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Essentials of Modern Literary Tibetan A reading course and reference grammar

Essentials of Modern Literary Tibetan
A reading course and reference grammar
Item Code: ILL19
Author: Melvyn C. Goldstein with Gelek Rimpoche and Lobsang Phuntshog
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 812150581X
Pages: 516
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 5.9" x 7.5"

About the Book

"Half of the words are read by implications. "This Tibetan saying explains the main difficulty Westerners face in learning to read Tibetan fluently. Unlike previously available materials, this book will allow beginners to understand the logic of Tibetan grammar and syntax through graded reading and narrative explanations. The large glossary, which includes particles and is indexed by page, will serve as an invaluable reference for readers to Tibetan at all levels. The reading course includes the Tibetan alphabet and its pronunciation, as well as a wide range of modern literary styles from literature, history, current affairs, newspapers, and even communist political essays. Cassette tapes to assist students learning on their own are available through Case Western Reserve University's Center for Research on Tibet.

"This [grammar] will make the study of written Tibetan a lot easier and more pleasant than it has been up to now."
James A. Matisoff, University of California, Berkeley 

"The first really practical general grammar of the language."
F.K. Lehman, University of Illinois 

About the Authors

Melvyn C. Goldstein is Chairman of Anthropology at Case Western Reserve and serves as the Director of the Center for Research on Tibet. He has published numerous volumes on Tibetan culture, history and language.

Gelek Rimpoche is an incarnate Tibetan Lama who received his geshe degree from Drepung Monastery, and has taught Tibetan at Case Western Reserve University and the University of Michigan.

Lobsang Phuntshog is a Tibetan scholar who previously taught Tibetan at Tribuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal.


This Tibetan saying pithily summarizes the main difficulty Westerners face in learning to read Tibet fluently. A knowledge of the various particles that comprise the Tibetan grammar is essential for learning how to read Tibetan, but this is not sufficient by If. In all too many cases, the semantic context, that is to say, the meaning of what precedes and follows the clause or phrase in question, determines what the grammatical particles themselves mean.

This book, therefore, was written to assist beginners not only to master the multiplicity of Tibetan grammatical particles and markers, but also to develop the skills to cope with the semantic component of Tibetan grammar.

Lessons One and Two present the thirty letters of the Tibetan alphabet together With a description of how they are pronounced. Many instructional programs teach the pronunciation of written Tibetan by having students repeat the sounds after the instructor, and this is a good way to learn. However, for those readers who are using this book on Their own, Essentials of Modern Literary Tibetan provides an explanation of the main rules underlying pronunciation, and provides spoken Tibetan equivalents for the first five as well as a tape of these lessons (through Case Western Reserve University's Center for Research on Tibet). However, Essentials of Modern Literary Tibetan is not meant to be a textbook of spoken Tibetan. Spoken and written Tibetan pronunciations differ and this book will not devote a great deal of time to these differences or on subtleties of spoken pronunciation. The aim of including pronunciation rules here is simple-to teach users how to pronounce the letters and syllables they will be reading. Developing reading comprehension of modern written Tibetan is the goal of this book.

Students who have studied spoken Tibetan using Goldstein and Nornang's Modern Spoken Tibetan will notice that the system used to transcribe the spoken language here is slightly different. The current system simplifies the more linguistically complicated system used earlier by employing symbols for the Tibetan sounds which are closer to English equivalents and thus easier to learn. For example, the system used in this book no longer employs the letter /q/ for the Tibetan letter "I', but instead uses the most similar English letter-/g/-even though /g/ differs from the Tibetan sound by being voiced. The rationale for representing Tibetan sounds by a neutral letter such as /q/ was to avoid predisposing English speakers to voice the Tibetan sound, but I now believe that this approach has been counter-productive and has hampered students from readily learning how to pronounce Tibetan.

Essentials of Modern Literary Tibetan will teach reading skills in a range of genres of written Tibetan. It moves quickly to cover essential grammatical structures so that stories can be introduced. The sentences in the lessons in Part One utilize both the basic colloquial and literary written styles, but the readings reflect the neoclassical style which is the basis for both of these. This style is becoming the standard for modern literary Tibetan. The aim throughout the lessons is to accustom the reader to understand more and more complex (and, therefore, more realistic) constructions. Part One provides a solid foundation in Tibetan morphology, syntax, and vocabulary.

Part Two contains both lessons and extended reading examples taken from novels, folk tales, histories, newspapers and magazines. Throughout the book the readings are translated as close to the original Tibetan as possible, even if this results in somewhat awkward English constructions. We hope this will facilitate the rapid comprehension of the basic principles involved.

Part Three consists of an English-Tibetan Glossary, a verb declension chart listing the different stems of the verbs used in the book, and an appendix with five selections illustrating the genre of communist political essays.

