Sino-Tibetan, Indo-European, and the word for ‘wheel’

The latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is “Sino-Tibetan *kolo ‘Wheel‘” (800 KB PDF), by Robert S. Bauer. Those of you who like historical linguistics should be sure to read this one.


That the horse-drawn chariot appeared suddenly in China in the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1500-1066 BC) has led some Western scholars to believe that it was not independently invented by the Chinese but was introduced there by Western invaders. This paper is based on the premise that there is a connection between the transmission of the horse-drawn chariot from the West into China and the origin of some words meaning “wheel” and “wheeled-vehicle” in Sino-Tibetan languages. In particular, the paper proposes that words for “wheel” in some northern Chinese dialects and Bodic (Tibetan) languages are ultimately derived from an Indo-European source. On the basis of the comparison of words for “wheel” from various Sinitic and Bodic languages, the author has reconstructed the Proto-Sino-Tibetan root *kolo “wheel” which is itself an Indo-European contact loanword.

This was first published in August 1994 as issue no. 47 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

Tibetan-English sample sentences

It seems like a good time for something related to Tibet.

The newest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers comprises 900 sample sentences in romanized Tibetan and English, the Tibetan being specifically Kham Tibetan.

From the introduction:

The reader is undoubtedly aware that written Tibetan radically differs from what is spoken and that there are also many differences in, for example, written Tibetan in Amdo regions and that of Lhasa. The value of this material is that it presents one of the most widely used Tibetan dialects as it is actually spoken.

Renchin-Jashe, a native of Yulshul (Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province where Kham is spoken, wrote these sentences using a system that he devised. I then edited the sentences…. We have tried throughout to present sentences that reflect Tibetan culture.

This issue is Kham Tibetan Language Materials (2.7 MB PDF), by Renchin-Jashe and Kevin Stuart.

Here are the first 15 of the 900 sentences.

  1. Qa e tel.
  2. Chou ghale-jiele en?
    Is your life well?
  3. Nga Norbu Sangbho yin.
    I’m Norbu Sangbho.
  4. Chou Doje e rei?
    Are you Doje?
  5. Nga yin.
    Yes, I am.
  6. Chou dhemo yin nam?
    How are you?
  7. Nga dhemo yin, tujeche.
    Fine, thanks.
  8. Droma dhele ghale e ree?
    How is Droma?
  9. Mo ni dhele ghale ree tujeche.
    She is very well, thank you.
  10. Chou dhehi eyou, Avo Qalsang?
    How are you, Mr. Qalsang?
  11. Ghongmo zang, Ashe Yudron.
    Good evening, Ms. Yudron.
  12. Ghong mo chou dhemo en?
    How are you this evening?
  13. Da do nub dhe mo jie Tshering.
    Good night Tshering.
  14. Ghashou, Dondrub.
    Good-bye, Dondrub.
  15. Sang nyin tutree zei.
    See you tomorrow.

The work also contains a guide to pronunciation and sentences for learners at the intermediate level.

It was first published in November 1993 as issue no. 42 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

The Gangou people of Qinghai / Koko Nor

The latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Interethnic Contact on the Inner Asian Frontier: The Gangou People of Minhe County, Qinghai (3.3 MB PDF), by FENG Lide and Kevin Stuart.

According to the authors, the Gangou people raise important questions as to the meaning of “Han” and indeed, to ethnic classification in China.

This work also contains a section on language in the area.

Here is the opening of the introduction, minus the Chinese characters:

China cultural studies have often pigeon-holed the subject in a convenient ethnic category giving cultural phenomena ethnic tabs. The preponderance of Han in China has meant that some minority groups or a substantial portion of the same have been sinicized to the extent that little remains of the original minority culture. Examples include the Manchu and nearly all minority people reared in urban areas.

Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to “Han” who have been much influenced by minority people, which this study focuses on. We have chosen a village in Qinghai that illustrates this. It is an area where multicultural contact and mingling have a history of more than 2,000 years. For example, in 202 BC, speakers of an eastern Iranian Indo-European language fled to Qinghai where they settled and were absorbed by Qiangh tribes. Succeeding centuries saw migrations of Xianbei, Xiongnu, Tuyuhun, Tibetans, Uygur, Mongolians, Han, and various Turkish stock into Qinghai, which formally became a province of China in 1928. Prior to that time, it was the Tibetan frontier district of the present Gansu Province (Schram 1954, 17-22).

The post-1949 period has seen a large influx of Han into Qinghai — particularly in urban areas.

This is issue no. 33 of Sino-Platonic Papers. It was first published in September 1992.

Tibet to eliminate illiteracy by 2010, says Xinhua

Of course, I don’t believe a word of this. But I’m putting it up here for reference.

Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region intends to reduce its illiteracy rate to less than five percent in 2007 and to less than three percent in 2010, a senior regional education official announced on Friday.

The ongoing campaign to eliminate illiteracy in the region mainly targets people aged 15 to 50, the official said. Last year 15 percent of that group were illiterate, down from 39 percent in 2000, he added.

