Tibetan Grammar - Formation of the Tibetan Syllable

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WORK IN PROGRESS: the grammar articles are being edited for wiki publication. During editing, the content might be incomplete, out of sequence or even misleading.

Articles on Tibetan Grammar
1. Introduction
2. Formation of the Tibetan Syllable
3. Formation of the Tibetan Word
4. First case: ming tsam
5. agentive particle
6. Connective Particle
7. La don particles
8. La don particles—Notes
9. Originative case
10. Verbs
11. Verbs—Notes
12. Syntactic particles

by Stefan J. Eckel

Contents

Formation of the Tibetan syllable

Overview

The Tibetan alphabet

Tibetan.png
This section contains Tibetan script. Without proper Tibetan rendering support configured, you may see other symbols instead of Tibetan script.
unaspirated, high-
tone, unvoiced
aspirated, high-
tone, unvoiced
aspirated, low-
tone, unvoiced[1]
nasal
1. column 2. column 3. column 4. column
1 ཀ་   ka ཁ་   kha ག་   kha (ga) ང་   nga
2 ཅ་   ca ཆ་   cha ཇ་   cha (ja) ཉ་   nya
3 ཏ་   ta ཐ་   tha ད་   tha (da) ན་   na
4 པ་   pa ཕ་   pha བ་   pha (ba) མ་   ma
5 ཙ་   tsa ཚ་   tsha ཛ་   dza [2] ཝ་   wa [3]
6 ཞ་   zha ཟ་   za འ་   a ཡ་   ya
7 ར་   ra ལ་   la ཤ་   sha ས་   sa
8 ཧ་   ha ཨ་   a
  • Important: The column rules in regard to the pronunciation (unaspirated, aspirated etc.) only apply to the first to fifth row.


Tibetan names of the components of a syllable

དབྱངས་༼ཨི་ཨེ་ཨོ་༽
vowel (i, e, o)
མགོ་ཡིག་
superscribed letter
སྔོན་འཇུག་
prefix letter
མིང་གཞི་
root letter
རྗེས་འཇུག་
postfix letter
ཡང་འཇུག་
second postfix letter
ཚེག་
dot
འདོགས་ཡིག་
subscribed letter
དབྱངས་༼ཨུ་༽
vowel (u)


Letters that are used for the different components of a syllable

Position Letter
root letter, མིང་གཞི་ the whole alphabet except for the vowels i, u, e, o which need ཨ་ or འ་ as a "vowel-carrier"
prefix letters, སྔོན་འཇུག་ ག་ ད་ བ་ མ་ འ་
superscribed letters, མགོ་ཡིག་ ར་ ལ་ ས་
subscribed letters, འདོགས་ཡིག་ ཡ་ ར་ ལ་ ཝ་
postfix letters, རྗེས་འཇུག་ ག་ ང་ ད་ ན་ བ་ མ་ འ་ ར་ ལ་ ས་
second postfix letters, ཡང་འཇུག་ ས་ ད་


Examples

  • བདག་


སྔོན་འཇུག་
prefix letter


མིང་གཞི་
root letter


རྗེས་འཇུག་
postfix letter


ཚེག་
dot


  • ཀྱང་


མིང་གཞི་
root letter


རྗེས་འཇུག་
postfix letter


ཚེག་
dot


འདོགས་ཡིག་
subscribed letter


  • བསྒྲུབས་


མགོ་ཡིག་
superscribed letter


སྔོན་འཇུག་
prefix letter


མིང་གཞི་
root letter


རྗེས་འཇུག་
postfix letter


ཡང་འཇུག་
second postfix letter


ཚེག་
dot


འདོགས་ཡིག་
subscribed letter


དབྱངས་༼ཨུ་༽
vowel (u)


  • དབྱིངས་
  ི

དབྱངས་༼ཨི་ཨེ་ཨོ་༽
vowel (i, e, o)


སྔོན་འཇུག་
prefix letter


མིང་གཞི་
root letter


རྗེས་འཇུག་
postfix letter


ཡང་འཇུག་
second postfix letter


ཚེག་
dot


འདོགས་ཡིག་
subscribed letter


Combinations of letter forming a syllable

Vowels

  •  i   ི  e   ེ  o   ོ are written above the root letter.
  •  u  ུ is written below the root letter.

E.g.:

  • ལ་ +   ི = ལི་


  • ང་ +  ུ = ངུ་


  • མ་ +   ེ = མེ་


  • ཁ་ +   ོ = ཁོ་

Subscribed letters

Subscribed letters, འདོགས་ཡིག་: ཡ་ ར་ ལ་ ཝ་
Position Letter/Stack
ཡ་ is used under
and becomes  
ཀ་ ཁ་ ག་ པ་ ཕ་ བ་ མ་ རྐ་ རྒ་ རྨ་ སྐ་ སྒ་ སྤ་ སྦ་ སྨ་
ཀྱ་ ཁྱ་ གྱ་ པྱ་ ཕྱ་ བྱ་ མྱ་ རྐྱ་ རྒྱ་ རྨྱ་ སྐྱ་ སྒྱ་ སྤྱ་ སྦྱ་ སྨྱ་
ར་ is used under
and becomes  
ཀ་ ཁ་ ག་ ཏ་ ཐ་ ད་ པ་ ཕ་ བ་ མ་ ཤ་ ས་ ཧ་ སྐ་ སྒ་ སྤ་ སྦྲ་ སྨ་ སྣ་
ཀྲ་ ཁྲ་ གྲ་ ཏྲ་ ཐྲ་ དྲ་ པྲ་ ཕྲ་ བྲ་ མྲ་ ཤྲ་ སྲ་ ཧྲ་ སྐྲ་ སྒྲ་ སྤྲ་ སྦྲ་ སྨྲ་ སྣྲ་
*
ལ་ is used under
and does not change
ཀ་ ག་ བ་ ཟ་ ར་ ས་
ཀླ་ གླ་ བླ་ ཟླ་ རླ་ སླ་
ཝ་ is used under
and becomes  
ཀ་ ཁ་ ག་ ཅ་ ཉ་ ཏ་ ད་ ཙ་ ཚ་ ཞ་ ཟ་ ར་ ལ་ ཤ་ ས་ ཧ་ གྲ་ དྲ་ ཕྱ་ རྒ་ རྩ་
ཀྭ་ ཁྭ་ གྭ་ ཅྭ་ ཉྭ་ ཏྭ་ དྭ་ ཙྭ་ ཚྭ་ ཞྭ་ ཟྭ་ རྭ་ ལྭ་ ཤྭ་ སྭ་ ཧྭ་ གྲྭ་ དྲྭ་ ཕྱྭ་ རྒྭ་ རྩྭ་
**
* Some of them are rare, for example, in the Great Tibetan-Chinese Dictionary, བོད་རྒྱ་ཚིག་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་ there are only three syllables with སྣྲ.
** All of them are rare, many of them very rare.
Changes in tone, aspiration and pronunciation with subscribed letters
  • Subscribed letters don’t cause any changes in tone and / or aspiration.
Subscribed ཡ་, ཡ་བཏགས་
  • ཀྱ་, རྐྱ་, སྐྱ་, are pronounced /kya/, high tone
  • ཁྱ་, is pronounced /khya/, high tone
  • གྱ་, is pronounced /khya/, low tone


  • པྱ་ སྤྱ་ are pronounced same as ཅ་, high tone
  • ཕྱ་ is pronounced same as ཆ་, high tone
  • བྱ་ is pronounced same as ཇ་, low tone
  • མྱ་ is pronounced same as ཉ་, low tone

Which means that the pronunciation for the labial letters becomes the same as that of the palatal letters of their respective column with the corresponding tone, voicing and aspiration.

  • རྒྱ་ རྨྱ་ སྒྱ་ སྦྱ་ སྨྱ་ are pronounced like གྱ་ མྱ་ བྱ་ respectively, but with changes in voicing, tone and aspiration according to the changes caused by superscript letter. The consonants of the third column become voiced and non-aspirated, staying low tone. The nasals become high tone. (see below)


Subscribed ར་, ར་བཏགས་
  • ཀྲ་ ཏྲ་ པྲ་ སྐྲ་ སྤྲ་ The consonants of the first column are pronounced as a retroflex /tra/, high tone.
  • ཁྲ་ ཐྲ་ ཕྲ་ The consonants of the second column are pronounced as a retroflex /thra/, high tone.
  • གྲ་ དྲ་ བྲ་ The consonants of the third column are pronounced as a retroflex /thra/, low tone.

Which means that they all become a retroflex t-r-sound with the corresponding tone, voicing and aspiration of their respective column.

  • སྒྲ་ སྦྲ་ སྨྲ་ are pronounced like གྲ་ བྲ་ མྲ་ respectively, but with changes in voicing, tone and aspiration according to the changes caused by superscript letter. The consonants of the third column become voiced and non-aspirated, staying low tone. The nasals become high tone. (see below)
  • མྲ་ སྲ་ no changes in pronunciation
  • ཧྲ་ pronounced /hra/, high tone, unvoiced
  • ཤྲ་* pronounced shra
* The Great Tibetan-Chinese Dictionary, བོད་རྒྱ་ཚིག་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་ gives ཤྲ་ ཤྲི་ ཤྲཱི་, and they are all exclusively used for Sanskrit phonemes.
  • སྣྲ་ pronounced same as སྣ་ (high tone)


Subscribed ལ་, ལ་བཏགས་
  • ཀླ་ གླ་ བླ་ རླ་ སླ་ are pronounced as a high tone /la/.

The exception:

  • ཟླ་ is pronounced /da/, low tone, non-aspirated, voiced;
  • ཟླ་བ་, /da wa/, the moon;
  • ཟླུག་པ་, /dug pa/, to pour, to ask about


Subscribed ཝ་, ཝ་ཟུར་
  • ཀྭ་ ཁྭ་ གྭ་ ཅྭ་ ཉྭ་ ཏྭ་ དྭ་ ཙྭ་ ཚྭ་ ཞྭ་ ཟྭ་ རྭ་ ལྭ་ ཤྭ་ སྭ་ ཧྭ་ གྲྭ་ དྲྭ་ ཕྱྭ་ རྒྭ་ རྩྭ, the ཝ་ཟུར་ causes no changes in pronunciation.