A critical dimension of this book is its ability to be used as a reference grammar. The large glossary at the end of the book lists each grammatical particle or construction used in the text together with the lesson and sub-section(s) where it occurs and is explained. Consequently, whenever the user comes across an unfamiliar particle, whether one month or five years after the initial encounter in the lessons, it will be easy to find the section or sections that explain and give examples of this particle.

This text, therefore, provides a step-by-step graded introduction to basic Tibetan syntax and grammar, a solid working vocabulary, and a permanent reference grammar which can be referred to long after these lessons have been completed.





List of Abbreviations

Part One

Lesson One

1.1 Introduction to the Tibetan Language
1.2 Tone
1.3 Vowel length
1.4 The thirty written letters
1.4.1 Steps in writing Tibetan letters
1.4.2 The consonants
1.4.3 The consonants
1.4.4 The consonants
1.4.5 The consonants
1.4.5 The consonants
1.5 Vowels
1.6 Pronunciation drill
1.7 Structure and pronunciation of complex syllables
1.7.1 Complex syllables
1.7.2 Slot-4 (suffixed letters)  The suffixed letter  The suffixed letter  The suffixed letter  The suffixed letter  The suffixed letter  The suffixed letter  The suffixed letter  The suffixed letter  The suffixed letter
1.7.3 Slot-5 consonants
1.8 The syllabic nature of the Tibetan language
1.9 Sentence and verb types: introduction
1.10 Linking verbs and sentences
1.11 Question formations
1.12 Vocabulary

Lesson Two

2.1 The Alphabet, continued: Slot-1 (prefixed letters)
2.2 Slot-3 (subfixed letters)
2.2.1 The subfixed letter
2.2.2 The subfixed letter
2.2.3 The subfixed letter
2.3 Slot-2 (suprafixed letters)
2.4 Exercise : Write the pronunciation of the following syllables
2.5 The pronunciation of disyllabic compounds
2.6 Existential verbs and sentences
2.6.1 The dative-locative case
2.6.2 Possessive constructions with the dative-locative case
2.7 Linking and existential verbs used in adjectival constructions
2.8 Negation of linking and existential verbs
2.9 Question formation with interrogative words
2.10 Reference section: Looking up words in the glossary and new vocabulary sections
2.11 Reading exercise
2.12 Vocabulary

Lesson Three

3.1 The subject of active sentences and the instrumental case
3.2 Plurality and singularity
3.2.1 Singularity
3.2.2 Plural words and postpositions
3.3 Complex subject and object constructions
3.3.1 Complex subjects
3.3.2 The Complex object
3.3.3 The active verb
3.4 Simple past tense
3.5 Present tense
3.6 Usual constructions
3.7 Future tense
3.8 Active verbs in interrogative constructions
3.9 Sentence final marker
3.10 Reading exercise
3.11 Vocabulary

Lesson Four

4.1 Clause construction : introduction
4.2 The connective
4.3 The temporal connectives
4.4 Marking quotations and naming names
4.5 Review of the declension of pronouns
4.6 Reading exercise
4.6.1 Tibetan text
4.6.2 Interlinear translation / pronunciation
4.6.3 Translation
4.6.4 Grammatical notes
4.7 Vocabulary

Lesson Five

5.1 Involuntary verbs and sentences
5.2 Location and indirect objects in involuntary constructions
5.3 Constructions
5.4 Tense and temporals in existential and linking constructions
5.5 Temporals in active and involuntary constructions
5.6 Verbalizers: object-verb compounds
5.7 Verbs of motion
5.7.1 Active verbs
5.7.2 Involuntary verbs of motion
5.8 Honorific language
5.9 The "casual" connective
5.10 The "when" connectives
5.11 The "gerundive" connectives
5.11.1 The temporal-casual function
5.11.2 The abverbial or simultaneous function
5.11.3 The defining function
5.12 The "conjunctive" connectives
5.13 The "purposive" connectives
5.14 The genitive case
5.15 Infinitive usage
5.16 The "agentive" verbal particles
5.17 Reading exercise: "The Rabbit Takes Revenge"
5.17.1 Tibetan text
5.17.2 Interlinear translation
5.17.3 Translation
5.17.4 Grammatical notes
5.18 Vocabulary

Lesson Six

6.1 The conditional ("if") clause connectives
6.2 The "as soon as" clause connectives
6.3 Negation of active and involuntary verbs
6.4 The enumerative particles
6.5 Adverbials
6.5.1 The adverbializing particles particles: [genitive particle]
6.5.2 The instrumental particles as adverbializers
6.5.3 The dative-locative particles as adverbializers
6.5.4 The particle as adverbializers
6.5.5 Adverbs
6.6 Nominalization with
6.6.1 Positive constructions
6.6.2 Negative nominalized constructions with
6.6.3 Nominalized constructions with the dative-locative
6.6.4 Negative constructions with the dative-locative
6.7 The use of
6.7.1 Future constructions
6.7.2 Past constructions
6.7.3 Existential constructions
6.7.4 Other constructions
6.8 The "pretend" particles
6.9 The auxiliary verb
6.10 Reading exercise: "A Wolf Has Arrived"
6.10.1 Tibetan text
6.10.2 Interlinear translation
6.10.3 Translation
6.10.4 Grammatical notes
6.11 Vocabulary