According to the regional education authorities, literacy in the region means knowing 30 Tibetan letters by heart and being able to read a phonetic transcript of the Tibetan or being able to read and write 1,500 Chinese characters.

And another article on a related topic:

Wǒguó shǎoshù mínzú wénmáng bànwénmáng lǜ 10 nián xiàjiàng 16 ge bǎifēndiǎn

Guójiā Mín-wěi Jiàoyùsī jīchǔ jiàoyù chù chùzhǎng zhōu lì rìqián biǎoshì, jìn shí niánlái, mínzú dìqū de sǎománg gōngzuò chéngjì xiǎnzhù. Zhōu lì shì zài Xīníng zhàokāi de 2006 niándù Zhōngxībù sǎománg gōngzuò huìbào huì shàng zuò shàngshù biǎoshì de. Gēnjù 1990 nián de rénkǒu pǔchá tǒngjì zīliào, shǎoshù mínzú 15 suì jí 15 suì yǐshàng wénmáng bànwénmáng rénkǒu bǐlì shì 30.83%, dàoliǎo 2000 nián, zhèige bǐlì yǐjing xiàjiàng dào 14.54%, qízhōng Xīzàng, Qīnghǎi, Yúnnán, Guìzhōu, Gānsù, Níngxià děng liù shěngqū wénmáng lǜ xiàjiàng de fúdù gāoyú quánguó píngjūn fúdù de 14.55%. Zhōu lì shuō, shǎoshù mínzú 15 suì jí 15 suì yǐshàng wénmáng bànwénmáng rénkǒu bǐlì zài shí niánjiān xiàjiàng 16 ge bǎifēndiǎn, yǔguó jiā de zhīchí yǔ mínzú dìqū zìshēn de nǔlì fēnbukāi.

They forgot to add that all the children of the world will join hands and sing songs of joy and peace….


Microsoft, Dzongkha, and “dialects”

Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan, has been relegated to the status of a dialect of Tibetan in Microsoft products. Rather than being labelled “Dzongkha” or “Bhutan-Dzongkha,” it is identified as “Tibetan – Bhutan” in the recently released beta version of Windows Vista. This is apparently an official Microsoft policy, likely aimed at appeasing China.

Microsoft has barred the use of the Bhutanese government’s official term for the Bhutanese language, Dzongkha, in any of its products, citing that the term had affiliations with the Dalai Lama. In an internal memorandum, Microsoft employees were told not to use the term Dzongkha in any Microsoft software, language lists or promotional materials since “Doing so implies affiliation with the Dalai Lama, which is not acceptable to the government of China. In this instance, replace “Dzongkha” with ‘Tibetan – Bhutan’.”

The Kingdom of Bhutan is situated in the Himalayas between India and Tibet. The state religion is the Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and Dzongkha is the official language. Dzongkha has a linguistic relationship to modern Tibetan in a similar way to that between Spanish and Italian.

The use of the word Dzongkha was graded by Microsoft as a ‘ship-stopper’, which means that a product may not be produced in any form until the problem is resolved. Microsoft has four levels of error severity, ship-stopper being the most severe.

Likely uses of the term may have been in Language Lists for Microsoft products, particularly the upcoming release of the next version of the Microsoft Windows operating system, Windows Vista. (Source: Microsoft Sensitive to Chinese Pressure on Bhutan Tibet Link, Tibet News. )

I didn’t know anything about Dzongkha, so I did some searching and found this:

Dzongkha is the modern Bhutanese vernacular language derived from Old Tibetan through many centuries of separate evolution on Bhutanese soil. Modern Dzongkha differs from Classical Tibetan as much as modern French does from Classical Latin. Only a few decades ago, the first attempts were undertaken to write in the vernacular in Bhutan, and the strong liturgical tradition in Bhutan has maintained the use of Classical Tibetan as the literary language to the present day. (source)

If this is accurate, the situation sounds familiar: A literary language (Classical Chinese in China, Classical Tibetan in Bhutan, Latin in Europe) continued to be used long after it was no longer spoken by the masses because over time the language had evolved in different ways in different places, becoming new languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, etc., in China; Dzongkha and Tibetan in Bhutan and Tibet; French, Spanish, Italian, etc. in Europe). But because people in different locales primarily used the same literary language rather than writing in their own [modern] languages, their mutually unintelligible languages were mislabeled “dialects.”

But even if everyone in Europe were to switch to writing in Latin or even Italian, that wouldn’t make French, Spanish, Portuguese, etc., “dialects.” Similarly, the use of Modern Standard Mandarin in China as the written language doesn’t mean that Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Taiwanese, etc., aren’t all separate languages.

And, lest I pass over the issue of romanization, Dzongkha is written in the Tibetan script and also has an official romanization system, “Roman Dzongkha,” which makes use of all the letters of the Roman alphabet other than F, V, Q, and X. Its three diacritic marks are the apostrophe, the circumflex accent, and the diaeresis. Bhutan, however, is not expected to replace Bhutanese orthography with Roman Dzongkha.

And for Suzanne, here’s a Dzongkha keyboard.

additional source: Dzongkha: out of Windows?, Kuensel, Monday, September 26, 2005.