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Discussion of the development of a multi-dialectal dictionary in Southeastern Tibet

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Title: Discussion of the development of a multi-dialectal dictionary in Southeastern Tibet
Authors: Bartee, Ellen
Tsering, Gyesang
Issue Date: 01 Mar 2013
Description: The beginnings of Tibetan linguistic studies date back to the 7th century when the popular Tibetan king Songtsan Gangpo is traditionally thought to have sent a scholar named Thonmi Sambhota to India to develop a script for Tibetan. Thonmi Sambhota is credited with devising a script and writing a two-volume grammatical description of Tibetan. While actual historical accounts that would document this version of the origin of Tibetan script are non-existent, it is known that, at least by the middle of the 8th century, Written Tibetan was inscribed on 'huge monolithic pillars to record their victories and correspondence among the military outposts of their empire' (Beyer 1992: 29). James Matisoff, a well-known Tibeto-Burman scholar says that Written Tibetan is 'the most archaic attested T[ibeto-]B[urman] language' (Matisoff 2003).
While this situation is very helpful for historical reconstruction, one consequence of such a long history of the written language has been to create a diglossic situation in which divergent written and spoken forms contribute to low literacy rates. This is especially true in the peripheries of Tibetan areas where, for a variety of reasons, spoken Tibetan varieties tend to be less 'standard'. In these areas, literacy can be almost non-existent and speakers can face prejudice from Tibetans outside the area who speak more standard dialects. Due in large part to topographical and historical reasons, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, located in Northwest Yunnan Province, has a multitude of Tibetan dialects varying in degrees of intelligibility with one another.

Working on a documentation project which has spanned five years to date, we are developing a dictionary of modern colloquial varieties which has the primary goal of being a useful tool for local Tibetans. It is a multi-dialectal dictionary (currently containing ten varieties) and includes Written Tibetan etymologies, recordings of entries, and example sentences, as well as pictures of difficult-to-describe entries. In this talk we will present the dictionary and discuss issues such as training a local team, historical sound changes, semantic shift and useability.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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