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[P]
Introduction to Tibetan Orthography

By rtmyers in Culture
Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 05:45:26 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

Most K5 readers have seen the Tibetan script--those lovely, angular characters that look like they're hanging down from a clothesline, flourishes above and below. But how does the Tibetan writing system actually work? Here's a brief introduction to one of the world's most dysfunctional scripts.


I'm no script virgin. I'm an armchair linguist who knows the Japanese and Korean scripts well, and has a nodding acquaintance with many others. I'm no longer shocked by letters and pieces thereof magically disappearing or changing shape or engaging in shameful public acts with each other. I've come to expect baroque and archaic rules and long lists of exceptions. But Tibetan's pure, shameless, in-your-face weirdness still managed to shock me.

Probably after studying Tibetan for ten years this would all seem obvious and natural to me. Actually, at this point I've studied it for all of one weekend, albeit an intensive 20-hour weekend with a whole semester's worth of Tibetan crammed into it. I thought I would be learning basic Tibetan but what I soon found is that it takes 20 hours just to learn Tibetan orthography. It's not until Tibetan II that you even get to basic grammar and vocabulary.

What's so strange about Tibetan? After all, they start off with an alphabet like just about every script. There are thirty characters, arranged in a neat 8x4 matrix, the two cells on the bottom right being empty. And there's a great deal of logic in the way the matrix is structured.

For instance, the first row contains "k"-like sounds, made in the throat. The second "ch"-like sounds, made on the roof of the mouth, the third dental "t" sounds, the fourth labial "p" sounds, and so on.

And the first column contains the basic unvoiced sound (for the first row, "ka"), the second a breathy, aspirated sound ("kha"), the third the voiced version ("ga") and the fourth the nasal variant ("nga"). This layout mimics the Sanskrit used as a model for the Tibetan script.

Here's how the matrix looks:

ཀཁགང ka, kha, ga, nga
ཅཆཇཉ ca, cha, ja, nya
ཏཐདན ta, tha, da, na
པཕབམ pa, pha, ba, ma
ཙཚཛཝ tsa, tsha, dza, wa
ཞཟའཡ zha, za, 'a, ya
རལཤས ra, la, sha, sa
ཧཨ  ha, a

Tibetan is a tonal language, but (thankfully) not in the Chinese fashion. Instead, each syllable, to oversimplify somewhat, has either a high or low intonation. And another elegant aspect of the arrangement of Tibetan characters into the matrix above is that in general the first two columns take the high, the last two columns the low intonation. Whether high or low, Tibetan tones do not go up or down, but stay "flat".

The lower rows depart from the regularity of the first five, but remember, the inventor of the alphabet was not inventing the sounds, just inventing ways to organize and represent them.

Can't see the characters in the table, or see empty squares instead? Then something is wrong in your universe of browsers/encodings/fonts/renderings. Your browser needs to handle Unicode, since that's how I've specified the Tibetan characters. And it needs to have access to Tibetan fonts, most likely as part of a Unicode font such as MS Arial Unicode. Sorry, we're not going to spend any more time here debugging your Tibetan display problems. You should visit the Omniglot Tibetan page, which shows the matrix, the vowel marks discussed below, and examples of Tibetan writing.

Back to Tibetan spelling. The thirty characters above can be used as is, as long as you put the a little dot after them indicating that that's the entire syllable (or "morpheme" in linguist-speak). So ག་ is kha, the Tibetan word for "mouth". We're cooking!

Each character has a built-in "a" sound (pronounced "ah"). So how would we get something like ri, for "mountain"?

Tibetan handles vowel orthography in a highly regular way. There are just five vowel sounds including the built-in "a", the others being "i", "u", "e", and "o", and each has its own symbol, placed above or below the character in question:

gigu, a hook above giving "i"
shabkyu, a hook below giving "u"
dreng-bu, a kind of accent grave, giving "e"
naro, a mark above giving "o"

So ri or "mountain" would be RA with the gigu hook above it. Unfortunately, I can't show that to you easily on this web page. The problem is that Unicode has defined only components of Tibetan script elements, as opposed to composed glyphs. (Tibetan occupies a single 256-byte "page" in the Unicode code space.) And no web browser has the logic required to compose these components on the fly into the so-called stacks or "grapheme clusters" (the "graphemes" here being the RA and the I) that are required. There's a Unicode character called COMBINING GRAPHEME JOINER which in some better world might do something useful, but it doesn't seem to. ZERO WIDTH JOINERS possibly could be interpreted in a friendly way but they aren't. To see a whole bunch of decomposed and thus completely weird-looking Tibetan text encoded using Unicode see the Tibetan Unicode Test Pages. I will studiously avoid getting involved in the religious wars as to whether or not Unicode 29.0 should define all grapheme clusters as individual code points, of which there would be several thousand.

In any case, at the moment only dedicated environments are capable of correctly rendering Tibetan. There is a hack involving MS Word. There is a Java app. Emacs supports entering and displaying Tibetan. For the Macintosh, there is the Tibetan Language Kit. All these alternatives involve a home-grown encoding together with a more-or-less custom fonts. In some cases, it may be possible to embed the glyph information into a web page, marking the Tibetan portion for rendering with the Tibetan font, allowing Tibetan to be displayed on "normal" web pages, assuming platform and browser compatibility.

The elegant architecture of Graphite should permit a Tibetan implementation but no-one has gotten around to doing it yet.

So on a web page like this I can't show you a "ri", except as a graphic.

This all seems boringly regular. But actually, this is precisely the point at which Tibetan spelling begins to get extremely hairy. Since this article cannot give a complete description of Tibetan orthography, let's just jump right in with a real-world example.

We'll use the word pronounced drup (or droop in pseudo-phonetic notation, low tone), which is the past tense of the word meaning "accomplish". Here we go: using English transliterations for each Tibetan character, it's written BA SA/GA/RA/U BA SA. And there you have it: drup. I've used spaces to separate the four "pieces" which are used to write this syllable. Bring up the image of how drup is written in a separate window and you should be able to follow the discussion more easily. You can see the four pieces, arranged left-to-right. Notice the second "piece" is stretched out vertically. That's because it's a "stack" which contains the SA/GA/RA/U arranged vertically. Some people might prefer to call this a "grapheme cluster".

OK, let's take this one step at a time. The first character is the one for BA. That's one of those thirty basic characters used in Tibetan. Why BA? Well, actually, no one knows. It's silent, and has nothing to do with the pronunciation of the word. This character is a prefix, one of several that can so function, all of which are silent when they do so. It is a prefix to the "root" character which follows.

The next piece is the tall, stacked "root" letter. Placed to the right of the BA we just wrote, it begins at the top with the the character SA. But technically, this character is a superscript, and is also silent, completely unrelated to the pronunciation of the word.

Finally we get to the character for GA. This is the heart of the stack and the entire syllable drup, and is written underneath the SA. Now to form Tibetan syllables, you mostly string the basic characters together left-to-right. But the "main" piece in each group can be a "stack", where a bunch of basic characters are arranged top-to-bottom; that stack then fits into the left-to-right sequence of the other pieces. In other words, the individual basic characters in Tibetan spread out both to the left and right and up and down from the central root character. The GA character we just added is that central root character. As we'll soon see, the GA does have a relationship to the word we are trying to spell (drup), although it's tenuous in the extreme.

Underneath the GA we write a variant of the character for RA. This is a subscript. The alert reader may guess, correctly, that the "r" sound in RA accounts for the "r" sound in the word drup. What he or she could not deduce is that it also changes the "g" sound of the GA above into a "d" sound, yielding "dra". There's no reason for this--it's just the rule. But at least we seem to be making some progress towards drup.

Still working on the same stack, we now add to the bottom the final element, the curly shabkyu, the vowel character mentioned above which changes the intrinsic "a" sound to a "u" sound, giving us "dru".

We're finished with the stack. Next we move on to the third element of the syllable, which is the character BA again; this time it's not silent, but rather puts the final "p" on the word drup. And then we're done, right?

Not so fast. We still have the final SA, another silent character, the fourth left-to-right piece of the syllable (the so-called second suffix, present in some but by no means all syllables). Then, finally, we really are done. We just write the little dot called the tsek, which terminates the entire four-piece syllable. Voila.

A scholar named Wylie came up with a way to uniquely transliterate Tibetan into Roman characters, completely round-trippable. (The word drup in "Wylie" is BSGRUBS.) This provides a handy and widely-used mechanism for inputting Tibetan into word-processing programs. Western Tibetan scholars are said to be able to read Tibetan directly from such transliterations. There is no reported research on what the effect on their brains of learning to do so was.

Of course, the Tibetans themselves need a way to spell to each other. They've come up with an elegant approach, where each component is given, followed by its position in the stack if applicable and then cumulative phonetic result. So our drup example would be spelled in Tibetan as:

BA O (meaning silent) SA GA ta (meaning below) ga (pronunciation so far) RA ta (meaning below) dra (pronunciation so far) shabkyu ("u" vowel) dru (pronunciation so far) BA drup (pronunciation so far) SA drup (final pronunciation)

Drup is hardly a unique example in terms of the exceptions and special rules involved. Write DA/RA? That's cha (bird). How about ZA/LA? That's da. A final NA puts the "n" sound on the end of the word, but also changes the preceding vowel. Or, you could do the same thing by just putting a little circle on the top of the main stack in the syllable. And so on, ad inifinitum. Don't even get me started on the variant characters used for Sanskrit borrowings.

Speaking of Sanskrit, which I know virtually nothing about, Tibetan inherits major portions of its orthography from that language, and to that extent shares with modern-day descendants such as Devanagari. It's possible writers of those languages would not find Tibetan to be quite as "dysfunctional" as this newbie did. Having said that, Sanskrit does not have the huge clusters, or the frequent silent characters of Tibetan (although it does have its own set of major difficulties, including many more characters and its rich grammar).

So what is the deal with these silent characters anyway? They clearly play a major role in resolving homonymal ambiguity in Tibetan. For instance, the word for "I, me" is pronounced "nga" and written NGA as expected, while the word for five" is also pronounced "nga" but is written LA/NGA with a silent LA. Fine and possibly useful, but other languages manage to deal with the same kind of ambiguity without resorting to such tricks. Those tricks make the learning curve markedly steeper, not only for adult foreign students but for native-speaking children as well. If the silent letters had some other meaning, perhaps semantic, it would be more understandable, but they appear not to.

It appears that in general these silent letters reflect archaic pronunciations. This theory is supported by the observation that the word "lama" (guru) is written with a silent leading BA, and in some dialects is actually pronounced "blama"./p>

How did Tibetan orthography get to be such a mess? Probably because it basically hasn't been reformed in the millennium-and-a-half since it was invented by the legendary Thon-mi Sambhota, although it seems to me that it must have been pretty baroque even back then. Just imagine trying to write English in an ur-Germanic script from 1400 years ago, with the added restriction that words today must be spelled exactly as the words they were derived from were.

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o Omniglot Tibetan page
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Display: Sort:
Introduction to Tibetan Orthography | 132 comments (114 topical, 18 editorial, 2 hidden)
It would be interesting, (2.80 / 5) (#3)
by For Whom The Bells Troll on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 01:01:37 AM EST

if you could, perhaps, transliterate the term into another Indic script such as Devnagri or Burmese. I have half a hint that native Indic speakers wouldn't find Tibetan as "dysfunctional" as you make it out to be.

---
The Big F Word.
i'm not so sure (none / 2) (#8)
by jnana on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 03:49:42 AM EST

I'm not a native Indic speaker, but I have studied Sanskrit, which uses Devanagari, of course, and Devanagari is much simpler with regards to spelling and pronunciation than Tibetan. Sanskrit has many more characters than Tibetan, which makes it more difficult to learn the syllabary (sp.?), but clusters are less frequent, and most importantly, they are actually pronounced in Sanskrit. Sanskrit, for example, has no syllable delimiter, like the tshig (little dot) in Tibetan. This would not be possible in Tibetan, because there would be way too many ambiguities. Sanskrit does have other difficulties though (e.g., words aren't separated at all, sandhi rules (rules of euphonic combination of sounds), the richest grammar known to man...).

The difficulty people face in Tibetan is that there is sometimes very little relation between the letters and the pronounciation -- bsgrubs being pronounced drup is one of the more egregious examples (there is nothing like that in Sanskrit).