Superscribed letters

Superscribed letters, མགོ་ཡིག་: ར་ ལ་ ས་
Position Letter/Stack
ར་ is used above
and becomes*
ཀ་ ག་ ང་ ཇ་ ཉ་ ཏ་ ད་ ན་ བ་ མ་ ཙ་ ཛ་[4] ཀྱ་ གྱ་ མྱ་
རྐ་ རྒ་ རྔ་ རྗ་ རྙ་ རྟ་ རྡ་ རྣ་ རྦ་ རྨ་ རྩ་ རྫ་   རྐྱ་ རྒྱ་ རྨྱ་
ལ་ is used above
and doesn’t change
ཀ་ ག་ ང་ ཅ་ ཇ་ ཏ་ ད་ པ་ བ་ ཧ་
ལྐ་ ལྒ་ ལྔ་ ལྕ་ ལྗ་ ལྟ་ ལྡ་ ལྤ་ ལྦ་ ལྷ་
་ is used above
and doesn’t change
ཀ་ ག་ ང་ ཉ་ ཏ་ ད་ ན་ པ་ བ་ མ་ ཙ་ ཀྱ་ གྱ་ པྱ་ བྱ་ མྱ་ ཀྲ་ གྲ་ པྲ་ མྲ་ ནྲ་
སྐ་ སྒ་ སྔ་ སྙ་ སྟ་ སྡ་ སྣ་ སྤ་ སྦ་ སྨ་ སྩ་ སྐྱ་ སྒྱ་ སྤྱ་ སྦྱ་ སྨྱ་ སྐྲ་ སྒྲ་ སྤྲ་ སྨྲ་ སྣྲ་
**
* རྙ་ being the exception with a 'full' ར་.
** སྣྲ་ only come in this combination (not as ནྲ་).
Changes in tone, aspiration and pronunciation with superscribed letters
All superscribed letter cause the same change in pronunciation to the same group of consonants. The consonants of the first column have no changes in pronunciation. There are no consonants of the second column with superscribed letter.
  • The consonants of the third column become voiced and non-aspirated, staying low tone.
གུ་, /khu/, inside; extent — རྒུ་, /gu/, many, several
དོ་, /tho/, a pair, match — རྡོ་, /do/, stone; core, main point
  • The nasals, the fourth column root letters, become high tone.
ང་, /nga/ (low tone), I, me — ལྔ་, /nga/ (high tone), five — རྔ་, /nga/ (high tone), drum


Superscribed ར་, ར་མགོ་
  • རྐ་ རྟ་ རྩ་ རྐྱ་ no changes in pronunciation.
  • རྒ་ རྗ་ རྡ་ རྦ་ རྫ་ རྒྱ་ become voiced and non-aspirated, staying low tone.
  • རྔ་ རྙ་ རྣ་ རྨ་ རྨྱ་ become high tone.


Superscribed ལ་, ལ་མགོ་
  • ལྐ་ ལྕ་ ལྟ་ ལྤ་ no changes in pronunciation.
  • ལྒ་ ལྗ་ ལྡ་ ལྦ་ become voiced and non-aspirated, staying low tone.
  • ལྔ་ becomes high tone.


The exception:

  • ལྷ་ is pronounced as an aspirated /hLa/; ལྷ་ས་ the city of "Lhasa". ལ་མགོ་ is the only superscribed letter for ཧ་.


Superscribed ས་, ས་མགོ་
  • སྐ་ སྟ་ སྤ་ སྩ་ སྐྱ་ སྤྱ་ སྐྲ་ སྤྲ་ no changes in pronunciation.
  • སྒ་ སྡ་ སྦ་ སྒྱ་ སྦྱ་ སྒྲ་ become voiced and non-aspirated, staying low tone.
  • སྔ་ སྙ་ སྣ་ སྨ་ སྨྱ་ སྨྲ་ སྣྲ་* becomes high tone.
*concerning སྣྲ་, see note above


Prefix letters

Prefix letters, སྔོན་འཇུག་: ག་ ད་ བ་ མ་ འ་
Position Letter/Stack
ག་ is used before ཅ་ ཉ་ ཏ་ ད་ ན་ ཙ་ ཞ་ ཟ་ ཡ་ ཤ་ ས་
ད་ is used before ཀ་ ག་ ང་ པ་ བ་ མ་ ཀྱ་ གྱ་ པྱ་ བྱ་ མྱ་ ཀྲ་ གྲ་ པྲ་ བྲ་
བ་ is used before ཀ་ ག་ ཅ་ ཏ་ ད་ ཙ་ ཞ་ ཟ་ ཤ་ ས་ ཀྱ་ གྱ་ ཀྲ་ གྲ་ རླ་ སླ་ རྐ་ རྒ་ རྔ་ རྗ་ རྙ་ རྟ་ རྡ་ རྣ་ རྩ་ རྫ་ སྟ་ སྐ་ སྒ་ སྔ་ སྙ་ སྟ་ སྡ་ སྣ་ སྩ་ རྐྱ་ རྒྱ་ སྐྱ་ སྒྱ་ སྐྲ་ སྒྲ་
མ་ is used before ཁ་ ག་ ང་ ཆ་ ཇ་ ཉ་ ཐ་ ད་ ན་ ཚ་ ཛ་ ཁྱ་ གྱ་ ཁྲ་ གྲ་
འ་ is used before ཁ་ ག་ ཆ་ ཇ་ ཐ་ ད་ ཕ་ བ་ ཚ་ ཛ་ ཁྱ་ གྱ་ ཕྱ་ བྱ་ ཁྲ་ གྲ་ དྲ་ ཕྲ་ བྲ་


Changes in tone, aspiration and pronunciation with prefix letters
Changes in pronunciation are the same as with superscribed letters.
  • The consonants of the first column have no changes in pronunciation.
  • The consonants of the the second column have no changes in pronunciation.
  • The consonants of the third column become voiced and non-aspirated, staying low tone.
  • The nasals, the fourth column root, letters become high tone.


