The Paradox: Diglossia. “Standard Writing” is not the same as “Standard Speech”
What is “Standard Writing”?
Tibetan Writing dates to the 7th century, Tibetan Empire
It was a transparent orthography (1:1, sounds:symbols)
Spelling & Vocabulary updated in 8th, 9th, & 10th centuries
Spelling changes show trends that continue (like phonological change)
But, standards freeze w/ fall of Tibetan Empire; modern writing remains highly conservative, esp. in spelling & vocabulary
What is “Standard Speech”?
What is “Tibetan Speech”? There is no “Tibetan language”; there are 25 Tibetan languages (that are not mutually intelligible)
“Standard Speech” is equated with one of these languages: Central Tibetan
Central Tibetan has cont’d to flow & change since the 11th century...
Consequence: transparent orthography → opaque, negatively affecting literacy
What is “Diaspora Speech”? (A form that has cont’d to change)
Social / Institutional Changes. A move from monolingual, close-knit families → multilingual peer groups changes language
Occupational / Environment. A move from traditional nomad / farmer / monastic → student / business / NGO changes language
These major shifts all affect language sounds, words, & grammar
We expect a positive correlation between grade level & reading level; in Diaspora, there is no correlation between education & literacy!
Instead, 2 things correlate w/ literacy: 1) actual use; 2) place of birth
1/3 of Diaspora Tibetans report never using written language
Good readers tend to be Tibet-born; poor reading correlates w/ Diaspora
What does that mean for a Global Tibetan?
Crossing borders creates major change in the lives of people; it affects the who, what, where, when, and why of language
Standardization, as a natural process, is language change; for Tibetan, this intensifies diglossia, widening the gap btwn “how Standard Tibetan is spoken” and “how Standard Tibetan is written” → paradox of two “Standard Tibetan”s
What will happen as Tibetan-speaking peoples, more and more frequently, cross linguistic borders inside Tibetan-speaking China?