I came across this Tibetan meme on Facebook a few months ago. In true meme style, pithy as it is, it manages to encapsulate and gesture towards a great deal. The image shows an assortment of beaming non-Tibetan foreigners wearing traditional Tibetan dress. The top speech bubble says:
“We will learn spoken and written Tibetan and then we will teach it to you”Continue reading →
Tibetan can be a confusing language – not least because it isn’t really one language at all. There’s still no standardized form of either written or spoken Tibetan, even if there have been attempts to produce them, and when it comes to the spoken language there are many, many registers and regional variations of both grammar, syntax, pronunciation and vocabulary. Tibetan language(s) is/are also notoriously filled with homophones and homonyms – like French, many Tibetan dialects have a lot of ‘silent’ or almost silent letters, and words that are spelled quite differently on paper may sound very similar to each other depending on one’s regional accent. The same word, either in its written or spoken incarnation, may have various meanings, depending on the context. The following story demonstrates just how dangerous language ambiguity can be. Continue reading →
Living in India has taught me that Indian English has many cool and special features. One of these that I’ve noticed is that some people say “let’s catch up” when I would say “let’s meet up”, i.e. to mean let’s meet up, for the first time, as strangers, to get acquainted. When I first heard this my impulse was to protest Continue reading →
Today, I used Hozier’s song ‘Take me to Church’ as part of an English listening exercise with some Tibetan students. I chose the song strategically: it is loaded with Christian and sexual themes but also reframes these in surprising, perhaps even blasphemous ways. I figured that the song could provide a good lesson in how important cultural background can be for language comprehension and offer a nice parallel with things the students were more familiar with as Tibetan Buddhists: in this case, the much celebrated if somewhat scandalous poetry of Tsangyang Gyatso, the sixth Dalai Lama, who in the early 18th century bucking the bonds of his royal, monastic education, returned his vows of celibacy and wrote erotic poems laden with tantric Buddhist religious imagery.