Third column root letters
  • ག་ གྱ་ གྲ་ ཇ་ ད་ དྲ་ བ་ བྱ་ བྲ་ཛ་[5] with prefix become voiced and non-aspirated, staying low tone.
  • གྲ་, /thra/, fence — དགྲ་, /dra/, enemy
  • རྒ་ རྒྱ་ སྒ་ སྒྱ་ སྒྲ་ རྗ་ རྡ་ སྡ་ རྫ་ with prefix, they are already voiced and non-aspirated (having superscribed letters)* and stay that way. E.g.,
  • སྒྲིབ་, /drib/, to cover, veil, obscure (present tense), same pronunciation as བསྒྲིབ་, /drib/, to cover, veil, obscure (future tense)
* Merely because the superscribed letters are covered before the prefix letters in here. If the prefix letters would be first it would the other way around. E.g. བདོ་, /do/, to increase, spread, same pronunciation as བསྡོ་, /do/, to risk (future tense).
Nasals, fourth column root letters
  • ང་ ཉ་ ན་ མ་ མྱ་, the nasals with prefix become high tone.
  • མག་, /mag/, low tone, short for མག་གི་མུག་གི་, fuzzy obscured — དམག་, /mag/, troops, high tone
  • ཡ་ after ག་ becomes high tone ཡ་.
  • ཡབ་, /yab/, low tone, father (h.) — གཡབ་, /yab/, high tone, shelter
  • རྔ་ རྙ་ སྔ་ སྙ་ with prefix, they are already* high tone (having superscribed letters)
  • སྔགས་པ་, /ngag pa/, tantric practitioner — བསྔགས་པ་ /ngag pa/, praise; to praise
* and stay that way.


Exception, prefix ད་
Prefix ད་ with བ་: དབ་, དབྱ་, དབྲ་. The prefix ད་ changes the བ་ into /wa/ or makes it silent so that only the vowel and the subscribed consonant is pronounced.
  • The silent བ་ with only the vowel "a" is also commonly pronounced as /wa/.
  • དབང་, /wang/, empowerment, might also be pronounced as /ang/.
  • With other vowel or subscript ཡ་
  • དབུ་, /u/ as in དབུ་མ་, /u-ma/, Madhyamaka
  • དབྱིངས་, /ying/, expanse, space, dhatu
  • With subscript ར་ either /dra/ or /ra/
  • དབྲེ་པོ་, /dre po/ or /re po/, filthy, disgusting


Postfix letters

Postfix letters, རྗེས་འཇུག་: ག་ ང་ ད་ ན་ བ་ མ་ འ་ ར་ ལ་ ས་
Position Letter/Stack
The ten postfix letters: ག་ ང་ ད་ ན་ བ་ མ་ འ་ ར་ ལ་ ས་


Changes in tone, aspiration and pronunciation with postfix letters
Postfix letters don’t cause any changes in tone and / or aspiration.


ད་ ན་ ལ་ ས་
ད་ ན་ ལ་ ས་ changing "a" "o" "u" into umlauts[6] ä, ö, ü. Vowels become short before ད་ ན་ and long before ལ་ ས་.
  • ན་ ལ་ change a, o, u into the umlauts ä, ö, ü, and are softly or fully pronounced or might be swallowed.
  • སྨན་, /mä/ or /män/, medicine, ཡུལ་སྐད་, /yü kä / or /yül kä/, dialect
  • ད་ ས་ change a, o, u into the umlauts ä, ö, ü, and are not pronounced themselves.
  • ལུས་ /lü/, body, མད་པ་, /mä pa/, true
ག་
  • ག་ might be pronounced very softly or "swallowed" and shortens the vowel , if the word continues with second syllable ག་ is often clearly pronounced.
  • དུག་, /thu(k)/, poison, བདག་པོ་, /dak po/, owner
བ་
  • བ་ is very softly pronounced as the end of the syllable and shortens the vowel.
  • འབབ་པ་, /bap pa/, to fall, move downward
ར་
  • ར་ is pronounced or sometimes silent.
  • དཀར་པོ་, /kar po/, white
ང་ མ་
  • ང་ མ་ is pronounced as clear nasals at the end of the syllable.
  • བུམ་པ་, /phum pa/, vase, མང་པོ་, /mang po/, many
འ་
  • འ་ does not change pronunciation. It is used to mark the second of two letters as root letter, when there is no other vowel then "a" and the first or second letter can be pre or postfix (see below).


Second postfix letters

Second postfix letters, ཡང་འཇུག་: ས་ ད་
There are two second postfix letters: ས་ ད་
  • ས་ is used after ག་ ང་ བ་ མ་.
  • ཁམས་པ་, /kham pa/, kham pa
  • ད་ was used after ན་ར་ལ་ in old orthography and is called ད་དྲག་ ("forceful da") (short དྲག་). Even though it is not written anymore it changes the spelling of particles as if it still would be there (see: Introduction to the Tibetan Particles).
  • ཀུན་ old ཀུནད་ goes with ལ་དོན་ particle ཏུ་ and not with དུ་ after ན་.
  • ཀུན་ཏུ་, /kun tu/, completely, from ཀུནད་ཏུ་


Changes in tone, aspiration and pronunciation with postfix letters
The second postfix letters cause no changes in pronunciation.