Lesson Seven

7.1 The "not only" clause connectives
7.2  The "even though" clause connectives
7.3 The "plan/intend to" clause connective
7.4 The "before" clause connective
7.5 The verb ("to have to, want")
7.5.1 Used alone as a main verb
7.5.2 Used in conjunction with active verbs
7.5.3 Non-past constructions
7.5.4 The usual complement
7.5.5 Constructions in the past conveying completed action
7.5.6 The use of in two-verb constructions
7.5.7 Further examples of with connectives in dependent clauses
7.6 Constructions using
7.7 Constructions with the verb
7.8 Constructions expressing "certainty"
7.9 The "together with" clause connectives
7.10 The "according to" clause connectives
7.11 The "about to" clause connectives
7.12 Polite imperative
7.13 "Help" constructions
7.14 Reading exercises
7.14.1 Reading number one: "Agu donba and a Rich Man" Tibetan text Interlinear translation Translation Grammatical notes
7.14.2 Reading number two: "Coming from Afghanistan to Pakistan" Tibetan text Interlinear translation Translation Grammatical notes
7.15 Vocabulary

Lesson Eight

8.1 Cardinal number
8.2 Ordinal number
8.3 Percentages
8.4 Months
8.5 Tibetan numerals
8.6 "Or" and "whether or not" constructions
8.7 "With" constructions using
8.8 "Coincidental" constructions
8.9 Constructions using
8.10 Reading exercise: "The Golden Axe"
8.10.1 Tibetan text
8.10.2 Translation
8.10.3 Grammatical notes
8.11 Vocabulary

Part Two

Lesson Nine

9.1 Constructions with ("way, means")
9.2 The auxiliary verb "to dare to"
9.3 The "let alone/far from" clause connectives
9.4 The "excluding" clause connective"
9.5 The "danger of" clause connective
9.6 The auxiliary verb: "to experience"
9.7 "Seem" constructions using
9.8 The "complete/finished" auxiliary verbs
9.9 Emphatic negative adverbs
9.10 "Wand" constructions using
9.11 "Hope" constructions using
9.12 "Manner" constructions
9.13 Perfect tense
9.14 "Would have" constructions
9.15 The "be fit/worthy" particles
9.16 The "possible" auxiliary verb
9.17 Reading exercises
9.17.1 Reading number one: "The Wolf and the Hunter" Tibetan text Translation Grammatical notes
9.17.2 Reading number two: "The Brief History of Ramoche (Temple)'s Jo (Statue)" Tibetan text Translation Grammatical notes
9.18 Vocabulary

Lesson Ten

10.1 The "while" clause connective
10.2 Past-present construction
10.3 Adjectives and adjectival constructions
10.3.1 Basic adjective form
10.3.2 The comparative form of adjectives
10.3.3 Augmentation of nominalized adjective stems with the particles
10.3.4 The superlative degree
10.3.5 Excessive constructions
10.3.6 Derived adjectives
10.3.7 Conjunction of adjectives
10.3.8 Adjectival constructions using
10.4 Verbal construction using
10.4.1 As a verbal clause connective
10.4.2 As a verbal clause connective
10.5 Verbal constructions using
10.6 The "unless" clause connective
10.7 As a clause connective expressing "except for"
10.8 "Each" constructions using
10.9 Constructions with the verb "to change, alter"
10.10 "Without" clause connective constructions using
10.11 "Until" clause connective constructions using
10.12 Constructions with
10.13 The "location" particles
10.14 "Like what," "how," and "what kind of" constructions
10.15 Reading exercises
10.15.1 Reading number one: "Agu donba Cuts Down a Walnut Tree" Tibetan text Translation Grammatical notes
10.15.2 Reading number two: "The Prayer-Festival Holiday" Tibetan text Translation Grammatical notes
10.16 Vocabulary