My username, jnana, for example, is a Sanskrit word, and it looks kind of awkward, but it is a cognate with gnosis, and it is pronounced exactly as it's written -- in Tibetan they could not have an 'n' after the j sound, so the "equivalent" pronounciation might be 'jana' but could be spelled 'brja.na.'

[ Parent ]

Actually, (none / 1) (#9)
by For Whom The Bells Troll on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 05:11:00 AM EST

it's supposed to be transliterated as 'gnyAna' or 'gnyaana', if indeed you were using the Sanskrit term for 'wisdom' or 'knowledge'. :-)

I think I get your point now wrt Tibetan; essentially, you're saying context and position matter a lot when it comes to pronouncing a particular consonant or not (that is, rules beyond the usual Brahmi-derived set). Which is a fairly insightful point to make, must say, except that I had a bit of a problem imagining the actual working from the text of the article itself.

Can't help but think it'll be useful if you could provide images or something.

---
The Big F Word.
[ Parent ]

Actually... (none / 0) (#20)
by jnana on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 03:35:26 PM EST

We are talking about the same word. I believe actually that it would be transliterated jñna (I think the first A is long, but I can't do the macron above it that it should have). I was being sloppy yesterday. I think you are talking about how one might phoneticize the word using Roman characters, though, as that's an accurate phonetization of one of the two accepted pronounciations of that word (my Sanskrit teacher [Indian-born Brahmin] said it could be pronounced 'gnyaana' or 'jnyaana' (with a soft g)).

Wrt context and position, it is the position (or context) within the syllable that matters, not in the larger context of a sentence (which they don't really have) or whatever. In most dialects of Tibetan, a 'ba' prefix will *never* be pronounced. It isn't as difficult as it seems, since these rules are invariant, assuming one has memorized which letters are permissible in which positions in which combinations. The only slight difficulty arises when you see words that could be parsed in two ways, but that is quite rare, and you learn to remember the exceptions.

Btw, I'm not the author of the article, but I agree that images would be nice -- I'd go so far as to say they are required.

[ Parent ]

Oh boy (none / 0) (#49)
by gyan on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 11:04:53 AM EST

 My username is my real first name. In Hindi of course, it's pronounced monosyllabically. gyaa - (nasal) n.

 However, when spoken in my mother tongue, Gujarati, relatives pronounce it (short and continuous blend with next syllable) j - nyaa - (nasal) n.

********************************

[ Parent ]

Actually... (none / 0) (#64)
by splitpeasoup on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 05:07:30 AM EST

The 'n' in gyan is not nasal - it's a regular 'na'.

It would be pronounced 'gyaana' in North India and 'nyaana' in Maharastra. 'Jnana' is just confusing - there is no 'j' (as in 'joker') sound.

-SPS

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Gandhi
[ Parent ]

Well (none / 0) (#65)
by gyan on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 05:27:46 AM EST

 I'm not sure about North India, but 'jnana' is just the rough Sanskrit transliteration, which some of my relatives from Ahmedabad, pronunced as indicated earlier (the 'j' is pretty short and transitory, but its influence isn't completely absent).

 Like I indicated, 'gyan' has a nasal 'n' at the end when pronounced as spelt. The 'na' appears when you're pronouncing 'gyana' and should be obvious. The etymological root of gyan is Sanskrit, but its pronunciation rules don't apply in modern & urban  Hindi or Gujarati or Marathi, else Ram would always be pronounced Rama. BTW, I'm from Bombay  and I've never heard anyone say 'nyaana' on reading my first name.

********************************

[ Parent ]

'Nasal' (none / 0) (#69)
by splitpeasoup on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 11:25:10 AM EST

I'm afraid you have a mistaken idea of what the term 'nasal' means.

Please consider the two Hindi words 'ma' (mother) and 'maan' (honor). The first, which is written with an anuswar, has a nasal 'n' at the end; the second however has a full, non-nasal 'n' at the end. 'maan', of course, is an exact analogy of 'gyan', when it comes to the ending consonant.

-SPS

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Gandhi
[ Parent ]

You're right (none / 0) (#71)
by gyan on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 11:46:07 AM EST

about me mistaking what nasal meant.

 I misaligned the sound and its source. I was comparing it to usages of 'n' in English.

 Is there anything such as a nasal 'n' then? The sound in 'ma' just seems like a regular aspiration.

********************************

[ Parent ]

yudit (3.00 / 8) (#6)
by mlc on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 02:43:52 AM EST

The multilingual editor yudit (mostly for UNIX, though apparently a Windows port is available) can input and display Tibetan. It comes with a Wylie keymap available, and you can grab the Tibetan Unicode font (and README file).

Yudit is pretty cool, because it relies very little on X11. Most of the fonts, keymaps, layout, and so on, it does by itself. So it actually tends to work, although it does not conform to any standard UI.

--
So the Berne Convention is the ultimate arbiter of truth and morality. Is this like Catholicism? -- Eight Star

images (none / 1) (#28)
by mlc on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 06:13:09 PM EST

I've made images of some of the text in the article and put them on my website.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about Tibetan beyond what I've learned here (though I do know a little bit about Devanagari), so there may be mistakes. If I'm told of any mistakes, I'll fix them.

--
So the Berne Convention is the ultimate arbiter of truth and morality. Is this like Catholicism? -- Eight Star
[ Parent ]

+1 FP, Tibetan Orthography (1.66 / 9) (#10)
by Zerotime on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 05:31:11 AM EST



---
"You don't even have to drink it. You just rub it on your hips and it eats its way through to your liver."
Wow, Tibetans write in little squares...nt (2.40 / 10) (#13)
by Russell Dovey on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 08:19:23 AM EST


"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan

-1, I read your whole article twice (1.50 / 14) (#19)
by Tex Bigballs on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 01:48:56 PM EST

and I still don't understand how the study of Tibetan birds is any different than American's.

Birds are orthogonal to the focus of this article (3.00 / 4) (#22)
by mcc on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 03:44:03 PM EST

nt

[ Parent ]
heh heh heh (none / 0) (#45)
by dash2 on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 09:17:31 AM EST

I see what you did there.
------------------------
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.
[ Parent ]
an idea for a new tattoo surfaces... (2.25 / 3) (#23)
by circletimessquare on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 03:55:07 PM EST

thanks, a+ story, kuro5hin at it's finest ;-)

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Tibetan language - power, beauty, context (2.84 / 19) (#26)
by just8 on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 04:15:33 PM EST

For Indo-European language speakers, there are stranger things out there than Tibetan script (which is modeled on the Sanskrit syllabary).
Quite strange texts, for those who have learned only Indo-European languages, would probably include:  Egyptian heiroglyphs, Sumerian cuneiform, Incan khipu (knotted strings), the Mayan hieroglyphic syllabary, Chinese characters, and the Japanese mixture of Chinese characters and several syllabaries.

Strangeness depends on familiarity.  All of these examples seem to me more strange than Tibetan - but I had studied Sanskrit before Tibetan.

I wrote this before it went to voting. I'll leave it as it is (and resubmit as topical), in case you revise it for another forum.

Tibetan might be arcane and complex.  If you have studied a South Asian language and script, it is not so strange.

I visited your website. I appreciate that you are interested in various languages, in the game of Go and computer applications for that, and are into Incan metaphysics.  So am I. Small world. I appreciate your shoot from the hip humor.  The humorous writing style works on some topics. I don't think it really fits with this article.

This article is probably very difficult to follow for most people not familiar with Tibetan or South Asian languages.

Your focus on the Tibetan script for a general audience, while arcane, overly detailed and hard to follow, is not too deep.  

You seem basically to be saying: "The Tibetan script is difficult, even strange. Here are some of the rules of the language. Here are a few examples of strange scripts to represent words. There are some problems representing the Tibetan script in character rendering programs. Tibetan is a mess because it hasn't been reformed in 1400 years."  

I don't think that almost 1900 words are needed to say that.

To learn about Tibetan, starting out with the scripts seems, well, like a very frustrating thing to do. However, after your essay based on study of only 20 hours, well, I find some of your general points to be premature.

My main suggestion if you want to revise this and to stick with the topics would be to cut the article in half and simplify the examples. If you want to keep the complexity, then some subsections with subtitles would help.  It would be a good idea to add to that a bit more historical research on the development of Tibetan in linguistic and historical context.  For instance, Tibetan is a Sino-Chinese language but uses an Indo-European derived script due to the importation of Buddhism and the creation of the script in Tibet around the same time to translate religious texts. As it is, the detail of the article doesn't match the points.

Here is a listing of resources for the study of Tibetan, from the website of the government of Tibet in exile:
Learn Tibetan Language
http://www.tibet.com/Language/

I've studed intro Sanskrit and Tibetan. And, I've studied Japanese (year in college) as well as several romance languages.  I learned some Russian recently.  

A general statement: Scripts at first can get in the way of learning the power, depth, beauty, and living richness of a language.  In my opinion, learning the meaning and pronunciation of 200 words of vocabulary of a language is much more helpful for getting a feel for culture than is learning a script.

You can learn simple vocabulary, conjugations, grammar, etc., without knowing scripts.

Good ways to learn the meaning and beauty of Tibetan and Sanskrit (dead, but not dead) would be from:
 - speaking with native or accomplished scholarly speakers
 - phonetic transliterations (not Wylie)
 - word for word translations of texts

While Tibetan orthography may seem to be a mess, it has some important functions with regard to meaning and visualization.  

According to Buddhists, written Tibetan was specifically constructed as a liturgical language.

Tibetan Buddhist meditations involve very complicated visualizations. The visualization process of working with Tibetan mantras is ornate and beautiful, involving sometimes taking apart words a syllable at a time. However, knowledge of written Tibetan is not necessary to get a deep understanding of the culture.

Here are two anecdotes about the relative utility of scripts:
1. I once assisted a Tibetan lama to translate some prayers into English.  The scriptural Tibetan was multi-layered and quite profound.  I didn't need to know the script (though I did and have since forgotten it). He transliterated everything (unevenly). We worked up our own transliteration. That translation work was a luminous experience - a glimpse into quite precise, very colorful meanings. I was able to understand through this study that Tibetan as a philosophical language is quite powerful and precise and elegantly beautiful at times. For instance, lama translates as la = great and ma = mother. Lamas are great mothers or gurus. On a lighter note, dorje (a very important word in Tibetan-perhaps the most important) means vajra (in Sanskrit) means diamond and adamantine and indestructible. Dorje also means penis. You can only get at the multiple layers of something like this through study in context. A focus on text first might well scare someone off from the very colorful, human and at the same time profound context.
2. I attending a teaching once by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche on the innermost of the nine yogas in Tibetan Buddhism. He chanted a bit in Tibetan in the beginning.  Then, there was this clear discourse on the nature of mind and emptiness and nonduality.  Then, he explained a meditation. Then, there was a practice session with a bit of chanting with keys given before hand as to what beginners should do.  The meditation for people I talked to was very deep and very amazing and clear.  Language was not an impediment.

We have a focus on logic and linguistics in the rational west as a way to understand cultural phenomena.  However, deep of cultural transmissions can happen more through interpretation (as with the translator in example 1 above) and in practice (as in example 2).

Here is some cultural background on why Tibetan script did not change:
The way to understand the history of the Tibetan script is in its development to communicate religious language.

Many significant religious teachings and philosophies were imported very developed from India (and quite complex after 1000 years of development there) to Tibet from about the 8th Century onward. Significant developments also occurred early on in Tibetan history over the next 500 years (with a several hundred year gap due to religious suppression).

A major occupation in Tibetan culture was monasticism. A 1/3 of the population used to live in monasteries.

The religious nature of the scripts development and ongoing transmission was a conservative force on the learning of Tibetan.

I'm not advocating traditionalism.  Nor am I claiming that philosophy did not evolve in Tibet. It is just that a lot had developed already early on, 9 C. to 14 C. of common era. Institutional structures were conservative, aiming to conserve their cultural riches.

I am advocating learning languages, for those so interested, in context. When there is a living linguistic tradition, it seems a good thing to start there to understand the context and beauty of a language including its script.

In closing: Well, I ventured beyond the scope of the article but my critique calls for that.

Personally, I believe that the sooner that Tibetan, Sikkhim, Bhutanese, and Japanese lines of vajrayana (which integrate in various ways inquiry into the self through sensual, rational and spiritual means) are established as realization traditions in Western cultures and languages the better. The way to get there has been by learning from the cultural experts -- not from the text in abstraction (remembering that the text though not the language was primarily developed and used for religious purposes). Tibetan culture is fused with Tibetan spirituality.

