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Tibetan Language Overview


From the Shambhala staff:

Interested in learning Tibetan or deepening your existing Tibetan language skills? Below is a guide to help you choose the right resources for your needs. We offer two tracks: one for those who plan on traveling or spending a longer period of time in India, Nepal, Bhutan, China, and Tibet; and another for those who are focused on classical written Tibetan for academic or practice purposes.

Spoken and Written Modern Tibetan

For those who are interested in learning spoken Tibetan for travel, field research, diplomacy, and more:

Learning Practical TibetanLearning Practical Tibetan

This book, for the casual traveler and aspiring student, offers a great overview, packed with practical examples for the casual student. It gives the basics of grammar and phonetics and offers practical sample dialogues. And it is small enough that you could easily take it with you on your adventure! It starts off with some basic grammar and vocabulary and then moves into dialogues for eating, shopping, visiting monasteries, transportation, and more.










The Manual of Standard TibetanManual of Standard Tibetan

In this comprehensive treatment of modern Tibetan, you'll learn about the everyday speech of Lhasa as it is currently used in Tibet and in the Tibetan diaspora. It not only places the language in its natural context but also highlights key aspects of Tibetan civilization and Vajrayana Buddhism. The manual, which consists of forty-one lessons, includes many drawings and photographs as well as two political and linguistic maps of Tibet. You'll find the appendices especially helpful as they outline the differences between written literary and spoken Tibetan; detail pronunciation; and explain the use of honorific words, compound terms, and transfers from other languages. Two CDs provide an essential aural complement to the manual, making it a very practical guide for more serious students.




Fluent TibetanFluent Tibetan

This book is a fully comprehensive course in spoken Tibetan which has MP3 files to support a real immersion experience. The most systematic and extensive course system now available for spoken Tibetan, Fluent Tibetan was developed by language experts working in conjunction with indigenous speakers at the University of Virginia. Based on government-approved courses for diplomats needing to learn a language quickly, the method acquaints students with the sounds and patterns of Tibetan speech through repetitive interactive drills, enabling the quick mastery of increasingly complex structures and thereby promoting rapid progress in speaking the language.





Translating Tibetan

The following materials are geared more to those wanting in-depth study of the written language of Tibet, including the classical and literary:

Translating Buddhism from TibetanTranslating Buddhism from Tibetan

This book is the foundation for the books that follow. It's a complete textbook on classical Tibetan suitable for beginning or intermediate students. Based on the system developed by Jeffrey Hopkins at the University of Virginia, it presents—in lessons with drills and reading exercises—a practical introduction to Tibetan grammar, syntax, and technical vocabulary used in Buddhist works on philosophy and meditation. A well-designed learning system, it serves as an introduction to reading and translating Tibetan as well as to Buddhist philosophy and meditation. Each chapter contains a vocabulary of helpful Buddhist terms. Students with prior experience will find that the seven appendices—which review the rules of pronunciation, grammar, and syntax—are an indispensable reference.


How to Read Classical Tibetan, Volume OneHow to Read Classical Tibetan, Volume One

Craig Preston, the author, recommends that people study Translating Buddhism from Tibetan as a preliminary to using this book. This is a complete language course built around the exposition of a famous Tibetan text, Summary of the General Path to Buddhahood, written at the beginning of the fifteenth century. All the language tools you need to work at your own pace are here in one place. You won't need a dictionary because all the words and particles are translated and explained in each occurrence, and there is a complete glossary at the end of the book. Every sentence is diagrammed and completely explained so that you can easily see how the words and particles are arranged to convey meaning. Because everything is explained in every sentence, you will learn to recognize the recurrent patterns, which makes the transition from learning words to reading sentences easier than it would be otherwise. As you study How to Read Classical Tibetan, you will learn to recognize the syntactic relationships you encounter, understand the meaning signified, and translate that meaning correctly into English.


How to Read Classical Tibetan, Volume TwoHow to Read Classical Tibetan, Volume Two

A follow-up to Volume One, this book assumes the reader is familiar with both the previous volume and Translating Buddhism from Tibetan.












A Tibetan Verb LexiconA Tibetan Verb Lexicon

This is the first Tibetan-to-English verb resource to be published in more than forty years. Much more than a mere translation of existing works, this lexicon was compiled employing statistical techniques and data and draws on sources spanning the 1,200 years of Tibet's classical literature, covering all major lineages. The lexicon contains over 1,700 root verb forms and phrasal verb subentries and incorporates a wide range of information not previously available in dictionary form. The individual entries are in Tibetan script and contain English meanings, Sanskrit equivalents, complete sentences drawn from the corpus of Tibetan classical literature, and related sentence structure information. An extensive introduction to contemporary linguistic theory as applied to Tibetan verbs provides the theoretical underpinnings of the lexicon. Paul Hackett, the author, strongly encourages readers to become familiar with Translating Buddhism from Tibetan before approaching this book.


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