Old Tibetan

Old Tibetan
Region Tibet
Era 7th–11th centuries, after which it became Classical Tibetan
Tibetan alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 otb
otb
Glottolog None

Old Tibetan refers to the period of Tibetan language reflected in documents from the adoption of writing by the Tibetan Empire in the mid-7th century to works of the early 11th century.

In 816 CE, during the reign of Sadnalegs, literary Tibetan underwent a thorough reform aimed at standardizing the language and vocabulary of the translations being made from Indian texts, and this resulted in what we now call Classical Tibetan.[1]

Phonology

Old Tibetan is characterised by many features that are lost in Classical Tibetan, including my- rather than m- before the vowels -i- and -e-, the cluster sts- which simplifies to s- in Classical Tibetan, and a reverse form of the "i" vowel letter (gi-gu).[2]

The following table is based on Hill's analysis of Old Tibetan:[2]

Labial Coronal Dorsal Glottal
Nasal
Plosive voiceless p t k (ʔ)
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless ts
voiced dz
Fricative voiceless s h
voiced z ɣ
Trill voiceless
voiced r
Approximant voiceless
voiced l j

Hill makes a distinction between <g.y> and <gy> since there is a minimal pair of g.yaṅ 'sheep' and gyaṅ 'also, and'. He argues for a distinction between <g.y> /gj/ and <gy> /gʲ/.[3]

Case system

Case morphology is affixed to entire noun phrases, not to individual words (i.e. Gruppenflexion). Old Tibetan distinguishes the same ten cases as Classical Tibetan:[4]

  • absolutive (morphologically unmarked)
  • genitive (གི་ -gi, གྱི་ -kyi, ཀྱི་ -gyi, འི་ -'i, ཡི་ -yi)
  • agentive (གིས་ -gis, གྱིས་ -kyis, ཀྱིས་ -gyis, ས་ -sa, ཡིས་ -yis)
  • locative (ན་ -na)
  • allative (ལ་ -la)
  • terminative (རུ་ -ru, སུ་ -su, ཏུ་ -tu, དུ་ -du, ར་ -ra)
  • comitative (དང་ -dang)
  • ablative (ནས་ -nas)
  • elative (ལས་ -las)
  • comparative (བས་ -bas)

However, whereas the locative, allative, and terminative gradually fell together in Classical Tibetan (and are referred to the indigenous grammatical tradition as the la don bdun), in Old Tibetan these three cases are clearly distinguished.[5]

Traditional Tibetan grammarians do not distinguish case markers in this manner, but rather distribute these case morphemes (excluding -dang and -bas) into the eight cases of Sanskrit.

Personal pronouns

Old Tibetan has three first person singular pronouns ང་ nga, བདག་ bdag, and ཁོ་བོ་ kho-bo, and three first person plural pronouns ངེད་ nged, བདག་ཅག་ bdag-cag, and འོ་སྐོལ་ 'o-skol. The second person pronouns include two singulars ཁྱོད་ khyod and ཁྱོ(ན)་འདའ་ khyo(n)-'da' and a plural ཁྱེད་ khyed.[6]

References

Works cited

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