Or, you can get the essence of the spiritual tradition now in English from teachers like the Dalai Lama, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, or any of thousands of lamas and scholars.

The above doesn't invalidate your points about how complex the script is.  But, I hope people will understand that you can enter into Tibetan language in ways that are much more rewarding than contemplating the complex script. I hope you include some more historical and cultural points in a revision of the article. It would be interesting to compare Tibetan with Chinese characters and languages with very strange characteristics to Western eyes and ears. Something to keep in mind is that the many irregular spellings and grammatical forms in English give trouble even to Indo-European language speakers.

Well, so. I do enjoy your shoot from hip writing style. I hope you submit more articles here - about computer Go programs, maybe?


Re: using transliterations. (none / 1) (#27)
by gzt on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 05:58:15 PM EST

Using transliterations for Sanskrit is stupid and evil and will lead to nothing good. In learning any language, it's best to always work in the script of the language and never ever ever transliterate, except maybe in the first week, unless the script is completely pathological [Tibetan may qualify]. To do otherwise is pure laziness. It takes a day to be proficient in the Cyrillic, Greek, or Hebrew, and a week for the Sanskrit Devanagari and any but the most dreadful of scripts.

[ Parent ]
Transliteration is a 3rd step (none / 1) (#30)
by just8 on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 06:19:44 PM EST

Using transliterations is an intuitive step. It opens up the beauty of a language to far many people than would have the time to study the script.  

While the elements of script can be learned quickly, fluency in reading takes quite some time.

In my experience is easier and leads to more understanding more quickly to learn the practices of a living language then the elitist practices of the literary class - which can happen if you get caught up in the original text and then

I've never found learning the script to be as helpful as learning vocabulary and pronunciations and then a bit of the grammar. So, in my experience learning some basic vocabulary then some grammar then a script are effective steps to take.  

Some people are visual learners and some people aural and others kinesthetic. Maybe this comes into play in what is easiest to learn.

On another tangent: My appologies for not better proofing the last half of my earlier post.  The language family of Tibetan is Sino-Tibetan not Sino-Chinese. There were some obvious typos as well.


[ Parent ]

oops: learning script is a 3rd step (none / 0) (#31)
by just8 on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 06:21:25 PM EST

My child was pulling on me to come play when I was I was finishing that last note (and the one before it for that matter) too quickly...

[ Parent ]
I still think it doesn't wash. (none / 0) (#32)
by gzt on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 09:08:06 PM EST

Perhaps you may have a point with Tibetan, where the writing system is almost completely pathological, but in general I must disagree. Scripts, generally, are not that big of a barrier if one starts using them and never transliterates. Perhaps I'm only saying that because it's been my experience with both modern and classical languages. What I'm not saying is that one must learn the script and then words and then learn pronunciation and then learn grammar etc or anything like that. What I'm saying is that when one learns to read and write, one should not work with transliterations, since scripts aren't that hard to learn. Otherwise, one will never ever be able to read properly. With modern languages, one need not learn to read and write immediately. I mean, I was speaking English for four years before I started writing...

[ Parent ]
very different script types and aural learning (none / 1) (#33)
by just8 on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 09:54:40 PM EST

The more different a language is from your native language(s) then probably the more difficult is the learning of that. How to learn best depends on what you are learning and on how you learn best.  

I agree that there is not much trouble learning the scripts of Indo-European languages.  

Indo-European is only one of over a 100 language families.  Some language families have scripts very different from Indo-European ones, as Arabic and some of examples mentioned in my first comment.

It takes a lot of time to learn to read and write in languages very different from those you know. It does not take so much time to begin to learn to use the basics of a language when you learn a bit of vocabulary and grammar. You can become fluent in the basics of spoken language, as indeed the bulk of peoples throughout history have done, without learning to read.

Something to keep in mind is that many Americans do not speak a second language. This is a serious cultural weakness. We need to encourage teaching methods that make it easy to learn languages.

So, yes, to become literate of course you need to learn the script. It can all be taught at once. But...

There is another issue here:  How do we most effectively learn language?

As a toddler, we learn language as words and then in simple sentences.  Adult education can be different. However, it does work to mimic the way children learn.

The Pimsleur language system is modeled on the way children (and adults) learn and retain language. It is an audio learning system that starts out with a lot of repetition of simple phrases. After a handful of half hour tapes you are able to engage in simple conversations.

I practiced only the first 6 of 36 of the Pimsleur Russian tapes before a visit to Eastern Europe.  I also reviewed a very simple language primer for grammar.  I was told that my pronunciation was excellent.  My vocabulary blossomed quickly based on having a feel for pronunciation and for having a rough grammar framework. I had put in just 8 hours of study to lay the groundwork to interact with a Russian speaker who did not know another language.

I did learn the Cyrillic alphabet to be able to read street signs.  But the feel and understanding of the very basics of the language came through a little bit of simple aural practice.

So, to summarize: I would say that there are two cases where study of aural aspects of language first is helpful:
 - when you want to learn to use a language quickly
 - when the script is really different


[ Parent ]

pathology isn't in script (none / 0) (#38)
by jnana on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 02:56:43 AM EST

Learning the Tibetan script is no more difficult than many other languages, and easier than many, such as Sanskrit. What is difficult is spelling and pronouncing things, but you still have this exact same difficulty if you transliterate, for pronouncing 'bsgrubs' is not at all obvious (ditto for knowing how to spell 'drup').

Perhaps people are saying that a phoneticization is better, so that instead of writing 'bsgrubs', we write 'drup'? This will not work, however, as there are many, many words that also have different meanings, different spellings, but also would have to be phoneticized in the Roman alphabet as 'drup.'

The pathology isn't in the script, it's in the fact that Tibetan words are pronounced differently than they were in the 9th century, but are still for the most part spelled the same. We would have exactly the same issue in English if we still spelled English words the same as Chaucer did (the ones that existed then, at least), yet pronounced them as we do now. To be more accurate, I guess we'd have to go back further, and also use the grammar of that era too when writing -- even though the spoken language uses modern grammar. In that case, I don't think you'd say the problem is with the Roman alphabet.

[ Parent ]

What I meant by pathology... (none / 0) (#47)
by gzt on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 10:01:05 AM EST

...was the disconnection between pronunciation and orthography. But yes, I agree.

[ Parent ]
Dang. That is a smart llama! (jk) (nt) (none / 1) (#40)
by gilrain on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 06:38:27 AM EST



[ Parent ]
actually, he is... (njk) (t) (none / 1) (#50)
by just8 on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 12:07:37 PM EST

a very smart lama.

The lama I mentioned in the previous note:
- has several graduate degrees
- taught at the premier Tibetan studies institute, the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath for several decades
- had very interesting scholarly works completed and under way

I'm guessing about your seemingly mocking post. Perhaps it doesn't deserve a response. Just in case you or others are interested:

If you think Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism is not interesting or relevant to the modern world, then you have a lot to learn. A reading of a few passages by the Dalai Lama or Surya Das would give a sense of relevance:
Excerpts from books by Dalai Lama
http://www.spiritsite.com/writing/dallam/index.shtml
New Dharma Talks by Lama Surya Das
http://www.dzogchen.org/teachings/talks/index.htm

If you think the idea of taking a simple approach to language at first - learning words then a little grammar - is simplistic, it is not. It is based on how humans learn language. It is the quickest an easiest way to graspe the sense of a new language. See the Pimsleur language system for more on this:
http://www.audioclassics.net/lang/about_pimsleur.htm

If you didn't like my previous note for some other reason, well... please be more specific :)


[ Parent ]

Actually, I have a keen interest in linguistics... (none / 0) (#60)
by gilrain on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 07:44:27 PM EST

I read the story with interest and voted it up when I was done. However, I still think the lama/llama thing is a funny double entendre.

[ Parent ]
re: lama/llama (none / 0) (#74)
by just8 on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 12:33:59 PM EST

Yah, I find the lama/llama almost homonym funny. Joked with it myself.

You included the Dang and (jk) (nt) bit it your subject line which seemed dismissive... no?  

Linguistics is interesting.  Informed and respectful linguistics even more so.


[ Parent ]

meaning of (nt) (none / 0) (#76)
by just8 on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 01:04:28 PM EST

Oh, I just realized that the meaning of (nt) is "no text in message." I had thought (nt) meant "not true." So please disregard previous comment.

[ Parent ]
Liturgical Languages? (none / 0) (#101)
by rtmyers on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 03:03:57 PM EST

Thanks for your thoughtful post.  

You state that "written Tibetan was specifically developed as a liturgical language".  I think that's true in the sense that it was developed as a way to write down the Tibetan translation of the Indian Buddhist texts, but do you think there is some aspect of the design which is specifically designed for liturgical purposes?  Or just, perhaps, that since it was known that monk/scholars would be the only ones using the language complexity was not viewed as something to be avoided?

On the topic of the detail and coverage of the article, your points are well taken.  The first draft was meant to be a lightning tour of some of the highlights (or lowlights) of written Tibetan.  Then based on some of the comments I got I fleshed it out considerably.  The result, unfortunately, was an article which does indeed, as you point out, have a bit of an identity crisis.

I'll post something about computer go, if you post something about Incan metaphysics.

--
Bob

[ Parent ]

Incan Epistemology (none / 0) (#103)
by just8 on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 04:21:19 PM EST

Thanks and...

As for Incan metaphysics, I would rather share about Incan epistemology a bit (and wish that I had used that word), which is much more useful and approachable...

For one kind of Incan epistemology, I would refer you and readers to the website of Don Alberto Taxo, a Kechua or Quechua (Incan) Shaman:
http://ushai.com/

I attended teachings by Don Alberto Taxo a few times.

He continually phrased his teachings in simple ways as invitations to notice the world of the senses and feelings.  

In this context, there was a depth of energy and yet a simple (again) naturalness which took one into something of a flow state. This became lively when applying the "invitations" out in the woods where we met.

Alberto's teachings were about as close to the essence of tantric buddhism as I've found:  being in space of openness and then noticing how the world shows up. In short: a nondual mysticsm of the senses *and* awareness. In this approach, everything inner and outer becomes a wisdom space/energy.

Now, from that base things get interesting...

The sky has teachings...
The stars have teachings...
And many things, not all of them physical, offer teachings as your awareness grows...

But the gateway to that is through (to use a corny phrase): being here now...

And noticing the play of the world in you...

While Alberot normally kept things simple, he also talked during a dinner conversation once about ooh wow gee stuff:
- Very old ruins in Equador that are very similar to Tibetan ruins
- the similarities in the shamanism of Tibet and Ecuador in relation to cycles and directions and transforming the world
- the purifying of spiritual energy of the planet through prayers by very powerful shamans up in the mountains and modern discussions between Tibetan lamas and Ecuadorian shamans about this

So, to get back down to the ground:
the Incan invitation is to notice the sense and feeling of water when you take a shower or walk by a river.  (and to hang out with Incan shamans... at, yeah, at $300 bucks a weekend pop)  

Everything else flows from there :)

I think I'll mention this so as to avoid confusion with the above Alberto. A westerner is popularizing Incan spiritual practices. He is another Alberto. He is a nice man.  He is creating a bit of a hodgepodge it seems to me. But he does provide access to the shamanic tradition. See:
Alberto Villoldo
http://www.thefourwinds.com/


[ Parent ]

Tibetan scripts (none / 0) (#104)
by just8 on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 04:37:21 PM EST

regarding:
"do you think there is some aspect of the design which is specifically designed for liturgical purposes?"

Some thoughts:

First, the vocabulary of religious tibetan was extensively and specifically augmented to deal with buddhist concepts.  Many Tibetan scriptural words are quite precise and beautiful and multi-layered in meaning. So, the semantic parts were designed full blown. It seems pretty clear. There were hundreds of scholars involved at the time in that process.

Second, the meditations and visualizations one does in vajrayana can even get down to taking apart the script stroke by stroke. It is said that a number of these types of practices come from the time of Padmasambhava. Maybe this elaboration was after the fact of the script being created. But, it wouldn't be a far stretch if some forethought went into the spiritual impact of Tibetan script's use since vajarayana was already fully developed in India.  I don't know if that was so. The Tibetans think of all the founders of the traditions as being reincarnations of greatly realized bodhisattvas so their view on this stuff is grounded in the design transmitted from a spiritual source.