Pronunciation table for letter combinations

Root letters and syllables with superscribed letters or prefix
unaspirated, high-
tone, unvoiced
aspirated, high-
tone, unvoiced
aspirated, low-
tone, unvoiced
non-aspirated,
low-tone, voiced
nasal
low tone
nasal
high tone
1. column 2. column 3. column 3. column
with prefix
or superscript
4. column 4. column
with prefix
or superscript
1 ཀ་   /ka/ ཁ་   /kha/ ག་   /kha/ སྒ་   /ga/ ང་   /nga/ ལྔ་   /nga/
2 ཅ་   /ca/ ཆ་   /cha/ ཇ་   /cha/ འཇ་   /ja/ ཉ་   /nya/ སྙ་   /nya/
3 ཏ་   /ta/ ཐ་   /tha/ ད་   /tha/ རྡ་   /da/ ན་   /na/ སྣ་   /na/
4 པ་   /pa/ ཕ་   /pha/ བ་   /pha/ རྦ་   /ba/ མ་   /ma/ སྨ་   /ma/
5 ཙ་   /tsa/ ཚ་   /tsha/ ཛ་   /dza/ /tsha/[7] རྫ་   /dza/


Syllables with subscript and prefix
Subscript ཡ
unaspirated, high-
tone, unvoiced
aspirated, high-
tone, unvoiced
aspirated, low-
tone, unvoiced
non-aspirated,
low-tone, voiced
nasal
low tone
nasal
high tone
1. column 2. column 3. column 3. column
with prefix
or superscript
4. column 4. column
with prefix
or superscript
1 ཀྱ་   /kya/ ཁྱ་   /khya/ གྱ་   /khya/ རྒྱ་   /gya/
4 པྱ་   /ca/=/ཅ་/ ཕྱ་   /cha/=/ཆ་/ བྱ་   /cha/=/ཇ་/ འབྱ་   /ja/=/འཇ་/ མྱ་   /nya/=/ཉ/ རྨྱ་   /nya/=/རྙ་/
Subscript ར
unaspirated, high-
tone, unvoiced
aspirated, high-
tone, unvoiced
aspirated, low-
tone, unvoiced
non-aspirated,
low-tone, voiced
nasal
low tone
nasal
high tone
1. column 2. column 3. column 3. column
with prefix
or superscript
4. column 4. column
with prefix
or superscript
1 ཀྲ་   /tra/ ཁྲ་   /thra/ གྲ་   /thra/ དགྲ་   /dra/
3 ཏྲ་   /tra/ ཐྲ་   /thra/ དྲ་   /thra/ འདྲ་   /dra/
4 པྲ་   /tra/ ཕྲ་   /thra/ བྲ་   /thra/ དབྲ་   /dra/


Changes in pronunciations between connected syllables

བ་ or བོ་

  • If a word has as a final syllable a བ་ or བོ་ then they are not pronounced /pha/ /pho/, but pronounced /wa/ and /wo/.
  • རྒྱལ་བ་ /gyal wa/, conqueror; ངོ་བོ་, /ngo wo/, essence, nature


Postfix, prefix or superscript "between" syllables

If a word consist of two or more syllables then the postfix, prefix or superscript "between" them might be pronounced.
  • The prefix འ་ and མ་ of the second syllable are often pronounced as a nasal at the end of the first syllable.
  • དགེ་འདུན་ /gen dün/, sangha; མཁའ་འགྲོ་, /khan dro/, khandro, རྒྱ་མཚོ་, /gyam tsho/, ocean
  • Also བ་ can also be pronouced.
  • བཅོ་བརྒྱད་, /cob gyä/; ས་བཅད་, /sab cä/


Superscript of the second syllable pronounced with the first syllable

In some cases the superscript of the second syllable is pronounced as the end of the first.
  • རྡོ་རྗེ་, /dorje/, vajra; ཨུ་རྒྱན་, /ur gyän/, Uddiyana; མཆོད་རྟེན་, /chör ten/, stupa
  • ད་ལྟ་, /than ta/, now; here the superscript ལ་ becomes a nasal.


Loss of third column's aspiration

In word consisting of more than one syllable usually only the first syllable is stressed. Due to that the consonants of the third column (ག་ ཇ་ ད་ བ་, if they are the root letter of a following syllable) can lose their aspiration.
  • ཡི་དམ་, /yi dam/, yidam; དོན་གྲུབ་, /dhön drub/, Siddhartha


Finding the root letter

1. If there is one letter? Good guess. That is the root letter.
2. If there is more than one letter and any of the consonants of the first or second column i.e. ཀ་ ཁ་, ཅ་ ཆ་, ཏ་ ཐ་, པ་ ཕ་, ཙ་ ཚ་ are part of the syllable, then they are always the root letter, since they can not be a prefix or postfix letter.
The same applies to ཇ་, ཉ་, ཛ་, ཝ་, ཞ་, ཟ་, ཡ་, ཤ་, ཧ་, ཨ་.[8]
3. If one of the vowels ཨི་ཨུ་ཨེ་ཨོ་ is written above or below a letter then this is the root letter. E.g. དགེ་ root letter ག་.
Notice: not to be mistaken with འི་ or འོ་ like in མདའི་ and མདའོ་, where འི་ is the connective case marking particle and འོ་ is the completion particle with the word མདའ་.
4. If there is a super- or subscript on a letter then this is the root letter. E.g. གྱད་ root letter ག་.
5. If there are two letters, but the first one can not be a prefix letter in that combination, then it is the root letter. E.g. གམ་ root letter ག་, as ག་ is not a prefix for མ་.
6. If there are two letters and both can be either prefix or postfix letter respectively, then the first is the root letter. E.g. དམ་ root letter ད་. A ཝ་ཟུར་ might be added in order to mark the root letter.

Also an additional འ་ postfix might be added in order to make the second letter into the root letter, making it into a word with three letters, the middle one being the root letter. E.g. དམའ་ root letter མ་.

7. If there are three letters and the third one is not a ས་ then the second one is the root letter, because only ས་ can be a second postfix letter. Leaving out ད་, because at this point in time practically only ས་ is used, the second postfix letter ད་ only occurs in old manuscripts and grammar books.

E.g. བདག་ root letter ད་.
A ཝ་ཟུར་ might be added in order to change the first letter into the root letter.
E.g. དགས་ root letter ག་ versus དྭགས་ root letter ད་.

