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Old Tibetan

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Old Tibetan

Old Tibetan
paper fragment with Tibetan writing
Region Tibet
Era 7th–11th centuries, after which it became Classical Tibetan
Tibetan script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 otb
Linguist list

Old Tibetan refers to the period of Tibetan reflected in documents from the adoption of writing by the Tibetan Empire in the mid-7th century to works of the early 11th century.

In 816 CE, during the reign of King Tride Songtsen, literary Tibetan underwent a thorough reform aimed at standardizing the language and vocabulary of the translations being made from Indian texts, and this resulted in what we now call Classical Tibetan.[1]


Old Tibetan is characterised by many features that are lost in Classical Tibetan, including my- rather than m- before the vowels -i- and -e-, the cluster sts- which simplifies to s- in Classical Tibetan, and a reverse form of the "i" vowel letter (gi-gu).[2]

Case system

Case morphology is affixed to entire noun phrases, not to individual words (i.e. Gruppenflexion). Old Tibetan distinguishes the same ten cases as Classical Tibetan:[3]

  • absolutive (morphologically unmarked)
  • genitive (གི་ -gi, གྱི་ -gyi, ཀྱི་ -kyi, འི་ - 'i, ཡི་ -yi)
  • agentive (གིས་ -gis, གྱིས་ -gyis, ཀྱིས་ -kyis, ས་ -s, ཡིས་ -yis)
  • locative (ན་ -na)
  • allative (ལ་ -la)
  • terminative (རུ་ -ru, སུ་ -su, ཏུ་ -tu, དུ་ -du, ར་ -r)
  • comitative (དང་ -dang)
  • ablative (ནས་ -nas)
  • elative (ལས་ -las)
  • comparative (བས་ -bas)

However, whereas the locative, allative, and terminative gradually fell together in Classical Tibetan (and are referred to the indigenous grammatical tradition as the la don bdun), in Old Tibetan these three cases are clearly distinguished.[4]

Traditional Tibetan grammarians do not distinguish case markers in this manner, but rather distribute these case morphemes (excluding -dang and -bas) into the eight cases of Sanskrit.

Personal pronouns

Old Tibetan has three first person singular pronouns ང་ nga, བདག་ bdag, and ཁོ་བོ་ kho-bo, and three first person plural pronouns ངེད་ nged, བདག་ཅག་ bdag-cag, and འོ་སྐོལ་ 'o-skol. The second person pronouns include two singulars ཁྱོད་ khyod and ཁྱོ(ན)་འདའ་ khyo(n)-'da' and a plural ཁྱེད་ khyed.[5]


Works cited

External links

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