Third, there were supposedly secret, sacred scripts that were the direct transmission of the teachings of divine beings.  These contained specific teachings about the use of mantras and yantras and visualizations.  Many of these were supposedly hidden over a thousand years ago by early founders of traditions.  So, there is this idea that the tertons or great seers who revitalize the tradition in each century are continually tapping back in time to an originating source, like Padmasambhava.  This is a strong influence on the script being unchanged.

Forth, another complication - there are different types of scripts. There are different types of handwriting or cursive writing for Tibetan, which I don't know much about. One lama showed me a different script. One difference in scripts has something to do with writing with the head (line) and without the head (appropriate given one type of tantric visualization). And, I think another type has very long flowy heads and tails. I've heard mention there might be others and I don't know if they were updated re spoken language or if they were another central asian script or what. But...

However, there is one main type of Tibetan script. And, unfortunately, there is no way to fix the archaic nature of Tibetan script now.  

Different dialects and languages evolved in Tibet and they all use the same script - sort of like Chinese.  So which of the different pronunciation systems would be used to reform the script?  

What happened historically? I don't know if anyone knows. There doesn't seem to be direct historical evidence yet except that and the script came into use around the eight century at the time of the transmission of  vajrayana buddhisms into Tibet and linguistically the Tibetan script is clearly derived from brahmi or devanagari used in India.

So, I've written a little bit about one type of incan epistemology in the other note in this string now.  Down the road perhaps I could write more - comparing it to Tibet stuff which I've studied more.

I'd love to read something short and sweet about computer go or something intermediate and mildly complex, however, Tibetan is has more work left in it...

Some possible directions for further work on Tibetan script might be:
To get a hold of one more more of the other Tibetan scripts and note the nature of the deviations and developments.

To contrast with brahmi because of text or Chinese because of language family would make it a whole other article.

To interview some high lamas to get at the their theory of how the script is related to meditation practice... and ask if the script might was designed in part for meditations to be based on the script. Well, maybe never mind. Maybe. The traditionalists would say, "of course." The responses from western educated Tibetan scholars and scholars of Tibet might run the gamut from "unlikely" to "some influence" to "well, what does it matter? the methods work."

And that it does:  the design and form of the script definitely works well for some meditational visualization purposes. Was that after the fact or before or both (meaning some influence of previous use on design)? Don't know.


[ Parent ]

comparison (none / 1) (#36)
by debillitatus on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 12:52:21 AM EST

The similarities between this and a lot of South Asian scripts is apparent (aside from the fact that obviously the pronounciation is all fscked). At least we still have our ka-kha-ga's.

But it seems like it would be more useful in this article to think more about the comparison one can make to, say, Devanagari. I imagine that this would give a lot more people a frame of reference.

Anyways, this is definitely good stuff.

Damn you and your daily doubles, you brigand!

Da da da (none / 2) (#37)
by JChen on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 01:02:09 AM EST

So, has any of you scholarly types asked the question of what use will this be to today's society exactly?

Let us do as we say.
How about... (none / 2) (#39)
by Zerotime on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 05:44:27 AM EST

...Tibetan chicks being totally hot?

---
"You don't even have to drink it. You just rub it on your hips and it eats its way through to your liver."
[ Parent ]
This is a geeky site (3.00 / 5) (#48)
by RadiantMatrix on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 10:58:00 AM EST

You're asking the people who choose to use Perl about relevance to society?

----------
I don't like spam - Parent ]

language in today's societies (none / 1) (#54)
by just8 on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 01:06:26 PM EST

A wide variety of societies exist today.

There are over 6800 languages used in the world today -- half of them are dying.  

Languages are the main medium of transmission for culture.  When a culture dies we, humanity, loose cultural treasures. Everyone looses.

The Tibetan culture has many treasures. Check out the links in another comment I posted today. Tibetans with the help of the Indian and other governments are keeping their the culture alive. Tibetans and their students are transplanting the riches of varjayana and bon philosophy and spirituality to other cultures. For that learning Tibetan is needed.  

[ Parent ]

Netcraft conffirms: Tibetan is dying (none / 0) (#57)
by curien on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 06:28:53 PM EST

NT

--
All God's critters got a place in the choir
Some sing low, some sing higher
[ Parent ]
Why don't they learn English instead (none / 0) (#63)
by JChen on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 01:46:06 AM EST

if they feel that their precious wisdom is in need of spreading? Adapt or die.

Let us do as we say.
[ Parent ]
There are better options. (none / 0) (#66)
by tkatchev on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 06:35:26 AM EST

Chinese or Spanish.

English is a dying language.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

our polyglot world: geopolitics of language use (none / 0) (#67)
by just8 on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 09:04:14 AM EST

Here are some facts and trends in the use of languages in the modern world.

First, English is only one of a number of common languages. The most common 10 official languages are these languages (with speakers in parens):
1 English (1,500)
2 Chinese (1,000)
3 Hindi (700)
4 Spanish (280)
5 Russian (270)
6 French (200)
7 Arabic (170)
8 Portuguese (160)
9 Malay (160)
10 Bengali (150)

The numbers of speakers are smaller for mother tongue speakers. These are early 90s numbers so have changed a bit.  Anyway, yes, English is the most common official language (but not most common mother tongue - various dialects of Chinese are). And, English is not world dominant.

Second, many societies use more than one language. India has a dozen or so official regional languages. Multilingual societies including English are going to stay that way a long time, because for the majority English is not the mother tongue.

Third, yes, English is used globally in various professional, business and entertainment contexts.  So, it is a useful (and beautiful) language to know.  Other international languages are prominent and necessary as well and one of those reasons is...

Fourth, as the US begins to find its political-economic power challenged more and more by global players - like China and Europe and Latin America as an economic block in various ways (happening) - and as more and more Spanish speakers move into the US, English speakers will find they will necessarily have to learn and using various languages to do business and politics.

Fifth, English itself has fragmented into different dialects around the globe. These are on the way to becoming distinct languages over time. Eventually, some will have to learn more than one English-based language. There probably will be standard English for a long time. English speakers will have to adapt and learn other languages or loose out in global economic struggles.

Finally, of the 6800 languages on the planet, linguists estimate that at least half have a chance of continuing as they have over 10,000 speakers.  It is the 3400 languages that have less that 10,000 speakers that are in trouble.  

Some of the immense indigenous cultural riches are being preserved through education and local development initiatives. We could and must do more.


[ Parent ]

hmm (none / 0) (#68)
by Battle Troll on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 11:18:56 AM EST

Languages are the main medium of transmission for culture. When a culture dies we, humanity, loose cultural treasures. Everyone looses.

The Ostrogoths, Thracians, and Etruscans are extinct. What does that fact cost us?
--
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

6800 living languages, many cultural treasures (none / 2) (#70)
by just8 on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 11:39:55 AM EST

But the Bulgarians and Italians (connected historically, more or less, to the cultures you mentioned) are very much alive. Cultural forms and skills can be transmitted across waves of cultures in an area, as from Thracians to Greeks to Bulgarians, still retaining seeds of the original.  The Etruscans are more historically distant but the Ostrogoths helped influence what would become modern Italy.

Also still existing are the Mohawks of the Iroquois nations, the Tsalagi (Cherokee) and the Incans in the Americas.

And so are Vietnamese, Thai and indigenous Australians.

And so on and son on.

Yah, cultures die.  But 6800 or so distinct languages still live - though a quarter to half of them are dying, depending on how you figure that.  These many languages are the media for many cultural riches.

Some of these above and other cultures have negotiation systems and life ways that evolved to deal with conflicts and situations that would be very helpful to us today.

Do you think a homogenized culture is a wealthier, more interesting, and more sustainable world?


[ Parent ]

do you have evidence for this? (none / 1) (#72)
by Battle Troll on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 11:56:40 AM EST

Do you think a homogenized culture is a wealthier, more interesting, and more sustainable world?

Cultures live and die; why should I believe that the present day is any worse than any other period, considering that, today, we can prove and document the dissapearance and destruction of numberless cultures throughout history? Even it it were to be proved to be better for our 'cultural health' not to tend toward a monoculture, who is to make the Third World care?

Look, today no one weeps for the disappearance of the Medes or the ancient Egyptian race. That's because cultures are composed of individuals. Individuals who participate intensely in their cultures none the less participate as individuals, not as instances of some racial or linguistic aggregate. With the coming of Hellenism, Syriac and Aramaic were set on the road to extinction in the Near East, because Hellenic Greek became the language of enterprise and government (something lamented by Greek purists who saw their classical language bastardized in the process.)

The oft-lamented, by Western liberals, 'destruction of cultures' patronizes the members of the cultures so lamented by denying them the right to decide for themselves the degree to which they choose to express their ancestral culture and language. This is no less true if ancestral languages disappear because they are useless for exerting leverage on contemporary power structures.

Some of my ancestors spoke Gaelic in the Hebrides, but chose to emigrate, and necessarily to give that language up, in order to seek better lives for themselves. Who is a contemporary Western liberal to decide that a Kyrgis, Tibetan, etc., ought not to do the same if it seems best to him?
--
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

evidence? (none / 0) (#73)
by just8 on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 12:21:33 PM EST

You quote a question and ask me to prove it.
Then you stated some principles about how the world actually works - based on indivigual iniative.  Hmm.

Here are some of the problems to which the question I posed points:

Current dominant social forces - neoliberal capitalism and economic imperialism, spearheaded by corporations based in the US, EU and Japan - have been gradually destroying many aspects of the environment.  To what benefit: The majority of the world's people are suffering enforced deprivation, their land and livlihoods stolen.

It is really becoming very clear that our advanced technological civilizations are seriously damaging the environment. Some local cultures have evolved sustainable methods of living and that fit their environments and some have not. And some have evolved political skills. We need all the wisdom we can find to make it.

Yah, cultures die.  My argument is that complex cultures with many political and economic resources and skills have more adaptability, hence more survival possibility. This is an obvious truth.

Most probably we aren't all going to end up speaking English or Chinese. The world economy isn't going to continue moving in the direction of unregulated capitalism - can't work.  What direction things will go is an open question of course. It will be hard to test alternatives that did not happen.  We are left with local and regional examples of what is sustainable and valuable.  

Today, environmental sustainability and negotiation skills are key social skills.  We need to learn from cultures that have such skills. And some in those cultures very much want to keep them going.

Of the 6800 languages used today (see http://www.ethnologue.com/), according to linguists, perhaps more than half will survive long term - having more than 10,000 speakers. Native language speakers and various linguistic and development workers are helping small cultural circles to preserve their languages and cultures.  Luckily we will benefit from those many cultures.  It would be wonderful if economic development processes include saving smaller cultural groups and their cultural treasures.


[ Parent ]

bah (none / 1) (#75)
by Battle Troll on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 12:57:15 PM EST

You quote a question and ask me to prove it.

Yes, that's normal for rhetorical questions.

Current dominant social forces - neoliberal capitalism and economic imperialism, spearheaded by corporations based in the US, EU and Japan - have been gradually destroying many aspects of the environment. To what benefit: The majority of the world's people are suffering enforced deprivation, their land and livlihoods stolen.

Yes, that's exactly the kind of boilerplate I've become accustomed to hearing. And boilerplate it is. My wife is from a country where the average family (not working person) receives less than US$ 5000 per year. The people there, from what she tells me, are enthused about earning a living, because, under Communism, they had trouble getting food, and before 1850 or so, they were 99% illiterate peasants under feudalism.

If you want to convince me that the 'natives' were 'better off' before the evil capitalists came and ruined their lives, you're welcome to try. But my thorough study of the history of modernization convinces me otherwise. Before Westernization, virtually everyone in Asia was worse off than they are now; peasants died with their boots on at forty, infant mortality was higher than 1 in 10, extreme malnutrition was normal. I mean, this is why Westernized ethnic Asians' average height has improved by half a foot since 1800, mirroring the increase in the average European's height since the medieval period.

Today, environmental sustainability and negotiation skills are key social skills. We need to learn from cultures that have such skills. And some in those cultures very much want to keep them going.

If it's the case that there's cultural consensus for a movement against unchecked Westernization, a country can certainly resist; consider the cases of Eritria and Tanzania. But if there's no cultural consensus for braking Westernization, I don't see how you intend to get one. Ultimately, it's what Third World countries decide collectively to be in their individual best interests that must be respected.
--
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

not either/or (none / 0) (#77)
by just8 on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 01:12:17 PM EST

The question was not rhetorical.  It was general.

