Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Couples Constantly Facing Off

Light side and Dark side of the mountain

modern གཏན་ཞལ་ > སྟངས་ཞལ་ > ancient སྟངས་དབྱལ་?

This བློག་ is for Dorji over at Philologia Tibetica. We share an incurable disorder known as Logophilia, among its symptoms an immediate and spontaneous impulse to do funny things with words.  For us, logos and Legos are cultural equivalents. Our best excuse for having this fun is, anyway, that words have always been doing funny things with themselves. Sometimes we can catch them in the act. Today I produce one of the smoking guns.

To start with, Tibetan language has a strong tendency to make pair compounds, in which two substantives are simply crammed together to make a new word (often dropping 2nd syllables altogether in the process). Sometimes this is just an 'and' type of compound, sometimes a way of making abstract nouns. These are often contrasting pairs, forming what we might call antonym compounds. For example, the term hope-fear, or re-dogs (རེ་དོགས་) just comes out meaning everything on a scale ranging from the highest hopes to the darkest fears. We can fairly well translate a pair compound such as this with English anxiety, perhaps more accurately meaning levels of anxiety about what good or bad thing might happen in the future. But we could, and this is my point, simply translate it as hope[s] and fear[s]. Take your pick.

Something occurred to me while I was getting some expert help from PD ironing out problems in a very long translation I've been working on for what seems like forever now. This minor revelation was: That the modern Tibetan tongue has a word that has evolved in its spelling at certain stages in its history until we get the modern word gtan-zhal (གཏན་ཞལ་). Gtan-zhal is a word of very doubtful etymology even if the individual syllables may mean constant and face. It is nowadays a word for couple, used in relatively formal contexts in the meaning husband and wife. I suppose constant face makes some kind of sense, or could be made to make sense, in the sense that your partner could be a person who is constantly in your face about this or that, or something similar, which may ring true, even if that doesn't necessarily make it the truth.

The real story is that the form gtan-zhal is preceded, in early times, by the spelling stangs-zhal (སྟངས་ཞལ་),* with this spelling found a number of times in the Pillar Testament, a history of imperial Tibet of the 7th century that seems to date from the 11th century more or less. Tradition tells that it was extracted from a pillar in the Jokhang in the mid-11th century.
(*I'm ignoring an entry for btang-dpyal [བཏང་དཔྱལ་] in Btsan-lha's dictionary, a word he finds in the biography of Pho-lha-nas, dated 1733, where it could be a conscious archaism.  We really must ignore it since it threatens the smooth flow of historic change we want to chart out here.)

The form stangs-zhal demonstrates continuity, it's our  "missing link." Preceding it by centuries is the form stangs-dbyal, found in the most famous historical source of all the Old Tibetan documents in Dunhuang, the Old Tibetan Annals, in its entry for the year 710 CE, as well as in the inscription on the old bell at the temple of Samyé. Not only that, but perhaps this is the point I most want to stress: the literature of the Bon religion continued to use this term without a break for the last thousand years at the very least. (I'd give some more examples of such words, but perhaps we'll leave it for now.)

We find ourselves in a peculiar situation here, since the word itself in a certain sense remained constant through time. Its pronunciation changed somewhat, probably due to dialect influences, and the pronunciation change had its effect on the spelling... Until it became virtually unrecognizable, both syllables re-spelled as if to thwart meaningful etymologies.

Old Tibetan has another very interesting pair compound, gdags-sribs (གདགས་སྲིབས་), which means the lighted and the shadowed sides of the mountain, very much like the ancient idea behind yin-yang in Chinese culture. The syllable srib[s] is related to a number of other Tibetan words with related meanings like sgrib-pa. Here it means shadowy (night) side of the mountain. The explanation of the syllable gdags is a little more obscure, since it usually means designation or labeling. I think it's related to an Old Tibetan word for the sun, gdugs, preserved in the modern word for parasol.

