For many centuries Tibet has been a terra incognita-little or nothing being known about it, as regards either its physical conditions or its inner life.
Not, indeed. till a few years ago, when a British force entered Lhasa, the” Place of the minor gods,” was the veil withdrawn; and even then the withdrawal was only partial, transient; and very local.
As for the language, though there have been several gallant attempts to plunge into the labyrinthine obscurities of its construction-notably on the part of Alexander Csoma de Koros in 1834 and subsequently of H. A. Jaschke-that also, it must be confessed, remains more or less a mystery; for no one, I take it, is likely to aver that the present state of our knowledge on the subject is at all satisfactory.
Much, no doubt, has been contributed by the more recent labours of Rai Sarat Chandra Das Bahadur, Mr. Vincent Henderson, the Rev. Edward Amundsen, and Mr. C. A. Bell, I.C.S. But, in spite of all, even they, and everyone else who has taken up the study, will admit that. wherever one treads, the ground still feels uncomfortably shaky, especially in regard to certain aspects of the so-called verb; wherever he gropes there is something that seems ever to elude him; and, amid the weird philological phantoms that flit uncertainly around in the prevailing gloom, his constant cry, I feel very sure, is still one for more light.
I do not for one moment claim for this grammar the character of a scientific work. Many years ago when I was studying the language in Darjeeling, under Kazi Dawa Sam Dup-a particularly intelligent and scholarly Tibetan-it was my habit during the course of my morning’s lesson to make notes of what I then learnt. After a time these notes became so numerous that for my own convenience I was obliged to reduce them to some degree of order. These ordered notes themselves growing in bulk, the idea occurred to me that I might just as well put them into the form of a book, and this I did-the result being- a MS which has long lain by me, but which is now about to be published.
It is merely another attempt on the part of one who has tried to profit. by the works of others, to re-state (originally for his own private satisfaction) what has •already been achieved in a field of obscure and somewhat difficult research; to correct or modify previous effort, wherever correction or modification seemed necessary or desira.ble; and even, to some extent, to supplement it in one or’ two respects which appeared to be susceptible of further elucidation and expansion.
Both Literary and Colloquial Tibetan have been dealt with, the particular dialect chosen for exposition being that standard one, known as the which is now spoken in and around the centre of Tibetan Civilisation-Lhasa.
This is the dialect in which; as the result of centuries of developing Lamaic culture, the phonetic values of Tibetan are found to have undergone a greater degree of change from those of the original speech than any of the other dialects.
in other regions of Tibet, it is said, the prefixes, superposed letters, and suffixes, are still more or less pronounced as of old, and the original vowel-sounds are still more or less unaltered, in a degree corresponding to the remoteness of the speakers from, or their proximity to, the Holy City.
The difficulties confronting the student of Tibetan are considerably enhanced by the fact that in addition to the Literary Language and the Modern Colloquial, it also possesses a totally different vocabulary the employment of which is de rigueur when one is conversing or corresponding with a person of quality. This is known as the Honorific Language; and besides that there is another called the High Honorific, which is only used when addressing exalted personages such as the Dalai Lama or the Tashi Lama, With these honorific forms of speech, however, this work is not particularly concerned. The student, if so inclined, pan easily hunt them up for himself, after he has acquired a working knowledge of the ordinary literary or book language and the modern colloquial.
Attention is particularly invited to the earlier paragraphs of the Grammar dealing with the important subject of Pronunciation, in which an endeavour has been made, on principles more systematic and accurate than those hitherto in vogue, to ascertain, fix, and express in roman characters, the subtle distinctions that lurk between the numerous phonetic values of the Tibetan consonants and vowels; also
to the paragraph explanatory of the use of the Tibetan Dictionary ; and to the tabular statement showing what dominant consonants in a Tibetan word take particular prefixes.
A paragraph has also been exclusively devoted to an exhaustive treatment of the subject of Spelling. This is a most useful accomplishment, and one that the student should take some pains to acquire.
The so-called verb has also been elaborately treated in the body of the book; but in the appendices a novel and perhaps somewhat risky attempt has been made (how far successfully remains to be seen) to present it in the guise of skeleton conjugations or paradigms. These forms, however, should not be taken too literally, as they are not always absolute or rigid expressions, but are liable to frequent modification, or moulding, in accordance with the elusive and temporizing genius of the Tibetan sentence, the construction of which is unique, and can only be appreciated after much mental effort and distress.
Children’s Books (473)
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