The question points to the fact that we need to address the very very serious problems today posed by the impacts of some aspects of technological development.

Many thinkers, scientists, publics, etc. are concerned about environemental destruction and condition of developing world.

Various leading economists have concluded the *neoliberal* capitalism of the last two decades has not eliminated poverty but that conditions have worsened. There are different types of development that can be advanced through public policy in a market system. Capitalism in general of course leads to some types of development and has led to some types of underdevelopment.

Please consider this evaluation by some leading capitalists of the gravity of world problems and need to invest in sustainable development:
http://www.seattleinitiative.org/

Capitalist development and the interests of indigenous communities in cultural preservation need not be mutually exclusive.


[ Parent ]

sir: (none / 0) (#81)
by Battle Troll on Sun Feb 08, 2004 at 04:04:17 PM EST

Various leading economists have concluded the *neoliberal* capitalism of the last two decades has not eliminated poverty but that conditions have worsened.

You're deliberately misconstruing my point: that Westernization has been a substantial benefit to the vast majority of people in the developing world and continues to be seen as such.

This is a no-brainer. In feudal Japan, the peasants led horrible lives, which were (mercifully) much shorter than they are today. No Japanese person in his right mind can reject modernization, even though many have lamented it (cf Junichiro Tanizaki's "In Praise of Shadows" or the opening pages of The Reed Cutter, or pretty much anything by Mishima or Akutagawa.) The question of capitalism vs. the Seattle Initiative if of no relevance to the larger question: should primitive countries be permitted to modernize by whichever means they deem best? To which I answer 'yes,' and you 'no.'
--
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

sustainable development and capitalism (none / 0) (#86)
by just8 on Sun Feb 08, 2004 at 07:14:18 PM EST

the point you raise is addressed in the next two sentences (in my previous comment) after the one you quote:

"There are different types of development that can be advanced through public policy in a market system. Capitalism in general of course leads to some types of development and has led to some types of underdevelopment."

To emphasize: Yes, due to capitalism, modernity, whatever, development has happened, substantial development.  Japan is a good case.

To emphasize: So has underdevelopment - the suppression of development, including of social democracy as in Nicaragua and Chile and Iran and so on. Much of Africa and parts of South Asia and Latin America are good cases.

re your point: "The question of capitalism vs. the Seattle Initiative if of no relevance to the larger question: should primitive countries be permitted to modernize by whichever means they deem best? To which I answer 'yes,' and you 'no.'"

Wrong.

The larger question indeed is what kind of sustainable grassroots development is possible. That is why I raised the issue of underdevelopment.

The Seattle Initiative is not *vs.* Capitalism. The Seattle is a type of gentler Capitalism being proposed by very wealthy capitalists: a Neo-Keynesian Capitalism, or the gradual move to a global social welfare system where capital is invested in humanity.  That does not necessarily have to be managed top down.  In fact, a Neo-Keynesian approach is quite a bit more likely to be bottom up than the current neoliberal order where transnational corporations push around the governments of small countries.  A critique of neoliberalism needs to come front and center here.

These economic thinkers, including Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, offer critiques of neoliberalism here:
http://www.prospect.org/issue_pages/globalization/index.html

I think both our positions are more nuanced on these matters than this current back and forth is showing.  It would take more time for definition of concepts and trends to get to that.  However, I defer to the above web link on this. My expertise lies elsewhere...  


[ Parent ]

Survival of languages (none / 0) (#78)
by pik on Sun Feb 08, 2004 at 05:57:43 AM EST

Hello;
You are (wrongly) assuming that the fate of a language/culture depends only in the individuals that build it, but that's not true. For example, during Spanish dictatorship Basque language was totally forbiden (Spoken or Written) and today, 25 years after the end of the Dictatorship, the language is alive and growing, but after an inmense effort. What I'm saying is that depending who is in the government, they can easily make a language dissapear with some repression.

In the other hand, ancestral languages dissapearing is an enormous loose, because:
  • We can learn about languages history with them. With basque this is clear; it is a language that doesn't seem to have its origin in the indoeuropean root, and nobody know where does it come from. If basque dissappears, we will never be able to research this matter.
  • Diversity is always good: you have got where to choose.
  • Having the possibility of knowing different languages is something wonderfull, as it opens your mind. In my case, I can say that Basque and Spanish are my mother tongues (both!), as I don't remember starting to use one or another, and then I know english as well (kind of ;-)). If basque didn't exist I would just know Spanish and English, which is a shame.
Thank you.

-Be the change you wish to see in the world. (Gandhi)
-Sé el cambio que te gustaría ver en el mundo. (Gandhi)
-Izan zaitez munduan ikustea gustatuko litzaizukeen aldaketa.(Gandhi)

http://www.sindominio.net/~pik

[ Parent ]

sir: (none / 0) (#82)
by Battle Troll on Sun Feb 08, 2004 at 04:13:11 PM EST

You are (wrongly) assuming that the fate of a language/culture depends only in the individuals that build it, but that's not true.

I assume no such thing. Of course languages are explicitly repressed by criminal regimes, but that's not the same thing as people choosing to do business in an international language.

Insultingly conflating the two says more about you than it doesn about me.
--
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

It's not about today (none / 0) (#80)
by just intonation on Sun Feb 08, 2004 at 01:16:02 PM EST

"The oft-lamented, by Western liberals, 'destruction of cultures' patronizes the members of the cultures so lamented by denying them the right to decide for themselves the degree to which they choose to express their ancestral culture and language."

I, and probably many people worried about the destruction of languages, could care less what languages and cultures people express. What I'm worried about is the vast treasure of historical knowledge that is lost, or at least buried much deeper, every time a language dies.

Case in point: near the end of the 4th century AD, religious leaders in Egypt outlawed the standard heiroglyphic script, thinking it related to the Egyptians' pagan religion. Egypt's spoken language continued unhindered, but the ability to read and write heiroglyphics disappared. All books, records, documents, letters, and inscriptions written in heiroglyphics became useless. It wasn't until the 1800s that Thomas Young and Jean François-Champollion, with the help of the newly discovered Rosetta Stone, deciphered heiroglyphic writing, letting us read a chapter in the history of the world that was lost for 1400 years.

What if, through some cultural accident, we had lost the ability to read Old English? The classic story Beowulf might be nothing more than an old stack of paper mouldering in somebody's basement. What if we couldn't read ancient Hebrew? Bible scholars would have considerably harder jobs with only later translations to work with. What if we couldn't read Greek, or Latin? What would become of Socrates, Archimedes, Homer, Vergil, Julius Caesar? You may care only about today, but those of us who want to know our past have a considerable stake in keeping languages alive.

[ Parent ]
straw man, meet torch (none / 0) (#83)
by Battle Troll on Sun Feb 08, 2004 at 04:15:53 PM EST

What if, through some cultural accident, we had lost the ability to read Old English? The classic story Beowulf might be nothing more than an old stack of paper mouldering in somebody's basement.

Apparently no one on this sight can tell the difference between allowing people to speak whatever language they choose and forcibly extirpating languages deemed politically undesirable. Let me ask you: why should speakers of a 'native language' be slaves of the anthroplogists' desire to study it? If people find some other language more relevant to their lives, such is the way of the world.
--
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

sight == 'site' (none / 0) (#84)
by Battle Troll on Sun Feb 08, 2004 at 04:16:06 PM EST


--
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]
Uh... (none / 0) (#115)
by il on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 12:50:51 AM EST

That's crazy talk.

[ Parent ]
no it's not (none / 0) (#116)
by Battle Troll on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 12:34:29 PM EST

Just ask any middle-aged Georgian antellectual, appalled because his childrens' generation isn't learning Russian for nationalistic reasons.
--
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]
Wait (none / 0) (#117)
by il on Sat Feb 14, 2004 at 11:26:08 PM EST

I see your point about politically undesirable languages. I just think the anthropologists/slave talk is a little much.

[ Parent ]
it is and it isn't (none / 0) (#120)
by Battle Troll on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 01:12:21 PM EST

The power asymmetry (rooted in relative prosperity) between third-worlders and anthropologists means that reactionary forces in third-world communities may have an external source of support and encouragement.

My larger point is that liberals in the first world tend to assume that it's bad when 'natives' forget their languages, never stopping to think that a) if native and immigrant communities never lost their languages, new cultures could never be formed and b) the decision to learn or not to learn a new language is usually rooted in economic conditions more than anything else. Cf the well-known incapacity for learning new languages among white first-world Anglophones.
--
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

liberals + 3rd world (none / 0) (#121)
by il on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 08:21:25 PM EST

Agreed. When Western Liberals start talking about third world issues (I observe much of this being at the university), the emotions expressed are slightly more complex than those found in places like Hallmark. Not to say that this is always the case, or that Westerners should turn their eyes from the third world. I'm just sayin'!

[ Parent ]
You seem to be under the impression that (none / 0) (#93)
by For Whom The Bells Troll on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 05:21:47 AM EST

the peoples have a choice in preserving their cultures or not. At least for the Tibetans, and certainly for most other indigeneous peoples, that choice had already been made by evangelist missionaries or colonising powers (China wrt Tibet)

Which, really, is the point of all this preservation business; if we (ie, the outside world; not just the western world) really had let the indigenous peoples be themselves, there's absolutely no necessity to 'preserve' the languages in formaldehyde. Unfortunately, that's never been the case; either through forcible re-education (eg Australia's "Stolen Generation"), or outright bans on using the said language, we have fiddled in the matters that should have been rightly decided by the communities themselves.

(I, of course, say this as someone who's mother tongue is not English and is literate in at least four languages)

---
The Big F Word.
[ Parent ]

heh, cute (none / 0) (#95)
by Battle Troll on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 08:38:34 AM EST

At least for the Tibetans, and certainly for most other indigeneous peoples, that choice had already been made by evangelist missionaries or colonising powers...

This is true of some cultures, not of all cultures - for example, among East Asian cultures, it's demonstrably false, as Chinese languges, Japanese, Korean, Malay / Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, and the assorted languages of the Philippines are alive and well. In Central Asia it's false as well. It's true that Native Americans, Australians, and Maoris have generally seen their language and culture destroyed from without, but it's also true that, to the extent that local cultures have suffered in Africa, it's been more subversion from within that destruction from without. Even if you're willing to describe the Bantu Volkswanderung or the Maori subjugation of various other native people as "colonising," which I am sure you are not willing to do.

Look, denying agency to the cultural Other is the essence of racism. Gaul was colonized by Rome, producing France. Britain was colonized by virtually everone, producing England. The Pygmies had their culture destroyed by the Bantus. But in all of these cases, the destruction of a native culture was the unforeseen result, not the motive, for the colonial enterprise. In each case, a defeated people adapted to new conditions by absorbing aspects of a foreign language and culture. And this happens in times of peace as well as times of war - as the absorption of Chinese language and culture by the modern-day Southern Chinese, or the spread of Hellenism after the death of Alexander, ought to make obvious.

By denying a community the right to adapt to modern conditions, thereby preserving their relevance and their continuing right to exist, you're denying their agency. The issue here isn't that all choices must be made freely and from positions of strength. That's never going to happen. The issue is that, when people find themselves at points of crisis, they not be encouraged to reject something that's actually the only way that they might be preserved.

(I, of course, say this as someone who's [sic] mother tongue is not English and is literate in at least four languages)

I'd say you're doing a little too well on the vernacular.

Look, before you make a troll account, go read some books and try to develop less histoical naivete, would you?
--
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

Well, (none / 0) (#107)
by For Whom The Bells Troll on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 10:56:14 PM EST

This is true of some cultures, not of all cultures - for example, among East Asian cultures, it's demonstrably false
Who's talking about them?
By denying a community the right to adapt to modern conditions, thereby preserving their relevance and their continuing right to exist, you're denying their agency. The issue here isn't that all choices must be made freely and from positions of strength. That's never going to happen. The issue is that, when people find themselves at points of crisis, they not be encouraged to reject something that's actually the only way that they might be preserved.
Nice rant there; I'm sure you've taken a lot of effort to think that up. Now tell me how this relates to nurturing languages other than English.
I'd say you're doing a little too well on the vernacular.
Yeah, so I screwed up; been a long day here and I really couldn't care enough about my spelling. So haven't you, as we can see from your histoical record on this thread.
Look, before you make a troll account, go read some books and try to develop less histo[r]ical naivete, would you?
I don't know; would doing specialised research into the tribes of the Upper Dibang Valley count? How about an investigation into the great trade on Indian Ocean? My academic supervisor seemed to think so.

