In the last 15 years we have been organising Classical Tibetan Language courses in different parts of the world. These courses include beginners and intermediate classes, online weekend workshops on different kinds of texts and so forth. As a culmination of our language related activities, every year we hold an intensive Tibetan translator training over the period of around one month for students coming from all over the world.
In recent years, we have also been offering calligraphy workshops and intensive colloquial Tibetan courses.
Tibetan Language may be divided into Classical, Colloquial and Modern literary. The classical language has been used for more than a millennium mainly to transmit dharma related texts. The expression ‘colloquial tibetan’ refers to a variety of related dialects used for everyday communication and ‘modern literary’ is the corresponding written, more formal language, that makes use of a vocabulary and grammatical features drawn from the colloquial language.
The classical Tibetan language
What we define 'Classical Tibetan language' is a highly sophisticated, technical and specialised language used in Tibet particularly to formulate mostly dharma related topics. This language is extremely conservative and has remained virtually identical in the last thousand years or so. It is an indispensable tool for all those interested in Buddhism, Tibetan traditions, sciences and culture and its knowledge at all levels gives access to the marvels of that world, which is very difficult to translate to other languages with all its subtleties, imagery, technicalities and imaginative formulations.
Tibetan language has not only been used to preserve and transmit most of Indian Buddhist literature in translation, but it has been and still is also the expressive instrument of Tibetan Masters, yogins and scholars of great erudition and realisation of all times.
Knowledge of Classical Tibetan language is particularly helpful for practitioners of Tibetan spiritual traditions, and is a priceless resource for students of medicine, arts and other sciences.
Colloquial Tibetan Language
Colloquial Tibetan might be grossly differentiated into three main types, on the base of the three main regions of Tibet: Ü-tsang, Amdo and Kham. In recent years a colloquial language, based on the Ü-tsang (Central Tibet) dialect, has been selected to serve as standard colloquial Tibetan language. This language is called Chikä (སྤྱི་སྐད་) and is used in general communication, radio, tv, internet and so forth. This language aims to be a Tibetan lingua franca and therefore our course focuses on it. The main target of our colloquial Tibetan courses is to provide the possibility to acquire fluency in Chikä, so that students will be able to communicate with Tibetans.
Tibetan writing as we know it today had its origins in the seventh century, when Thönmi Sambhota formulated a new alphabet based on the one used at that time in India, the Gupta script (a derivative of the antique Indian script called Brahmi). He defined thirty letters and four vowel marks, largely reproducing the corresponding sounds in Sanskrit and in part newly created to represent sounds typical of the Tibetan language. In the Tibetan tradition, the art of calligraphy was a highly respected discipline that formed an integral part of the scholastic curriculum from the very first years at school.
The Shang Shung Foundation is committed to keeping this extraordinary art alive and regularly offers courses with experienced instructors.
Fabian Sanders has studied Asian languages, traditions and cultures extensively. In recent years he has concentrated on teaching classical Tibetan Language at university level and for the Shang Shung Foundation. He has been a student of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu for more than twenty years. He is author of the volume "La Lingua Tibetana Classica" (Hoepli), the first classical Tibetan grammarbook in Italian.
Lobsang Zatul was born in Tibet, left Tibet at the age of eleven and has lived in Switzerland since 1963. He was fortunate to grow up with his parents who taught him correct Tibetan. He has been teaching Tibetan, both language and script, to Tibetans and non-Tibetans for more than thirty years. As a student of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu he is devoting his time and energy to the preservation of the Tibetan language.
Giorgio Dallorto is a student of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and since the seventies has cultivated his knowledge of Tibetan culture. In recent years he has studied Tibetan classical Tibetan language and Tibetan calligraphy with Fabian Sanders and Tashi Mannox respectively.
Guided translation of selected excerpts from the "The Precious Vase" by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu.