the other.
A word further in support of the system of transliteration which I propose.
There is no possibility of ambiguity or error. letters ན n and 9 never follow each other; ng can therefore
never be mistaken for them. Similarly
n is never followed by
b ཧ h
51 h; so that ny for
ཨ ༗; nor ཟ ༧ by ཧ à; nor ས
G, Q, and sh for cannot present any ambiguity or be mistaken for +9 anything else, and they have the advantage of representing the actual
sound, which the present symbols do not.
As regards zha, it is true that in Lhasa, as noted by Jäschke, the difference in pronunciation between it and sha is one of tone rather
than pronunciation. But the Lhasa man, though he will himself pro nounce sha in a low tone and not zha, is accustomed to hear those from other parts pronounce it zha and understands it. But in all the outlying dialects it has the sound of zha. For the western dialects Jäschke gives it as zha, and states that it has "the sound of s in leisure." For the Southern dialects Lewin' gives it as zha and says it is pronounced like " z in azure.” Desgodins, for the eastern dialects also gives it this sound and, writing in French, says it is pronounced as "ja" which is exactly the same.
It also is distinctly zha in Sikhim and the neighbouring southern dialects.
With regard to using a for; this, again, represents its actual sound, and the only letter with which it could be confused is a; and here the long mark over the latter is sufficient distinction and one that has to be employed in all other Oriental languages to distinguish a long vowel from its corresponding short one. By this do not let me be misunderstood to imply that a and
a bear to each other the relation
of corresponding long and short vowels. They are separate letters and bear no such relation, but the distinguishing long mark is one well known and employed in all oriental languages, and may equally be employed here, and it represents the difference between their actual sound, which the letters h and a now used do not.
1 Manual of Tibetan, by Major T. H. Lewin, F.R.C.S. Calcutta, Baptist Mission Press, 1879.
Also the use of h for renders it liable to be confused with ཧ h with which it has no affinity in sound or otherwise.
Jäschke used a particular symbol for this letter when initial (a circle placed below the line), and when following a consonant he did not transliterate it separately at all.
(6). There must be a Recognised System of Transcription (as distinct from Transliteration) of Tibetan names, and other words likely to be employed in English.
From what has been already said regarding the Tibetan spelling, it is quite clear that the transliteration of a word will in most cases give no indication of its sound to a person not acquainted with the language.
Who, for instance, in Bkra-Shis-Lhun-po ( (བཀྲ་ ཤིས་
recognise the well known City of "Tashilhunpo," or in Bka-Blon-Spung
(773°55′5′′) the familiar “Kalimpong ” ? བཀའ་ བློན་ སྤུང་
It is therefore necessary to fix a standard system of transcription which shall be phonetic and represent the actual sound of the word, and at the same time be uniform. Such systems have been adopted by the Rev. Graham Sandberg in his Handbook of Colloquial Tibetan, and by Rev. Edward Amundsen in his Primer of Standard Tibetan. These are not, however, quite suited to the purpose of transcribing names and words that will require to be printed in newspapers, books of a general nature, as they contain certain special marks, and here also there is not uniformity. Thus the Rev. Graham Sandberg uses the comma above the line to indicate the omission of a silent consonant, while the Rev. Edward Amundsen employs this mark to indicate an aspirated letter.
All non-essential marks should be omitted. The only mark which is essential is the diaeresis (") in certain cases over the vowels o and u, which is a mark known to all printers and in general use and therefore presents no difficulties. It also exactly represents the pronunciation, which, in the words where it would be employed, is that known in all countries to be implied by this mark, namely, the ö and ü in German.
(7). All Honorific words should bear a distinguishing mark, and against every common word the corresponding Honorific word should be noted, and similarly against every Honorific word, the corresponding common word.
1 Handbook of Colloquial Tibetan, by Graham Sandberg. Calcuta. 1894.
& Primer of Standard Tibetan, by Edward Amundsen. Printed at the Scandinavian Alliance Mission Press. Ghoom, Darjeeling. 1903.
It is perhaps necessary to note here that there are in Tibetan, what are practically two distinct languages running side by side, and each in current and regular use. The common, in which one addresses an inferior, and which the lower classes speak amongst themselves, and the
Honoriñe (ཞེ་ས་) ༧he-༠a, in which any one addresses a guperior, and in
which the educated classes politely address one another. It is necessary to know both these, as in speaking of himself the speaker always uses the common form. It is not that the same word is employed but has a different respectful form, such as occurs, for example, in the case of verbs in Urdu. In Tibetan an entirely different word is used, and this equally as regards nouns, verbs, and adjectives.Thus,if I say to an inferior, “ you
hare a fne horse,” I would say ཁྱོད་ ཀྱི་རྟ་ཡག་པོ་རེད་ zhyod kyi rtu keys yag-po red, but to a superior or politely addressing an equal ཉིད་ རང་གི་ ཆིབས་པ་ བཟང་ པོ་རེད་ wyid rang gཝཾ ehkibs-pu bzang-po red, from
which it will be seen that there is not a single word the same in two sentences.
I give below one or two,common words to shew how complete the difference is.