8.a If there are three letters and the third one is a ས་ but the first one can not be prefix, then the first one is the root letter, with second one being one of ག་ ང་ བ་ མ་, because ས་ comes only after ག་ ང་ བ་ མ་ as second postfix.
8.b If there are three letters and the third one is a ས་ and the second one is not ག་ ང་ བ་ མ་ then the second one is the root letter, because ས་ can not be a second postfix letter in this case.
8.c If there are three letters and the third one is a ས་ and the second one is ག་ ང་ བ་ མ་ and the first one can be a prefix, then "good luck"; that means, that you need to consult a dictionary as there is no fixed rule for this case.

There are only nine possible combinations that have this potential of ambiguity. Not all all of them exist and non of them occurs with both options as main entry in the Great Tibetan-Chinese Dictionary, བོད་རྒྱ་ཚིག་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་.
With second as root letter: དགས་, /gä/; འགས་, /gä/; དབས་ /bä/; དམས་, /mä/
With first as root letter: བགས་, /bag/; མངས་, /mang/
མངས་, /mang/ is not a main entry itself but comes in combinations. From the place it comes in the dictionary within a subcategory of the main entry the root letter is clearly defined.
གཟུགས་མངས་ comes right after གཟུགས་མང་ in the hard copy of the Great Tibetan-Chinese Dictionary, བོད་རྒྱ་ཚིག་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་, but is due to a typo misplaced in one of the electronic versions, having ང་ as the root letter.

9. If there are four letters then the second one is the root letter. Because a root letter can only have two postfix letters. E.g. གདགས་ root letter ད་.


Transliteration system

  • Transliterate: from Latin trans, across and littera, letter, character.
Transliteration is a mapping from one system of writing into another letter by letter. It ought be exact to the point, that an informed reader should able to reconstruct the original spelling of transliterated words.

Transliteration is opposed to transcription, which describes the sound of the words of one language with the best matching combination of letters of another language.


Wylie

"What, then, should be the criterion for a standard system of Tibetan transcription, It should be of minimal complexity and capable of reproduction on a standard typewriter, i.e., one lacking special keys for diacritical marks"
Turrell Wylie, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 22, Dec., 1959

The following table contains the Wylie-transliteration for the characters of the Tibetan alphabet:

1. column 2. column 3. column 4. column
1    ka    kha    ga    nga
2    ca    cha    ja    nya
3    ta    tha    da    na
4    pa    pha    ba    ma
5    tsa    tsha    dza    wa
6    zha    za    'a    ya
7    ra    la    sha    sa
8    ha    a
7 ཨི   i ཨུ   u ཨེ   e ཨོ   o


  • The spelling goes from left to right and top to bottom. The vowel is written after the root letter or root letter with subscript.


The transliteration sequence within a Tibetan syllable


Wylie transliteration examples

  • ཁེ་ = khe, མདོ་ = mdo, དོགས་ = dogs, ཨོ་ = o, འོད་ = 'od, འི་ = 'i, མདོའི་ = mdo'i, དཀར་ = dkar,
  • བཀའ་ = bka', བཀའོ་ = bka'o, འདགས་ = 'dags, རྟ་ = rta, བརྒལ་ = brgal, གྲུ་ = gru, གྲུག་ = grug,
  • རྒྱུ་ = rgyu, རྒྱུད་ = rgyud, དབྱིངས་ = dbyings

There is a period "." between prefix ག་ and root letter ཡ་ to distinguish it from root letter ག་ with subscript ཡ་:

  • གཡག་ = g.yag versus གྱག་ = gyag
  • གྱོ་ = gyo, གཡོ་ = g.yo, གཡུར་ = g.yur

The postfix letters -གས་ abbreviation is transliterated "T", see Sanskrit characters below.

Other transliteration systems
Beside Wylie’s there are other systems with for example, ཁ་: k’a; ང་: ña, -ng, ṅa; ཅ་: cha c̀a ča; ཆ་: chha, c̀’a, ch’a, čha, c’a; ཇ་: j̀a, ǰa; ཉ་: ña; ཐ་: t’a; ཕ་: p’a; ཚ་: ts’ha, t’sa, ts’a; ཛ་: dsa, dz'a; ཝ་: va; ཞ་: z̀a, sha, źhya, ža, z̀a; ཟ་: źa; འ་: <a, ḥ, ạ; ཤ་: s̀a, ça, śa; ཨ་: ’a .
The "-" used by the THDL Extended Wylie Transliteration Scheme for the ཨྀ་, is also still used by some between prefix ག་ and root letter ཡ་ . (An indeed very useful exercise if the aim is to get further away from an universally agreed Tibetan transliteration system.)
"...A survey of publications by a dozen Tibetan scholars selected at random reveals a dozen varying systems of transcription—a profusion of apostrophes, diacritical marks, Greek gammas, capital and italic letters."
Turrell Wylie

Punctuation and special characters

Note: The Extended Wylie system, defined by the University of Virginia, extends the scope of the Wylie transliteration for Sanskrit, punctuation and many special characters found in Tibetan texts. A reference-manual for Extended Wylie can be downloaded from Virginia University


Wylie transliteration on computers

Unfortunately the Extended Wylie standard is not yet accepted everywhere, and especially the different Wylie keyboards used with different computer operating systems differ slightly regarding Wylie-extensions. See Digital Tibetan for more information on how the use computers with Wylie transliteration.

On Digital Tibetan, there is also a converter between Wylie transliteration and Tibetan script.


