Borderlands 2018: The Paradox of a Global Tibetan

  1. The Paradox: Diglossia. “Standard Writing” is not the same as “Standard Speech”

  2. What is “Standard Writing”?

    1. Tibetan Writing dates to the 7th century, Tibetan Empire

    2. It was a transparent orthography (1:1, sounds:symbols)

    3. Spelling & Vocabulary updated in 8th, 9th, & 10th centuries

    4. Spelling changes show trends that continue (like phonological change)

    5. But, standards freeze w/ fall of Tibetan Empire; modern writing remains highly conservative, esp. in spelling & vocabulary

  3. What is “Standard Speech”?

    1. What is “Tibetan Speech”? There is no “Tibetan language”; there are 25 Tibetan languages (that are not mutually intelligible)  

    2. “Standard Speech” is equated with one of these languages: Central Tibetan

    3. Central Tibetan has cont’d to flow & change since the 11th century...

      1. Loss. Silencing of consonant combinations, like how “knight” → “nite”

      2. Palatalization. Like how “got you” is pronounced “gah-cha”

      3. New Features. Tones arise. Evidential verb structures arise.   

    4. Consequence: transparent orthography → opaque, negatively affecting literacy

    5. What is “Diaspora Speech”? (A form that has cont’d to change)

      1. Dialect Leveling. “Standard Speech” develops naturally thru mixing of Tibetan languages & dialects; speakers work to understand/be understood thru communication accommodation across languages

      2. Social / Institutional Changes. A move from monolingual, close-knit families → multilingual peer groups changes language

      3. Occupational / Environment. A move from traditional nomad / farmer / monastic → student / business / NGO changes language

      4. These major shifts all affect language sounds, words, & grammar

    6. Consequences:

      1. We expect a positive correlation between grade level & reading level; in Diaspora, there is no correlation between education & literacy!

      2. Instead, 2 things correlate w/ literacy: 1) actual use; 2) place of birth

      3. 1/3 of Diaspora Tibetans report never using written language

      4. Good readers tend to be Tibet-born; poor reading correlates w/ Diaspora

  4. What does that mean for a Global Tibetan?

    1. Crossing borders creates major change in the lives of people; it affects the who, what, where, when, and why of language

    2. 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

    3. What will happen as Tibetan-speaking peoples, more and more frequently, cross linguistic borders inside Tibetan-speaking China?