Mind Your Tibetan Language

Mind Your Tibetan Language

Bhuchung K. Tsering

During the ongoing Tibetan parliament session when the work report of the Department of Education was being discussed there were some discussion on an issue that comes up frequently in the Tibetan society; the need to preserve and promote the purity of the Tibetan language. In the parliament, specific incidents involving parent-child interaction as well as specific words were highlighted in this discussion to stress the importance.

While I am all out for Tibetans, both students and non-students, to be fluent in the Tibetan language, I wonder whether we are missing the wood for the trees when we assume that usage of non-Tibetan words along with Tibetan may be the main impediment. I fear by doing so, we may not be tackling the real problem in promoting the better usage of Tibetan among the younger generation.

In general, if we look at the history of development of major world languages we can see that they have all benefitted from welcoming foreign words that have eventually become an integral part. We are all familiar with the English language, which has taken much from other languages, mainly European but also Hindi, too. A common example would be “jungle” for “forest”. What we know of as the English language today has imported much from German, French, Hindi, Latin, etc. Similarly, from the little that I know of, incorporating words from the Persian languages has also enriched some Asian languages.

Therefore, I do not see it as a negative solely because Tibetans use additional foreign words. In fact, if we are objecting to a word merely because it is non-Tibetan, then we may become guilty of an isolationist position. Also, if we have to strictly go by this rule then I wonder how the usage of the mantras in Sanskrit that is prevalent in the Tibetan Buddhist prayers can be explained. Should we not be striving to recite them purely in Tibetan?

I am of the opinion that for certain technical terms that do not have a Tibetan equivalent as yet, we might want to see if we can incorporate the foreign terms that are already there. A case in point would be “email” which has more or less become an international word. And, didn’t Thakjug clearly say, “If the symbols are correct, but if it is difficult to pronounce, then use the one that is easier to pronounce.”

However, I would object to usage of certain Chinese terms that have political implications e.g. using Zhongguo for China rather than Gyanak.

The real problem, as I see it, in the challenge to children embracing the Tibetan language fully could be because to them it is a buyer’s market. On a daily basis they have a plethora of choice, whether print, radio, TV or film, in other languages that might appeal to them rather than in Tibetan. The little that is out there in Tibetan, methinks, still is not up to the mark in becoming attractive and child friendly. There are hardly any cartoon or films for children in the Tibetan languages; the few magazines that are out there highlighted as being for children uses terms that are not age appropriate, thus defeating the very purpose for which they are being published.

Therefore, when children are provided with these many choices how can they resist being influenced by other languages, whether, English, Nepali, German, Chinese, French or whatever.

These are my thoughts on a Saturday evening.






6 thoughts on “Mind Your Tibetan Language

  1. ཁྱེད་རང་གི་དགོང་ཚུལ་དེ་ཚོ་ཆེས་བདེན་པ་འདུག། བོད་སྐད་མ་ཡིན་པའི་སྐད་ཡིག་གཞན་མང་རང་ཉིད་ལ་གོ་བདེ་བ་འདམས་ཆོག་ཡོད་རྐྱེན་གྱིས་བོད་སྐད་རང་བཞིན་གྱིས་འགྱངས་བ་དང་དོ་སྣང་བྱེད་མཁན་ཉུང་བ་ཡོད་པ་དངོས་འབྲེལ་་རེད།  དེ་བཞིན་བོད་ཀྱི་སྐད་ཡིག་ནང་མེད་པའི་ཐ་སྙད་རིགས་སྐད་ཡིག་གཞན་ནས་གནོན་འཇོག་མི་བྱ་ཐབས་མེད་རེད་ལ་རིམ་པས་བོད་ཀྱི་སྐད་ཡིག་དེ་ཡང་དེང་དུས་ཚན་རིག་དང་མཐུན་པའི་སྐད་ཡིག་ཕྱུག་པོ་ཞིག་ཆགས་ཀྱི་རེད། དེ་མིན་ནང་པའི་ལྟ་སྒྲུབ་་ཀྱི་མཚོན་པའི་ཆོས་ཕྱོགས་ཀྱི་བྱེད་དགོས་ཁག་བོད་ཀྱི་སྐད་ཡིག་དེ་ཆེས་ཕྱུག་པའི་སྐད་ཡིག་ཡིན་པར་གྲཌ། ཡིན་ཀྱང་དེང་དུས་ཀྱི་ཐ་སྙད་འགའ་ཤས་མ་གཏོགས་ཉིན་རེའི་དགོས་མཁོའི་རིགས་ལའང་བོད་སྐད་ལྡེང་ངེས་ཡོད་རེད་བསམ།  ཁྱེད་རང་ནས་མཁྱེན་དགོས་པ་ཞིག་ལ་་་་ཕ་སྐད་ཕྲུ་གུས་བེད་སྤྱོད་ལས་གླ་བོས་བྱེད་པ་དེ་ཡང་ཕ་མས་ཁྱད་པར་ཆེན་པོ་བཟོ་བ་མཐོང་མྱོངས། 