Sanskrit characters

   Ta    Tha    Da    Na
   Sha ཕ༹   fa བ༹   va


Examples: ཀཱ་ = kA, ཀཱུ་ = kU, ཀཱི་ = kI, ཀཱོ་ = kO, ཀཱེ་ = kE, ཀྀ་ = k-i, ཀཱྀ་ = k-I, ཀཻ་ = kai, ཀཽ་ = kau


Sanskrit stacking

  • For Sanskrit-stacks that do in appear in Tibetan, a plus-sign indicates stacked letters:
  • བྷྲ་ = b+h+ra, ཀྐ་ = k+ka, ཀྵ་ = k+Sha, ཛྙཱ་ = dz+nyA


Numbers

  • = 0, = 1, = 2, = 3, = 4, = 5, = 6, = 7, = 8, = 9,


Spelling Tibetan in Tibetan

Some of the letters get special names when used for the spelling of a syllable.

vowel called prefix called
ཨི་ གི་གུ་ ག་ ག་ཨོ་*
ཨུ་ ཞབས་ཀྱུ་ ད་ ད་ཨོ་
ཨེ་ འགྲེང་བུ་ བ་ བ་ཨོ་
ཨོ་ ན་རོ་ མ་ མ་ཨོ་
འ་ འ་ཨོ་
* I’ve never seen "gao" etc. in a written form. This spelling here is just according to the phoneme that is used.

The spelling goes from left to right and top to bottom, same as Wylie. The phoneme resulting in the different stages of the process are each stated. The postfixes are spelt together.


Prefix and postfix

prefix letter + "o" + root letter + vowel name → phoneme + postfix → phoneme
  • མདོས་, prefix མ་, /ma-o/ + root letter ད་, /da//ma-o da/ + vowel ཨོ་ /na ro//na-ro do/ + postfix ས་, /sa//sa dö/, all together: /ma-o da, na-ro do, sa dö/
  • ལག་ /la ga lag/
  • འདི་, /a-o da, gi-gu di/
  • དགེ་, /da-o ga, dreng-bu ge/
  • མདའ་, /ma-o da, a da/
  • དིག་, /da gi-gu di, ga dig/
  • གསུངས་, /ga-o sa, zhab-kyu su, nga sa sung/
  • ལོགས་, /la na-ro lo, ga sa log

Superscript and subscript

The top-bottom formation is using the "ta" to indicate the stacking order. Pre- and postfix as above.

Superscript + root letter + "ta" → phoneme,

root letter + subscript letter + "ta" → phoneme ,
superscript + root letter + "ta" → phoneme + subscript letter + "ta" → phoneme

  • རྒྱོ་, superscript ར་ /ra/ + root letter ག་, /ga/ + /ta//ra ga-ta ga/ + subscript letter ཡ་, /ya/ + /ta/ya-ta gya + vowel ཨོ་ /na ro//na-ro gyo/, all together: ra ga-ta ga ya-ta gya na-ro gyo.
  • རྒ་, /ra ga-ta ga/
  • བརྡ, /ba-o ra da-ta da/
  • སྐོ་, /sa ka-ta ka, na-ro ko/
  • བརྡུང་, /ba-o ra da-ta da, zhab-kyu du, nga dung/
  • གྱ་, /ga ya-ta gya/
  • དགྲ་, /da-o ga ra-ta dra/
  • ཁྱི་, /kha ya-ta khya, gi-gu khyi/
  • བྱུང་, /ba ya-ta ja, zhab kyu ju, nga jung/
  • བློ་, ba la-ta la, na-ro lo/
  • བསྲིངས་, /ba-o sa ra-ta sa, gi-gu si, nga sa sing/
  • སྤྱང་, /sa pa-ta pa, ya ta ca, nga cang/
  • རྒྱུ་, /ra ga-ta ga, ya-ta gya, zhab kyu gyu/
  • བརྒྱུས་, /ba-o ra ga-ta ga, ya ta gya, zhab-kyu gyu, sa gyü/


