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Tibetan Structure
Catalog Number CEUS-U 520
Christopher I. Beckwith

Tibetan is typologically one of the most unusual and linguistically interesting languages in the world. This course introduces the phonology, morphology, syntax, lexicon, and writing system of Old Tibetan, Classical Tibetan, and Modern Spoken Tibetan (Lhasa dialect). In the absence of a reliable reference grammar, specialized studies of the different topics covered will be read and criticized, and corrected descriptions created through study of Tibetan language material.

Among other things, students will learn the simple alphabetic writing system (which was invented in Old Tibetan times and has continued to be used also for Classical and Modern Tibetan) and how the phonological system of Old Tibetan, largely preserved in Classical and even Modern Tibetan writing, underlies the rather different phonological system of the modern spoken language. Similarly, it will be shown how the mainly fusional morphological structure of Old Tibetan is preserved to a great extent in its Classical and modern written forms, but the spoken colloquial has mostly shifted to a purely agglutinative type of morphological structure and many old forms have been completely replaced by innovated ones. The syntax of the language, by contrast, has remained virtually unchanged in its basic structure from Old Tibetan times to the present.

These features of the language will be learned by the actual hands-on experience of acquiring the elements of the language, so that in addition to learning the grammatical and phonological structure of Tibetan, and becoming familiar with the scholarly literature on the language, students will learn to actually read simple, but authentic, Classical Tibetan texts with the help of a dictionary. 

Requirements: Preparing for and attending class regularly, participating in the discussion, and doing the assignments well and on time. The assignments are: class preparation, including readings (which will be assigned in class); one research paper (on a topic determined after consultation with the instructor), to be presented orally in class and converted into a research article; and regular short quizzes on language material covered in class.

Required Text: H.A. Jäschke, Tibetan-English Dictionary.

Other readings will be assigned in class and will be distributed via Oncourse or placed on reserve in the Wells Library.

No prerequisites.