---
The Big F Word.
[ Parent ]
even cuter (none / 0) (#111)
by Battle Troll on Wed Feb 11, 2004 at 10:52:33 AM EST

I'm sure you've taken a lot of effort to think that up. Now tell me how this relates to nurturing languages other than English.

I don't know what 'nurturing languages other than English' means in practical terms. Perhaps if you give me something concrete to criticise, I could respond with a concrete criticism. This thread started as a values, rather than a policy debate, with the penultimate parent claiming that 'we lose cultural treasures when languages die,' and me responding that 'languages are born and die, and always have - how is today any different?' Which joto8 answered with a rant against 'neoliberalism.'

I'm claiming that the very fact that joto8 considers anti-neoliberalist ranting on-topic in a discussion about the deaths of languages particularises and demonises the state of affairs as it prevails today, without explaining how such a state of affairs is qualitatively different than those prevailing in other times, or demonstrating the morality or lack thereof of allowing communities to find their own linguistic level as I see cultures as having done throughout history.

From an earlier post: Which, really, is the point of all this preservation business; if we (ie, the outside world; not just the western world) really had let the indigenous peoples be themselves, there's absolutely no necessity to 'preserve' the languages in formaldehyde.

This is where we part company. I don't see that outside vs. indigenous (see how hard the categories are to delimit?) interactions today operate in a fundamentally different context than they did historically. I mean, some peoples were ploughed under and their descendants mixed with other populations and a new ethnogenesis took place; Dacians became Daco-Roman Romanians; Bulgarians were Slavicised; and, if you're in anthro, this is nothing new to you. The difference between us is that I am unwilling to intervene on behalf of abstract entities at the expense of individual people. I feel that members of indigenous communities should be free to seek their own best interests in their own social context, rather than having their tribal languages 'preserved in formaldehyde,' as you put it, by interventionist academics who have a more or less explicit distaste for a real world in which indigenes must make more or less painful decisions, or even undergo acculturation.

I don't know; would doing specialised research into the tribes of the Upper Dibang Valley count? How about an investigation into the great trade on Indian Ocean? My academic supervisor seemed to think so.

Being a Western academic and being crushingly naive are not incompatible, as a quick trip to the engineering department ought to convince you.
--
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

You don't need to go so far (3.00 / 4) (#41)
by Shubin on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 06:42:47 AM EST

You don't need to go so far for strangeness. Let's take Russian - an almost normal European language, with many words taken from German, English, Dutch. It has been reformed in 1918. But how it looked before ?
Here are two sample rules :
There were two different letters, denoting sound 'e'. One called 'ye', other called 'yat`' Which one to use ? Easy : if the word in question, translated into Ukrainian, would have 'i' in the corresponding place, write 'yat`'. Otherwise, write 'ye'. Quite simple, isn't it ? Just learn another language and you're done.
The similar situation was with two letters for 'f' : 'ef' and 'fita'.
Interesting fact : among others 'fita' has been used in words that in English has 'th' (as in 'thick', not in 'the') in that place. Example : Theodor would be Feodor, Theofil = Feofil etc.
This letter is not used since 1918 and is completely forgotten. But a new word, borrowed from English in mid-70s follows this rule. It is natural for Russian to pronounce 'th' as 't' or 's', but word 'thing' became 'fen`ka'. And it's not a literature Russian, it's street slang.

Learn about origins of languages (none / 0) (#42)
by zhukher on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 07:23:16 AM EST

http://omniglot.com/writing/tibetan.htm here is how tibetan actually looks with all of the explanations in addition to this post go to http://omniglot.com and find out where your writing originated

It might as well be Sanskrit to me.. (none / 1) (#43)
by A55M0NKEY on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 07:49:59 AM EST

______________ || @ ' U|| C Spinnenpuke.

Please Translate For Me... (2.07 / 13) (#44)
by CheeseburgerBrown on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 07:54:50 AM EST

...The following helpful travel phrases for Tibet:

"The yak hair in this butter is of exceptional quality."

"I am very cold, and wish to die now.

"My face has chapped off."

"There is a Chinaman standing on my colon."

"So, you guys really dig wearing orange, huh?"

"Nice haircut."

"Can I pet the Dalai Lama?"

"Ooooh...mountains."


___
I am from a small, unknown country in the north called Ca-na-da. We are a simple, grease-loving people who enjoy le weekend de ski. Personally, I pref
Cf. English? (2.71 / 7) (#46)
by dash2 on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 09:26:26 AM EST

Check out this insane language: cough rough though through slough thorough dough hiccough
------------------------
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.
And this: (none / 1) (#56)
by lookout on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 06:12:51 PM EST

cover dover hover lover mover rover.

English pronounciation is orthogonal to orthogonal.

[ Parent ]

Hmm? (none / 0) (#59)
by curien on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 06:33:29 PM EST

"cover", "hover", and "lover" rhyme, at least in the Standard American accent.

--
All God's critters got a place in the choir
Some sing low, some sing higher
[ Parent ]
True, but (none / 0) (#130)
by pin0cchio on Sat Feb 28, 2004 at 07:25:27 PM EST

True, but they don't rhyme with "mover", "rover", or "dover".
lj65
[ Parent ]
a test (none / 0) (#51)
by MonkeyMan on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 12:48:41 PM EST

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.1 plus MathML 2.0//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/MathML2/dtd/xhtml-math11-f.dtd" [ ENTITY mathml "http://www.w3.org/1998/Math/MathML" ]> <html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"> this is a test

<math xmlns="&mathml;"> <munder> <mi>ང</mi> <mi>B</mi> </munder> </math> </math>

End of test.

you forgot... (none / 0) (#52)
by just8 on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 12:59:33 PM EST

to include this:

Please report any errors to David Carlisle <davidc@nag.co.uk>.

Point well taken.  

Tibetan was designed as a liturgically script to translate philosophical and religious texts (and was based on an Indo-European script, devanagri of Sanskrit, though mapped onto a Sino-Tibetan tongue).  Most any arcane topic will yield an arcane script.  However, spoken and philosophical Tibetan need not be immediately complex - at least at the start. Depends on who you study with.


[ Parent ]

ha ha... (none / 0) (#55)
by just8 on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 01:10:45 PM EST

I thought by posting xhtml without explanation you were infering that code is arcane, which it is...

df. arcane "requiring secret or mysterious knowledge"

[ Parent ]

MathML (none / 0) (#53)
by MonkeyMan on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 01:04:18 PM EST

If Rusty would enable MathML in the headers he spits out then stacks could be faked somewhat. Mozilla supports MathML.

The code for RI would look like this:

<math xmlns="&mathml;">
<munder>
<mi>&#3938;</mi>
<mi>&#3954;</mi>
</munder>
</math>

Try this fragement out at the tester page.

[ Sorry that my last post escaped ]

"drup" in MathML (none / 0) (#61)
by MonkeyMan on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 09:28:03 PM EST

A major point of this article was how hard it is to draw "drup". A transliteration of it is: BA SA/GA/RA/U BA SA (where the slashes represent vertical stacking. Here are the characters:

ba བ &#3926;
sa ས &#3942;
ga ག &#3906;
ra ར &#3938;
u ུ &#3956;

The following code fed to the MathML test page gives a somewhat close depiction.

<math xmlns="&mathml;">
<mrow>
 &#3926;
<munder>&#3942;<munder>&#3906;<munder><mo>&#3938;</mo><mo>&#3956;</mo></munder></munder></munder>
<mo>&#3926;</mo>
<mo>&#3942;</mo>
</mrow>
</math>

Compare that to the desired image. The two problems are the spacing (which should be adjustable) and the GA/RA ligature (which can be found in this gif next to "gra".) I have not been able to find any information in the Tibetian unicode pages about ligatures so maybe this aspect is still missing in Unicode.

[ Parent ]
"drup" in SVG (none / 0) (#100)
by rtmyers on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 02:56:21 PM EST

This is interesting.  But as you point out, MathML has no way to handle the variant form of RA which goes on the bottom of the grapheme cluster.  

Much more promising is SVG.  There is a idea to somehow unite Graphite and SVG, which could work wonderfully well.

[ Parent ]

Om Mani Padme Hum (none / 1) (#79)
by zentara on Sun Feb 08, 2004 at 06:24:14 AM EST

Don't forget that the basics of Tibetan religous beliefs, are far more advanced than most Westerners are able to comprehend. It's tantric. I was inspired to put this on my site 2 days ago....synchronicity? Om-Mani-Padme-Hum.jpg

the meaning

Feel free to copy it to your disk. The harddrive acts like a Tibetan Spinning Wheel, and having this on it, brings "good karma" as you operate your computer.

surely you jest..... (none / 0) (#94)
by mreardon on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 07:32:04 AM EST

Don't forget that the basics of Tibetan religous beliefs, are far more advanced than most Westerners are able to comprehend.
Or are you serious? There is no religion higher than truth.

[ Parent ]
all cultures are equal (none / 0) (#106)
by circletimessquare on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 09:47:28 PM EST

whenever someone says one culture is better than the other, someone has become ethnocentric

if "Tibetan religous beliefs are far more advanced than most Westerners are able to comprehend" is the conclusion you have drawn from your transcendent meditations, then i think you have reached a lower level of consciousness, not a higher one

the highest wisdom you can achieve is how we are all the same, the surprising lack of humility you have drawn from studying a humble religious tradition notwithstanding


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

Interesting little paradox here (none / 0) (#109)
by scheme on Wed Feb 11, 2004 at 01:57:52 AM EST

whenever someone says one culture is better than the other, someone has become ethnocentric

However, by stating this you've made your own culture of equality more important than any other. How exactly do you reconcile that?


"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity." --Albert Einstein


[ Parent ]
the same way i reconcile this: (none / 1) (#112)
by circletimessquare on Wed Feb 11, 2004 at 12:41:10 PM EST

intolerance is evil

intolerance of intolerance is good

"i hate you because you are black/ female/ homosexual/ etc." is evil

"i hate you because you hate based on ethnocentrism/ sexism/ etc." is good

i sincerely believe that

the culture of equality, like all cultures, has problems

but it's sum total of problems is less than other cultures... it's a matter of the best we got in this world, not he best period

all of human existence is imperfect, waiting for the perfect will just mean you will die alone


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

If thats the case (none / 0) (#113)
by scheme on Thu Feb 12, 2004 at 04:57:08 PM EST

If you believe that a intolerance of intolerance is good then cultures that promote or allow intolerance to persist is inherently worse than a culture that promotes equality. Therefore all cultures are not equal.

A corollary is that, western culture is better than most others due to it's tolerance.

Now you aren't really arguing about equality, its more about which ideals and philosophies are better than others.


"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity." --Albert Einstein


[ Parent ]
logic (none / 0) (#118)
by jrideout on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 08:44:29 AM EST

Your statements violate logic and thus are flase. Most logic problems of this sort, however, are about how things are worded and don't reflect one's internal opinion, which may be logicaly valid, although perhaps not sound. What you mean, I is if you'll escuse the pseudo code: if (intolernce.of != intolerence) then morality -> good else morality -> evil Since this is an article about language it is interesting the problems cultures have that are associated with language and its interplay with what is truly ment. What in one language may be stated clearly, may is stated in a less formal way in another language allow for false interpretations and generalizations when applying it. The history of philosophy is rife with such things and today we can see the very way notions are expressed, let alone intrepreted influence decision made about such notions, just compare france and the us today, forget the big issues adnd events, but if you look at outliers and extreme cases one can see what i mean. just read todays le monde

[ Parent ]
Tibetan .. Tantric??? (none / 0) (#114)
by crushinghellhammer on Fri Feb 13, 2004 at 03:35:17 PM EST

Clearly you have no understanding of either Tibetan Buddhism or Tantra.

The only similarity they may share is that their roots are in Hinduism.  I know it is fashionable to spout "Eastern mysticism" and all that, but if you want to be taken seriously, you should know the facts.

Buddhism in the most part is a simplified version of Hinduism.  While Hinduism is a very layered religion that one can follow at many different levels, the Buddha (who was a Hindu prince) preached a few tenets to live life by. I agree that this is too simplistic an explanation, but it is not my intention to describe Buddhism - there are enough and more websites and books that deal with the topic.