Tibetan dictionary order

  1. The first structure is the alphabetic order (ཀ་ ཁ་ ག་ ང་ ཅ་...) of a word’s first syllable’s root letter, e.g. ཆིག་ before གསོག་. Second syllables don’t change the first syllables place and come themselves in alphabetic when having the same first syllable(s), e.g.
    ཝ་མོ་ before ཝ་ཚང་ before ཝ་ཞག་;
    ཞེན་དོན་ before ཞེན་པ་ before ཞེན་པ་གཏིང་ལོག་ before ཞེན་པ་བཞི་བྲལ་ before ཞེན་པ་ལོག་པ་ before ཞེན་འཛིན་,
    ཡོ་བྱེད་ before ཡོ་བྱེད་མངོན་གྱུར་ before ཡོ་བྱེད་ལ་ཆགས་པའི་ལྷག་མ་གཉིས་ before ཡོ་བྱེད་ལ་དབང་བ་.
  2. Then root letter with postfix in alphabetic order ག་ང་ད་ན་བ་མ་འ་ར་ལ་ས་, གག་ གང་...
    A postfix with second postfix comes at the end of the section of the first postfix, then comes the next postfix, e.g.
    གང་ before གངས་ before གད་ so the order is གག་ གང་ གངས་ གད་ གན་ གབ་ གམ་ གའ་ གར་ གལ་ གས་.
  3. Each letter with the vowles ཨི་ ཨུ་ ཨེ་ ཨོ་ and the postfixes, going through all the postfixes before the next vowel གི་ གིང་ གིན་ གིམ་ གིས་ གུ་ གུག་ གུང་... གེ་ གེག་... གོ་... གོམ་ གོམས་...
  4. The rootletter with subscript ཝ་ཡ་ར་ལ་ going through the prosses of 2.and 3. finishing all combinations with all the vowels before going to the next subscript letter གྭ་ གྱ་ གྱག་ གྱང་... གྱི་ གྱིང་... གྱུ་ གྱུར་... གྱེན་... གྱོ་ གྱོང་... གྲ་ གྲག་ གྲགས་... གྲི་... གྲུ་ གྲུག་... གྲོ་གྲོག་...* གླ་ གླག་... གླི་** གླིང་ གླིངས་ གླུ་... གླེ་... གློ་ གློགག་... གློས་***
    * at this point comes the གྲ་ with ཝ་ཟུར་, གྲྭ་
    ** generic
    *** at this point there also come Sanskrit charactersགྷི་, གྷུར་
  5. The prefix letters ག་ ད་ བ་ མ་ འ་ are added to the root letter going through the processes 2.-4., དགག་ དགང་... དགི་**... དགུ་ དགུག་... དགེ་... དགོ་ དགོག་... དགྱ་** ... དགྱེ་... དགྲ་... དགྲོ་... བགག་... མགར་... མགྲོན་... འགག་... འགྲོས་
  6. The superscipt letters ར་ ལ་ ས་ are added, going through all combinations without prefix before going to the next superscript, within each superscript going through all vowels before the subscripts / next subscript རྒ་ རྒང་ རྒད་... རྒུ་... རྒོ་... རྒོལ་... རྒྱ་ རྒྱག་... རྒྱུ་... རྒྱོང་ རྒྱོངས་... ལྒ་.... སྒ་ སྒག་... སྒུ་... སྒེ་... སྒོ་... སྒྱིད་... སྒྱུ... སྒྲ་.... སྒྲིག་... སྒྲིས་
  7. The prefix letters are added to the root letters with superscript, going through the same order again, བརྒལ་... བརྒྱ་.... བརྒྱུ་... བསྒག་... བསྒུག་... བསྒོམས་... བསྒོས་ བསྒྱིངས་... བསྒྱར་... བསྒྲག་.... བསྒྲིག་... བསྒྲོན་...


letter + postfix
ཀ་
   ཀ་བཀོལ་མ་
   ཀག་
   ཀང་
+ vowels + postfix
   ཀི་
   ཀི་ཀང་
   ཀུན་
   ཀེ་
   ཀེག་
   ཀོ་
   ཀོང་
+ subscripts
ཀྭ་
ཀྱག་
   ཀྱི་
   ཀྱུ་
   ཀྱེ་
      ཀྱེད་
   ཀྱོ་བ་
      ཀྱོག་པོ་
      ཀྱོང་ཁ་
ཀྲ་
   ཀྲང་
   ཀྲི་ཁ་
   ཀྲུགས་
   ཀྲེ་ནག་
   ཀྲོག་
ཀླ་ཀློ་
   ཀླད་
   ཀླུ་
   ཀློ་
      ཀློག་
ཀྵ་
+ prefix
དཀག་པ་
   དཀན་
   དཀུ་
   དཀོན་མཆོག་
   + subscript
      དཀྱིལ་
         དཀྱུ་
         དཀྱིར་བ་
         དཀྱོར་འབྱིན་
      དཀྲི་ག་
         དཀྲིག་པ་
         དཀྲུམ་
         དཀྲོལ་བ་
བཀག་ཆ་
   བཀད་
   བཀུ་
   བཀོང་བ་
   + subscript
      བཀྱལ་བ་
         བཀྱིག་པ་
         བཀྱོན་པ་
      བགྲ་བ་
         བཀྲིས་
         བཀྲུ་དག་
         བཀྲོས་པ་
      བཀླག་པ་
         བཀླུབ་པ་
+ superscripts
རྐ་
   རྐང་
   རྐོས་
   + subscript
      རྐྱ་
        རྐྱེན་
        རྐྱོང་
ལྐག་
   ལྐུགས་
   ལྐོག་
སྐ་བ་
   སྐད་
   སྐུ་
   སྐེ་
   + subscript 
      སྐྱ་
         སྐྱིན་
         སྐྱེར་
      སྐྲ་
         སྐྲི་བ་
         སྐྲོད་པ་
   + prefix
   བརྐམ་པ་
      བརྐུན་
      བརྐོས་པ་
      + subscript
      བརྐྱང་བ་
         བརྐྱངས་ཁྲུ་
   བསྐ་བ་
      བསྐུང་བ་
      བསྐོས་པ་
      + subscript
      བསྐྱ་བ་
         བསྐྱམ་པ་
         བསྐྱིལ་བ་
      བསྐྲད་པ་
         བསྐྲོགས་པ་


Endnotes

  1. The consonants of the third column change their pronunciation within a Tibetan syllable according to a set of rules. They then become unaspirated, voiced. I.e.: /ga/, /ja/, /da/, /ba/.
  2. See: The Tibetan Alphabet, debate about the pronunciation of ཛ་ without superscribed letter.
  3. <tib>ཝ་</tib> is placed into the fifth row but does not belong the consonants (alveolar affricates) of that row. It is a letter that was introduced to old Tibetan in order to write Chinese names with /wa/ and was a combination of the <tib>འ་</tib>writen above a <tib>བ་</tib>.
  4. See: The Tibetan Alphabet, debate about the pronunciation of ཛ་ without superscribed letter.
  5. see above
  6. The "umlaut" can refer to the changed of sound of a vowel (I-mutation) and the diacritic sign, a pair of dots above a vowel, which is the graphic representation of those sounds.
  7. See: The Tibetan Alphabet, debate about the pronunciation of ཛ་ without superscribed letter.
  8. This rule is a part of the prefix and postfix letter rules, but since it is easy to remember this is is added as a supporting rule.