Lesson Eleven

11.1 The "time to do" auxiliary verb
11.2 Construction using the phrases
11.3 Constructions using
11.4 Constructions using the phrase
11.5 Constructions using the pattern
11.6 Constructions using
11.7 Causative constructions
11.7.1 Construction using
11.7.2 Construction using
11.7.3 Construction using
11.8 "Let" or "allow" constructions using the verb
11.9 "Allow" constructions using the auxiliary verb
11.10 "I'll do" volunteering constructions using the auxiliary verb
11.11 "Ready to do" constructions using
11.12 "Approve" or "agree" constructions using
11.13 "No choice" and "no way" constructions using
11.14 Constructions using the idea of "about" and "concerning"
11.15 Rhetorical negative constructions
11.16 Double negatives
11.17 Double negative constructions with
11.18 Double negative constructions with
11.19 Constructions with
11.20 Reading exercises
11.20.1 Reading number one: "The Urine of the Precious Gem" Tibetan text Translation Grammatical notes
11.20.2 Reading number two: "The Origin of Shodon [The 'Curd' or 'Opera' Festival]" Tibetan text Translation Grammatical notes
11.20.3 Reading number three: "Concerning the National Minorities in China" Tibetan text Translation Grammatical notes
11.21 Vocabulary

Lesson Twelve

12.1 Constructions with the particle
12.1.1 The "on" function of
12.1.2 The "via" function of
12.1.3 The "in addition to" function of
12.1.4 The "during," "at the time of," and "when" function of
12.1.5 The "concerning" function of
12.2 Verbal constructions using
12.3 "Shouldn't constructions
12.4 "What kind of" constructions
12.5 "Lots of ways" constructions
12.6 "By all means/in all respect" constructions
12.7 "To whom" constructions
12.8 "Whose and "by whom" constructions
12.9 "Why" constructions
12.10 "Everywhere" constructions
12.11 "It's a pity" constructions
12.12 "However much...that much" constructions
12.13 "How could" constructions with
12.14 Constructions with
12.15 "According to" and "based on" constructions with
12.16 "Go right ahead" constructions with
12.17 "Everything" constructions with
12.18 "Immediately" constructions with
12.19 "May it come" constructions
12.20 Reading exercises
12.20.1 Reading number one: "The Love of the Male and Female Swan" Tibetan text Translation Grammatical notes
12.20.2 Reading number two: "The Wish-Fulfilling Gem Necklace" Tibetan text Translation Grammatical notes
12.21 Vocabulary

Lesson Thirteen

13.1 Word formation : introduction
13.1.1 Nominal compounds
13.1.2 Synonymic compound
13.1.3 Premodifying compounds
13.1.4 Conjunctive compounds
13.1.5 Polar compounds
13.1.6 Adjectival polar compounds
13.1.7 Adjectival postmodifying compound
13.1.8 Verbal compounds Premodifying compounds Synonymic compounds Verbal summation compounds Verbal polar compounds Verbal premodifying compounds Verbal premodifying compounds Verbal sequential compounds
13.1.9 Quadrisyllabic compounds
13.2 "Time to do" particles
13.3 Constructions
13.4 Constructions
13.5 Reading exercise: "The Wish-Fulfilling Gem Necklace," continued from Lesson 12
13.5.1 Tibetan text
13.5.2 Translation
13.5.3 Grammatical notes
13.6 Vocabulary

Lesson Fourteen

14.1 Construction using the verb as an auxiliary
14.2 The "do again" particle
14.3 The auxiliary verb
14.4 Hypothetical constructions
14.5 "For example" constructions
14.6 Constructions using
14.7 Constructions with
14.8 Reading exercise: "The Wish-Fulfilling Gem Necklace," continued from Lesson 13
14.8.1 Tibetan text
14.8.2 Translation
14.8.3 Grammatical notes
14.9 Vocabulary

Lesson Fifteen

15.1 Constructions
15.2 Constructions using
15.3 "Manner of" constructions using
15.4 Constructions
15.5 Alternative constructions
15.6 Constructions
15.7 Constructions
15.8 Reading exercise: "Chapter One: Meeting the Jowo"
15.8.1 Tibetan text
15.8.2 Translation
15.8.3 Grammatical notes
15.9 Vocabulary

Lesson Sixteen

16.1 Introduction
16.1.1 Reading number one: "The Sequence of Events Regarding the Problems Between Reting and Takdra, and the Summoning of the Ex-Reger Reting from Reting Monastery" by Lhalu, Tsewang Dorje Tibetan text Translation Grammatical notes
16.1.2 Reading number two: "Recollections of My Father Dorje Tsegye Lungshar," by Lhalu, Tsewang Dorje Tibetan text Translation Grammatical notes
16.2 Vocabulary

Part Three

Tibetan-English Glossary

Appendix A: Verb Declension Table

Appendix B: Pronunciation Drill

Appendix C: Supplementary Reading in the Genre of Communist Political Essays

   1. Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China concerning the Great Proletarian Culture Revolution

   2. Concerning Liu Shaoqi

   3. The Tungxing Reservoir and Hydroelectric Station-A Result of Sino-Vietnamese Friendship

   4. The "Golden Bride" of Unity and Happiness

   5. Proclamation of the Chinese People's Liberation Army


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