    1. ཕ་སྐད་ཕྲུ་གུས་བེད་སྤྱོད་ལས་གླ་བོས་བྱེད་པ་དེ་ཡང་ཕ་མས་ཁྱད་པར་ཆེན་པོ་བཟོ་བ་མཐོང་མྱོངས། གསུངས་པ་ཧ་ཅང་གི་བདེན། ང་རང་ཡང་ཕྲུ་གུ་གཉིས་ཀྱི་ཨ་མ་ཡིན། ཉམས་མྱོང་གི་ཐོག་ནས་རྒྱབ་སྐྱོར་ཞུ་ཡི་ཡོད།

  2. You’ve said this from the exile perspective. We’re only less than two hundred thousand Tibetans scattered outside Tibet, but six million Tibetans are inside Tibet. It is true that children in India are being influenced by English, Hindi and Nepali, children in Nepal by Nepali and English, and children in North America and UK by English, and children in European countries by European languages. But we must see the numbers. The number is very less in Western countries compared to India and Nepal, and the number is even less in India & Nepal compared to Tibet. Therefore, we must first strive to have such language that will unite all the Tibetan children scattered throughout the world. That language could be only Tibetan. It is good to give freedom to children to learn different languages in their host countries. But if they are not taught and guided to learn Tibetan language along with other languages, then it is solely the fault of parents. I recently met a young girl from Switzerland, who came to Dharamsala to learn Tibetan spoken language and to know something about our culture. I simply asked her the reason for not knowing even the spoken Tibetan since she has a Tibetan mother. Without any hesitation, she told me that “My Mom is such a loving and kind mother that she even gave such freedom to me and my sister that we forgot spoken Tibetan after two & half years old. If she was little stricter with this regard, then we wouldn’t face this problem of not knowing the language. Now I realize that being a Tibetan, I should know at least spoken Tibetan. Therefore, I came here to learn spoken Tibetan language. I will not be fluent in one month, but I’ll continue it back home. There is one girl from Tibet in my locality, and she wants to learn German. So I’ll teach her German, and will learn Tibetan from her.” So before children face such problem like her, parents in all the places outside Tibet should be little stricter to teach and guide Tibetan to their children. For many reasons, I strongly support the discussion taken place in the ongoing parliament session. I consider this topic of discussion as the only one issue in this ongoing session which is solely for the benefit of our nation and nationality. Therefore, we should support and strive to enrich and develop our Language.

    1. My point is that merely requiring young Tibetans to speak in Tibetan is not the solution; opportunities need to be created that will entice them to do so. So I have no disagreement with you.

  3. Research has clearly shown that incorporating foreign nouns doesn’t pose any threats to the health and vitality of a language, whereas incorporating foreign verbs is a dangerous and toxic trend. The trick of course is that the incorporated nouns become as universally accepted as possible by the language speakers.

    In pre-1959 Tibet even, we were using words like jurdha (shoe in Hindi) beskop (bioscope in English as a term for film), and quspoh (perfume in Hindi), not to mention Chinese food terms like bophi, lephing, patsel, and rhujotse.

    If we get too Talibanic with our language and police it relentlessly, we’ll end up with a handful of beautifully pure Tibetan speakers who are hampered by a vocabulary too limited for the world around them, and a growing number of Tibetans who will gravitate to Chinese, English, Hindi, and other languages of residence. Not next year, but certainly in two more generations.

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