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. E.

Formation of the Tibetan syllable

Overview

The Tibetan alphabet

Tibetan alphabet[1]



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་
Suffix letters, རྗེས་འཇུག་ ག་ ང་ ད་ ན་ བ་ མ་ འ་ ར་ ལ་ ས་
second suffix 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
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 there pronunciation for the labial letters becomes same as that of the palatal letters of there respective column with the according 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 according 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་

[...]

Endnotes