Tantra is a school of thought and practice who's object of worship is the "darker" manifestations of energy.  Unfortunately in the West, Tantra has become synonymous with Tantric sex, which is a very small aspect of Tantra.

In conclusion, your calling Buddhism Tantric just highlights your incomprehension.


[ Parent ]

tibetan buddhism is widely knows as tantric bud, (none / 0) (#129)
by clarity on Sun Feb 22, 2004 at 10:16:24 AM EST

Well, maybe it is just so that highlights your incomprehension. ;-) Tibetan Buddhism or Vajrayana Buddhism is widely known as Tantric Buddhism, or also the Mantrayana, the secret teachings. That Tantra is also known in Hinduism doesn't mean that it is the only form of tantric teachings. Since I don't know much about the hindu version, i cannot compare them thoroughly, except that they both seem to be working with the basic energies of existence, using visualization and direct working with these energies as the skillfull means of meditation. These are incredibly complex systems and it takes a practitioner a long time to be able to come to the level of even starting to practice them. To call Buddhism a simplification of Hinduism is just plainly incorrect, and obviusly a troll - or a honest misunderstanding? Regards, Robert

[ Parent ]
Hinduism and Buddhism (none / 0) (#131)
by crushinghellhammer on Sun Mar 07, 2004 at 02:57:21 AM EST

I suggest you read the history of Buddhism.  I hope you know that Gautama (the Buddha) was a Hindu prince.  His main goal was to simplify Hinduism to a set of tenets that one could follow and find their peace.

If you ever visit India you'll find that Hinduism and Buddhism flourish together and there is no conflict.  Apart from Hinduism being the most tolerant and assimilative religion / way-of-life (there are certain fringe elements that the Western press always plays up.  These fringe elements have risen in response to Muslim intolerance, unwillingness to be a part of the Indian mainstream and the repeated attacks on Hindus.  In short, it's more political than religious.) this is because that both religions / ways-of-life explicity understand their relationship viz-a-viz each other.

In the West, the simplicity of Buddhism has caught on.  This is  convenient for people who do not want to delve deep into the subject matter of Hinduism.

However, in doing so, one must not forget that the  philosophic ideas of Buddhism are intrinsic to Hinduism.  Buddhism of course changed as it spread through the far-east, and there are many sects.  However the common sub-set of these sects' philosophies is contained within the tenets of Hinduism.

[ Parent ]

Book on Tantra (none / 0) (#132)
by crushinghellhammer on Sun Mar 07, 2004 at 02:59:12 AM EST

Read this...it might give you some insight.

Aghora: At the Left Hand of God by Robert E. Svoboda

[ Parent ]

silent characters change meaning in English, too! (none / 0) (#85)
by vdvo on Sun Feb 08, 2004 at 05:20:32 PM EST

From the article:

So what is the deal with these silent characters anyway? They clearly play a major role in resolving homonymal ambiguity in Tibetan. For instance, the word for "I, me" is pronounced "nga" and written NGA as expected, while the word for five" is also pronounced "nga" but is written LA/NGA with a silent LA. Fine and possibly useful, but other languages manage to deal with the same kind of ambiguity without resorting to such tricks. Those tricks make the learning curve markedly steeper, not only for adult foreign students but for native-speaking children as well. If the silent letters had some other meaning, perhaps semantic, it would be more understandable, but they appear not to.

You know what? I found this exact phenomenon in a slightly more common language: English! Witness this: "night" - and "knight"! :-) I challenge others to find other examples as I'm pretty sure there are more.

(Of course, I'm linguistically ignorant, so it's possible that there is some difference between the "nga" case and the "night" case that I haven't noticed.)



a difference (none / 1) (#90)
by benxor on Mon Feb 09, 2004 at 04:30:29 PM EST

Just to let you know, 'knight' is spelt with a silent k not for any other reason that it actually used to be pronounced this way in Middle English - ' k-nich-et'. This is why in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, incidentally, the French knight calls Auther and his men 'silly eenglish kaniggets'.

In the 1500's, words like this had a 'ta' at the front instead of a 'ka', and after the 1600's we started dropping the k in words like knife, knee, and knight and so on completely.

I would hazard that if the Tibetan use of silent letters has nothing to do with semantics - that the symbols have no meaning or cultural significance - then they probably are, like Enlgish, throwbacks to a time when the symbols were actually articulated. If that isn't so, has anyone considered a lost tonal notation system, i.e. 'softening' and 'hardening' symbols (as in Russian/Cyrillic)?


--
all generalisations are false - including this one
[ Parent ]

Written vs spoken English (none / 0) (#122)
by thankyougustad on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 10:51:24 AM EST

One of the main problems people learning English as a second language have is the differences between spoken and written English. Part of this can be explained by the fact that although the pronunciation of the English language has changed over the centures, the written language was stayed relatively untouched. Supposedly, a long time ago the orthography was much truer to the pronunciation. Hour and Whore were pronounced the same, for instance, giving rise to a number of bawdy poems that are difficult for us to enjoy because, well, they don't rhyme anymore. Words change in their pronunciation, and whats interesting in this, is that they tend to follow general patterns while doing so. The sanskirt P becoming an F in indo-european languages, for instance.

No no thanks no
Je n'aime que le bourbon
no no thanks no
c'est une affaire de goût.

[ Parent ]
English is rife with it. (none / 0) (#108)
by trejkaz on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 11:50:42 PM EST

Well, "gnome" is a fairly often heard example... and most people wouldn't have pronounced the "t" in "often", either, nor the "l" in "wouldn't". English is rife with it. In general English is a bad language, it's a damn shame Esperanto weren't invented 1000 years earlier and groomed to become the standard because it has something resembling sanity. ;-)

[ Parent ]
It is suprising (none / 0) (#87)
by bankind on Mon Feb 09, 2004 at 02:23:19 AM EST

That of all the politically charged K5ers, no one has mentioned that only a language of this complexity could arise in a society were the educated completed ignored the commoners. Tibet is a very split society, even post liberation. The failures of the learned to take needed reforms to include the peasants (and merchants) in the educational system is part of the reason for the backwardness of the society.

I've spent significant time in Tibet, and the truest aspect of that society is the complete isolation of the lower classes. It is shocking how much of this evil is portrayed in the language.

And to dispel this whole religious, Buddhist thing, Tibetans are rough brawlers. A monastery is like a private boarding school, everyone carries knifes, all they do is smoke, drink, and play billiards (a good thing). But the monks play B-ball like the political refugees in Scarface. If this spirituality bullshit was soooo important, they wouldn't all play basketball like Bill Laimbeer.

"Insurgents are blowing up pipelines and police stations, geysers of sewage are erupting from the streets, and the electricity is off most of the time -- but we've given Iraq the gift of supply-side economics." -Krugman

wide variety of humanity in tibetan culture (none / 1) (#89)
by just8 on Mon Feb 09, 2004 at 08:33:46 AM EST

While there are some seeds of truth, there are serious errors and gross over-generalizations in your characterization of Tibetan culture.

Tibetans cover a wide range of types of humanity in various ways.

The lack of reform of script is due primarily to preservation of spiritual philosophy and practices that were already very evolved and complex a 1000 years ago.

I don't advocate theocracy as existed in Tibet. However, a sharp class split is no different from most any complex pre-modern society.  Further...

The people in monasteries made up a significant part of the population. People from any class could join the monastery.  Many of the lamas I've know are concerned about the working people and their condition. They sponsor development type work in some way for their people.  

The social structure of Tibet does not invalidate the depth and simultaneous universality and variety of the teachings.

There are different types of monasteries and spiritual communities.

There are 4 main lineages of Buddhism with sublineages. Some of the sublineages of the oldest lineage, the Nyngmapa, can very down to earth and bawdy members.  

Very generally, you could distinguish a right and left hand tantric approach. Left tantrikas consider it false to make a distinction between bawdy, rough behavior and elivated morality. Right hand tantrikas take a path of enunciate morality in the outer world and inner tantrum.

I've studied with over 20 lamas who cover the gamut of humanity.  Almost all were very dedicated to helping others. But, one was a drunk. One was very selfish and all about money.  A number radiated this profound spiritual freedom and were very kind.

You can find what you are looking for or notice what you expect when you go to another culture.

After traveling around for a number of years seeking spiritual truth in my teens and early 20s I returned to my small Appalachian town that I thought was boring and dullsville. I found several elevated and up-to-date spiritual teachers and teachings within a dozen miles of my tinny hometown. Funny.  Tibetans are the same way. Wonderful stuff can hide under your nose.

Tibetans are no different than the rest of us in their range of temperaments and focus from worldliness to the sublime - except they've kept alive one of the more profound spiritual realization traditions for 1300 years.  

The essential points of your criticisms - worldliness of Tibetans and class divide - are dominant characteristics of humanity and they do not invalidate the teachings of vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism.  

A good example of the impact of vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism) on social practice is in Bhutan before westerners arrived:  there was no recorded instance of murder in that society I believe - before it was first committed by a westerner there.  Now they have TV and the youth get to join the modern age.  

It would have been interesting if the Bhutanese could have imported the rational parts of modernity, accounting, science and democracy, without the violence and greed of consumer private hedonistic culture.


[ Parent ]

I would check that out more carefully (none / 0) (#91)
by scheme on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 12:27:57 AM EST

A good example of the impact of vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism) on social practice is in Bhutan before westerners arrived: there was no recorded instance of murder in that society I believe - before it was first committed by a westerner there. Now they have TV and the youth get to join the modern age.

It seems very odd that every other society in the world has had murder but the Bhutanese have no murders at all. What is more likely is that murders were simply not recorded. See North Korea for an example of how an isolated country has managed to keep a facade up that diverges from reality (at least internally).


"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity." --Albert Einstein


[ Parent ]
yes, odd, but very interesting (none / 0) (#97)
by just8 on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 09:37:20 AM EST

Nonviolence was a high value in Bhutanese society, or well, the Bhutanese united buddhist kingdown more recently.

There were small warring kingdoms as recently as 400 years ago.

The art of negotiation is a very respected art in Bhutan.

Yah, there were probably murders, etc. there. The point is the relative amount of violence compared to western societies.

How to get to that level of nonviolence, if it was really so, in a democracy is a big question.

Anyway, I appreciate skeptical eye:
I read about this aspect of Bhutan in a couple of places. I'll be on the lookout for more evidence either way.

[ Parent ]

You really don't know history very well (none / 0) (#92)
by bankind on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 02:54:08 AM EST

or then you might recognize that the Tibetan Nomad Calvary was one of the strongest elements of Kublai Khan's military. In fact the ties between Tibetan and Mongolian culture led such a deep connection that if you look at a modern Map of China you can see a dividing province that separates the two people, specifically to ensure that their ties are limited.

So the question is: why are the Mongolian not revered by the Zen Fascists, yet the Tibetan are?

Quite simply, the Tibetan monarchy was so oppressive on the society that the Tibetans could never develop the needed economy to carry out a significant campaigns. However there are significant traces that the Tibetans did perform various raids in their surrounding areas, hence the isolated communities in northern Yuanan. But not to the degree of the Mongol hordes (which they were a part of contrary to the "peaceful" nature you suggest). Quite simply, like all this crap you're spitting: it is all PR.

Ultimately all that religious spiritual junk your vomiting means nothing. As pointed out in the article, the society had a script that barred social advancement; Buddhist theology was only a discussion among the Tibetan elite.

As far as the inclusive nature of the monasteries, I think you've forgotten a key element of pre-industrial families, children are an assets. Again, the only families that could afford sending their children to monastery are ones that could afford to loose labor.

And as far as Bhutan is concerned, rating a country of that level of poverty as an example of a "shining success" is equivalent to saying the Taliban was a effective at drug control. If this silly suggestion is true, the only plausible reason is that the Bhutanese were too hungry to kill each other

It would have been interesting if the Bhutanese could have imported the rational parts of modernity, accounting, science and democracy, without the violence and greed of consumer private hedonistic culture.

Well, if that's how you feel, Johnny Walker, declare your jihad and be done with it.

"Insurgents are blowing up pipelines and police stations, geysers of sewage are erupting from the streets, and the electricity is off most of the time -- but we've given Iraq the gift of supply-side economics." -Krugman
[ Parent ]

Tibet has long history of conflict (none / 0) (#96)
by just8 on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 09:32:23 AM EST

You didn't read or perhaps see things clearly.

