Tibetan textbook

Dominik Wujastyk wujastyk at GMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 10 16:08:56 UTC 2011

this exchange about materials for learning Tibetan would be a perfect
addition to the FAQ.indology.info.  Would anyone be willing to do the
cut-n-paste, with light editing?


On 10 November 2011 14:06, Paul Hackett <ph2046 at columbia.edu> wrote:

> Dear Adriano,
> On Nov 10, 2011, at 5:11 AM, Adriano Aprigliano wrote:
> > Which textbook (as well as a grammar and dictionary) would you
> > recommend for classical Tibetan, especially the translation literature?
>    Unfortunately, there aren't any real textbooks for classical Tibetan
> literature.  There have been attempts over the years to publish various
> "readers," but the authors usually lacked a sufficient command of Tibetan
> grammar to make them very useful. At present there are only two textbook
> projects underway that I am aware of: my own work geared specifically
> towards classical Tibetan religious & philosophical literature (_A
> Classical Tibetan Reader_, to be published by Snow Lion), and another by
> Matthew Kapstein which I believe is more generic in scope (I have not
> actually seen it, so cannot say).  Neither one is published.
>  Regarding grammar presentations, the two best ones are Michael Hahn's
> _Textbook of Classical Literary Tibetan_, portions of which seem to be
> available online at Harvard:
> http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k41868&pageid=icb.page196202
> and Joe Wilson's _Translating Buddhism From Tibetan_ (Ithaca: Snow Lion).
>  Although Hahn's book gives an excellent concise overview of the components
> of Tibetan grammar, it is weak on the practicalities of dissecting the more
> idiosyncratic Tibetan sentence formations, particularly those seen in the
> philosophical literature.  For this reason, although Hahn's is a useful
> resource to have, I am more partial to Joe Wilson's textbook since it
> offers a systematic presentation of Tibetan grammar specifically geared
> both to classical Tibetan literature and pedagogically for students
> interested in practical advice for translating.  Other presentations either
> attempt to include theoretical linguistic models which tend to be not very
> useful, or worse yet, conflate literary Tibetan with colloquial Tibetan,
> which simply confuses the issue (they are sufficiently distinct) leading to
> a watered-down, lowest-common-denominator presentation that loses may key
> attributes of dealing exclusively with literary classical Tibetan.  Be
> aware that Wilson's book is geared specifically towards translating Tibetan
> into English.  If you goal is translating into Portuguese, his approach
> will undoubtedly require some reformulation.
>   As for dictionaries, it is much more difficult.  Believe it or not, one
> of the best dictionaries for classical Tibetan is still Sarat Chadra Das,
> _Tibetan-English Dictionary_ (1902), available from several publishers in
> India.  The only weakness is its coverage of tantra and the more abstruse
> philosophical vocabulary.  Jeffrey Hopkins's dictionary was an attempt to
> rectify this lacuna regarding tantra and philosophy, but it is not yet
> published and currently only an old only version is available online from
> the University of Virginia as part of the "Tibetan Dictionary Tool" (though
> be advise that the bulk of the data there is more quantity than quality and
> needs to be used with some caution).  I published a dictionary of Tibetan
> verbs a few years ago (_A Tibetan Verb Lexicon_ Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2003) as
> both a ready reference and prolegomenon to my "Classical Tibetan Reader"
> designed to be used in conjunction with Joe Wilson textbook, and which
> students tell me they find quite useful, though it has its own limitations
> as well (a second edition will require several more years of work).
>  Otherwise, there is the Tibetan-Tibetan-Chinese Dictionary from almost
> twenty years ago, but it is not for novice students, requiring a certain
> degree of facility in Tibetan to be useful and even then it is very weak in
> terms of philosophical vocabulary and is geared much more towards generic
> literature.
> Hope that helps.
> Best,
> Paul Hackett
> Columbia University

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