Om Mani Padme Hum
The Language of  Tibet

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Dharma Haven's Tibetan Pages

"Half of the words are read by implication." -- Tibetan saying

Tibetan is spoken in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, and in parts of northern India (including Sikkim). It is classified by linguists as a member of the Tibeto-Burman subgroup of the Sino-Tibetan languages

Tibetan is written in a very conservative syllabary script based on the writing system of the ancient Sanskrit language of India. Used in its present form since the 9th century, it was developed as a means of translating sacred Buddhist texts that were being brought into Tibet from India. The writing system derived from the pronunciation of the language as it was in about the 7th century, and varies in many ways from colloquial Tibetan as it spoken today. 

Beginning in the 8th century, Buddhist texts written in Sanskrit were carried over the Himalayas, and were carefully translated into Tibetan by meditator scholars who had studied the true meaning of the teachings with Indian masters. The flow of texts and teachings ended during the 11th century, when the Indian originals were mostly lost or destroyed in the Muslim suppression of Buddhism in India. Fortunately, by that time the transmission of Buddhist textual, artistic, meditative, and philosophical traditions into Tibet had been largely completed. Over the years Tibetan scholars added commentaries and further teachings to this body of literature.

In recent times the Chinese invasion of Tibet and their attempt to destroy the influence of the Buddhist monasteries led many very advanced meditation masters and scholars to escape to the West, bringing as many of their precious dharma texts and sacred art works as they could carry. These works are now preserved at many Tibetan Buddhist centers in various Western countries, and copies are also available for study in many major libraries. The language in which these texts are written is known as Classical Tibetan. Of the thousands of volumes of these texts, it is said that less than one percent have been translated into any Western languages.

The language as it is actually spoken today is called Colloquial Tibetan by Western scholars. There are four major dialects, and people from widely separated regions may have trouble understanding each other. The "standard" dialect is that of the region around the capital, Lhasa. Another form of the language, found in current writing, is called Modern Literary Tibetan.

This Web site offers links to resources on the Web, books, training aids and tools for translators, and software for working with Tibetan on personal computers. Also, we point out a good source of spoken colloquial Tibetan, the Tibetan language news broadcasts which are available via "Internet Radio." 

These news broadcasts are also of interest to Tibetan refugees who have access to the Internet, and for them we have also included links to Indian and Nepali language broadcasts. Tape recordings of these broadcasts may be appreciated by Tibetans who don't have Internet access.

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The Tibetan Language on the Web
In general, even knowing a little Tibetan is beneficial in deepening an understanding of the Dharma. . . For those who learn Tibetan, there is no limit to their studies or to what they can learn.
-- Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

Learn Tibetan -- alphabet and word forms

Tibetan Language Audio Guide -- Fluent Tibetan
Interactive tutorials for colloquial Tibetan

Tibetan Language Courses
offered by institutions in North America

Tibetan Language Institute (Los Angeles)

Tibetan Texts -- Examples of Tibetan Manuscript Pages

  Tibetan Language Links
Web sites, including fonts, software, and schools.

Online Dharma Dictionary
Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Terms

Extended Wylie Method
Standard for transcription of Tibetan characters

Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center
Excellent source of Tibetan manuscripts

Library of Tibetan Works and Archives
A repository for Tibetan artifacts and manuscripts and a center for language and cultural education, located in Dharamsala, India

U.S. Library of Congress Asian Classics Input Project

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Books, Training Aids and Translation Tools
The Classical Tibetan Language -- Stephan V. Beyer. A comprehensive description of the Tibetan language from the perspective of modern linguistics.

Introduction to Classical Tibetan -- Hodge. A textbook for the study of classical Tibetan.

Essentials of Modern Literary Tibetan: A Reading Course and Reference Grammar -- Melvyn C. Goldstein. Examples come from "a wide range of modern literary styles from literature, history, current affairs, newspapers, and even communist political essays."

Snow Lion
Dictionaries, Grammars, Training materials
(Select "Language" at the Quick Jump bar.)

Wisdom Books

Padma Karpo Translation Committee
Electronic dictionaries (searchable), texts and tools for translators

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News Read in Tibetan and Indian Languages
Internet Broadcast from Voice of America: The Voice of America Network gives a newscast each weekday in the Tibetan language, and in Hindi, Urdu, and other languages.  This link is for the Real Audio format. Voice of America also offers other audio formats

Other Netcasts You Can Hear With the Real Player


Voice of Tibet
Radio Free Asia -- Tibetan

Indian Languages and Nepali

All India Radio
Radio Nepal News in Nepali and English

To hear a newscast in the Real Audio format, you need a program called Real Player that works with your Web browser. If it was not included with your browser, you can download the Real Player. The basic version is free, but the link for the Free Real Player is not easy to find, and it takes you to a page that tries to sell you the Real Player Plus version. If you look carefully, though, you can find a link that says something like "Real Player Basic is our free player." Another warning: If you decide to pay for the Plus version, you have to pay again if you want to get any of the frequent revisions of the program.

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Tibetan Software

Tibetan Software & Fonts Links
Comprehensive list with brief reviews
Trace Foundation has released high quality software for Tibetan word processing under the General Public License

Tibetan! for Word for Windows
Tibetan! for WordPerfect for Windows
Tibetan Machine Font

To receive a totally free, fully functional CD-ROM copy of these 
programs (Windows only), send your name and address to Eric Colombel, Director of Information Systems, Trace Foundation:

Nitartha-Sambhota Software -- Tibetan Software Company

Tibetan Document Processor

Tibetan Software Links -- Free Tibetan Software

Tibetan Language Kit for Apple OS X
Detailed instructions

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The Mantra Om Mani Padme Hum

The opening image, the background of this page, and this prayer wheel all show the mantra of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, in Tibetan script.

The Meaning of the Mantra
Explanations of the Tibetan Buddhist prayer (mantra)
Om Mani Padme Hung

Advice on the Benefits of Prayer Wheels, by Lama Zopa

Electronic Prayer Wheels

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Revised on December 17, 2002

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