1. As I have stated several times, I do not favor theocracy.  I favor democracy, strongly.

2. I was talking about Bhutan not Tibet.

Yes, Tibet has violent history.
Tibet conquered Han China around the 8th century.

Throughout Tibetan history, there were often various small kingdoms that warred - not unlike Europe in the middle ages.

Bhutan was also like that up until 16th century or so. Then under a theocracy, there was unification.  

Then, nonviolence became a central value in Bhutanese society, which has one of the last societies to westernize.

However, nonviolence is not essential to vajrayana as it is to mahayana.  So warring is not out of the question.  However, Bhutan is a place where the mahayana aspect of vajrayana came into play more.

3. As far as spouting "religious spiritual junk" that would be what you are typing and what some lamas advise we dive into and embrace.

We calls em as we sees em.

Later...

[ Parent ]

Mongolian buddhism... (none / 0) (#98)
by tkatchev on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 12:53:48 PM EST

...is often of the demon-worshipping human-sacrifice-to-the-dark-god-Kali kind. (Have you seen "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"?)


   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

Mongolian Shamanism & Tantric Buddhism (none / 0) (#102)
by just8 on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 03:31:31 PM EST

Human sacrifice is not a part of buddhism.
The use in tantric (or vajrayana) buddhism of violent images is an art of psychological transformation.

Mongalian shamanism included animal sacrifice.
Bon, tibetan shamanism, did as well.  Not human sacrifice.  

Hindu rituals did include animal sacrifice. buddhism did borrow the fire ceremony. But early buddhism did not include animal sacrifice.

Some shamanism mixed with vajrayana in Tibet and Mongolia.

Human sacrifice seems to have been part of the history of some small hindu tantric sects in India.  But not buddhist tantra.

Do you have evidence of a link between tantric Buddhism and human sacrifice?

Skulls and leg bones are used in tantric buddhism as ritual implements. These are of people who died of natural causes. They are used symbolically to represent the transformation of negative qualities.

In tantric buddhism, one type of visualization includes seeing oneself cutting up ones body and offering parts to all the universe are made. This is strictly visualization and for creating detachment and compassion.

Images like these and of the wrathful protector deities can lead one to think that tantric buddhism is about blood and gore. It is the opposite. It is about being grounded in an open, detached state and allowing negative and positive emotions to come up and transforming them in various ways.

Meat is offered during ceremonies in tantric buddhism and then eaten as part of a meal. This is not about animal sacrifice. It is part prayer and part exercise. It is again a purification and detachment exercise. Why? Because it is possible to get attached to detachment.  Tantrikas enter into the world of the senses fully: drinking alcohol, eating meat, stirring up the emotions - and cultivating the ability to remain open and free within these states.  It is an advanced set of practices. It is necessary to study elementary meditation and ethical practices before moving on to advanced ones.

Vajrayana buddhism was fully developed on a mahayana base in India before it went to Tibet
and China and on to Mongolia and Japan.  

So many buddhisms unfolded there. Think of all the types of christianity.  

What is key today is to see: what are the wisdom teachings and are they helpful?

Yes, in the west, vajrayana is very helpful. We have the ability to understand sophisticated philosophy and we are very immersed in the senses. So vajrayana can really work well here. But it needs to be adapted. Must of us don't want to recreate the parts of a shamanic worldview that go merged with vajrayana in Tibet.

It is the original vajrayana and the western developments on that and not specifically the shamanic elements that many westerners are beginning to focus on.

Here is a bit of background:
http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/buddhistworld/mongol-txt.htm
"After Mongol rule over China ended in 1368 the practice of Buddhism diminished among the Mongols, deteriorating into mere superstition or giving way once again to the indigenous religious conceptions of the Mongols and to shamanism. It was not until the sixteenth century that a second wave of Buddhist conversion began, brought about by the military expeditions of Allan Khan of the Tumet (1507-1583) into the eastern border districts of Tibet, which resulted in contacts with lamaist clerics. Within the short period of fifty years, beginning with the visit of the third Dalai Lama to Allan Khan's newly built residence, Koke Khota, in 1578, practically all of the Mongolian nobility was converted to Buddhism by the missionary work of many devoted lamaist priests."


[ Parent ]

A better movie involving Kali cultists is... (none / 0) (#110)
by Edziak on Wed Feb 11, 2004 at 03:18:55 AM EST

The deceivers. Its cool.

[ Parent ]
dysfunctional? (none / 0) (#88)
by thepunekar on Mon Feb 09, 2004 at 07:38:13 AM EST

what do you mean by dysfunctional? As anyone who's done any studies in the Indic languages can easily see, Tibetan script is based on devanagari. And just like in devanagari, all the syllabels are very well arranged on the basis of which part of the mouth is used to speak them. Also, there's only one way to write any spoken word using these scripts, and any written word has only one pronunciation. You call that dysfuctional?

Wrong, there are MANY ways to write a spoken word (none / 1) (#99)
by rtmyers on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 02:34:41 PM EST

If you'd read the article, you'd notice that it is precisely not true that there is exactly one way to write any spoken word.  There are probably more like dozens in Tibetan.  That's one of the main points of the whole article.

[ Parent ]
nope (none / 0) (#105)
by jnana on Tue Feb 10, 2004 at 07:44:54 PM EST

As the former sibling poster pointed out, there are indeed many ways of writing a given sound. For example, if I wanted to represent the sound "drup", where the 'dr' is a palatal 'd', it could be represented as drup, bdrup, gdrup, 'drup, mdrup, ndrup. Now substitute a 'g' for the main 'd' in each word of those, and you have some more possibilities. Now in combination with any of the above, we can add any of 10 different superscript letters, which don't really change the pronunciation (some aren't possible, but ignore that for now), and then consider that every one of the possibilities enumerated so far could have a silent post-suffix letters. I haven't quite enumerated all the possibilities, because I'm getting rather bored, but I think this suffices to show that there is not a one-to-one correspondence as you suggested.

[ Parent ]
Tibetan is an extremely advanced language (none / 0) (#119)
by losang on Sun Feb 15, 2004 at 11:03:02 AM EST

Tibetan is a very scientific language. It was developed for the purpose of translating the extremely technical Buddhist philosophical texts from Sanskrit. Anyone who has read Tibetan philosohy will recognize its parallels to mathematics. Buddhist philosophical Tibetan is extremely precise and anyone who has tried to honestly translate it into English understands this. It is like translating mathematics into words.

Second, there are hard and clear rules for pronunciation in Tibetan. Compared with English, Tibetan much more precise in its pronunciation. If a new word is invented anyone who knows Tibetan would be able to pronounce it without first hearing someone else say the word. The same is not true for English. Of course there are various dialects but this is not important.

i call bullshit (none / 0) (#123)
by jnana on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 01:26:01 PM EST

Anyone who has read Tibetan philosohy will recognize its parallels to mathematics. Buddhist philosophical Tibetan is extremely precise and anyone who has tried to honestly translate it into English understands this. It is like translating mathematics into words.

Well, I have read a lot of Tibetan philosophy (and I've studied both spoken and literary Tibetan for 4 years total, though am a bit rusty now). The parallels to mathematics aren't at all clear to me. Would you mind explaining what you mean here?

Secondly, translating literary Tibetan into English is *nothing at all* like translating mathematics into words. Have you ever actually translated a real Tibetan text into English? Tibetan language is more context-dependent than English, and there is such incredible variety in the meaning of non-trivial words. One of my Tibetan teachers summed this up with the oft-repeated phrase, "context is everything." This holds for even totally contemporaneous pieces. Try comparing a Gelugpa philosophical work to a Dzogchen gter-ma, to a Tibetan poem, to a medical treatise, and you'll see exactly why there are so few incredible Tibetan translators, and why most of the really good ones can only translate well from one or relatively few genres.

[ Parent ]

Philosophical Tibetan (none / 0) (#125)
by losang on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 07:41:28 PM EST

First off, I am talking about philosophical Tibetan not general.

There is not a one-to-one correspondence between math and philosophical Tibetan. I was just saying that in my opinion philosophical Tibetan is very precise. The complexity and structure of the debate texts has a structure to it that is similar to mathematics. They are similar in that there are 'algorithms' that allow conclusions to be reached by following certain logical steps. Additionally, the use of certain words that serve as 'variables' is reminicient of mathematics.

I understand what you are saying in regards to what you called 'non-Gelug' texts. These genres may in fact be completely different from what I have described but I am not familiar with them and therefore can't really give an opionion.

[ Parent ]

ahh, (none / 0) (#128)
by jnana on Thu Feb 19, 2004 at 03:45:26 AM EST

Okay, I thought you meant something much broader by "philosophical Tibetan." I'd include Dzogchen and many other types of texts under that name, myself. They can be very philosophical, but are completely different from the more logical stuff like the debate literature, the epistemology literature from Dharmakirti and friends on down through Tsongkhapa, and so forth, but I totally agree that the debate texts are very mathematical. I don't have much experience with them, but I remember them being quite like the complex chains of derivations that one typically does in mathematical logic courses. Nyingma philosophy, on the other hand, always seemed as close to poetry -- full of metaphor and allusion -- as reasoned argumentation, but it is certainly philosophy -- just philosophy with different starting assumptions about the nature of truth and how best to communicate or evoke the truth, but then there's a huge difference between a Dudjom Lingpa and a Mipham, though there were both Nyingmapas.

[ Parent ]
by the way (none / 0) (#126)
by losang on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 07:43:16 PM EST

If you don't mind I was wondering who your teacher or teachers are. I have been studying with an Geshe since 1997 myself.

[ Parent ]
sure (none / 0) (#127)
by jnana on Thu Feb 19, 2004 at 03:33:55 AM EST

hey, I don't have any teachers any more, but I've had a few in the past. I'd be happy to tell you who offline (see email).

[ Parent ]
oops, ;-) (none / 0) (#124)
by jnana on Mon Feb 16, 2004 at 01:29:20 PM EST

I didn't notice that your username is losang (blo-bzang), so you are perhaps a Tibetan, but my points remain. I've worked with literary Tibetan enough that if it were remotely like translating mathematics into words, I think I would have some inkling what you mean.

[ Parent ]
Comments on LA/NGA (none / 0) (#133)
by rtmyers on Mon Jun 21, 2004 at 12:42:39 AM EST

I'm posting this on behalf of "john" (chessyogin at aol dot com), who mailed these comments to me, not being able to post them here because of the inability to register as a new user.

==
POSTED CONTENT FOLLOWS
=
=
hi mate

i just read your article about learning tibetan orthography.  i've been learning tibetan on and off for 10 years.  not got so far with it but further than most and the alphabet is indeed a bit strange to start with although i'm completely at home with it now as you'd expect.

i'd like to point out that " LA/NGA with a silent LA."  i'm not sure who you learned tibetan from, maybe they didn't want to frighten a beginner's class too much.  while the la in lnga is indeed silent, it does have an effect on pronounciation.  this is the same for all the nasalised fourth column.

but, lnga rnga and snga are all pronounced in the same high pitched nga.  eastern tibetan has many more homonyms than central tibet.  like you say the prefixes indicate older meanings and stephen beyer covers this in his classical tibetan book which is a linguistic description of tibetan rather than a teach yourself book.  in ladhakh the prefixes are still pronounced (or at least a lot of them are).  i recently met a ladhaki and the pronounciation was just like the actual written tibetan (which i believe is much the same case in western tibet).

so, to give an example, when the ladhaki was saying "go for refuge" he was saying: "skyabs" (maybe he didn't pronounce the final s come to think of it), just like the written tibetan.  but in central tibet this would be pronounced "kyab" and in eastern tibetan "chap"!

the pronounciation of lnga and nga is not the same.  adding the la + nga makes the nga sound high pitched when compared to a nga without a la.  hope that makes sense!  if you're interested i suggest picking up a copy of translating buddhism from tibetan by joe wilson.  he goes into pronounciation in great detail although if you have only a passing interest it's a bit expensive to buy.  there's a tape that can be bought to accompany the book as well.  i think the tape just covers the first couple of chapters.

as so few people knew how to write/read tibetan i guess that's why there's such a difference between written and modern day spoken tibetan.

would have posted this on the forum but it won't let new people register.

cheers

john

Introduction to Tibetan Orthography | 132 comments (114 topical, 18 editorial, 2 hidden)
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