Following Emel Esin, I would ask, If Bonpos are preserving this ancient proto-Tibeto-Sino-Turkic idea that seems to go back before the days of Buddhism in any of those countries, what other such truly pre-Buddhist archaic cultural features might they be preserving? A question for another day.

§   §   §

For the early Turkic concept of kararig and yaruk, see Emel Esin's book, A History of Pre-Islamic and Early-Islamic Turkish Culture, Ünal Matbaasi (Istanbul 1980), p. 97. Esin's idea that this cosmological pair concept may go far back in history as a kind of areal phenomenon is believable, but of course questionable. It could belong to more recent times, the Turkic and Tibetan ideas reflecting one-way influence from the Sinosphere. This needs a lot of thought, especially since Stein has pointed out textual translations from Chinese where the Tibetan terms are used to translate the Chinese concept... meaning what? That the Tibetan term had no existence prior to the translation event? How can we know one way or the other?

For the discussions of these terms by Rolf Stein, see his Rolf Stein's Tibetica Antiqua with Additional Materials, tr. Arthur P. McKeown, Brill (Leiden 2010), pp. 21, 61, 63.  Today I learned the words adret and ubac. For enlightenment, look here.  Stein pointed out the two-time occurrence of the stangs-dbyal in a Nyingma scripture, the famous Guhyagarbha Tantra. Going over to RK&TS, I couldn't locate a single further scriptural occurrence in the entire Kanjur and Tanjur.  If I had searched through the Bon scriptures (as if that were even possible) I could have come up with hundreds, even thousands.

I haven't discussed medical usages of the pair gdags-srib. To follow the dictionaries, in the examination room the physician is regarded as gdags, while the patient is srib; in pulse examinations, the upper part of the pulse-taking fingers used to diagnose problems in the five solid organs is gdags, while the lower side of the same fingers used to diagnose the six container organs is srib; in respiration the outward flowing breath is gdags while the inhalation is srib.

For the word stangs-dbyal in the inscription of the bell at Samyé, there is a remarkable discussion in Hugh E. Richardson, A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions, Royal Asiatic Society (London 1985), p. 35, and this the curious are encouraged to look up. Here Richardson even connects it to the modern term gtan-zhal. This virtually means I discovered nothing at all, and this entire blog has been a completely unnecessary sacrifice of digital ink. No, please, not again!?

Monday, June 09, 2014

Flip-flops so to Speak

— Today's blog entry is dedicated to frustrated dissertation writers everywhere.

I’m not sure if the Google-bots aren’t going to build a huge firewall around Tibeto-logic after they’ve finished word-checking the blog entry below. Yeah, so what if they do? My main concern would be the school kids in the Philippines may no longer be able to get to the one about the Monkey and the Turtle/Croc (I sometimes wonder how many school teachers over there have gotten assignments that were simply cut-and-pasted from it). Their interest, an interesting subject all by itself, has made it the most-accessed Tibeto-logic blog entry ever. So it won’t matter all that much if this particular one turns out to be a big flop just because it’s on such an unpopular subject. What you’ll find below is a modified form of a posting to a members-only Ning group on Bon religion several years ago where it remains no doubt to this day inaccessible (I’ve even forgotten my password), so I thought I would bring it out in the open. Given the topic, I couldn’t find a family-friendly photo to use as a frontispiece, so I was thinking I would go with something a little more abstract this time (just remember what they say about Freud's cigar, that it might just be a cigar or then again, it might be a turtle’s head). And I apologize to everyone who would prefer bluntly direct language, since I’ve censored myself somewhat, just not so much as to worry that my meanings might be missed. I think it’s funnier that way. Have fun. Or be offended and disgusted if that's what you're into these days.

Dear Zzists,

As promised, be warned that this communication contains toned-down filth that you can very probably handle...  Well, unless you are overly prudish or fundamentalish.  If so I’m sad for you and will pray that you get better with time. The bilingual Zhang-zhung—Tibetan glossary of Zhu has this delightful bit of doggerel in Zhang-zhung.  He seems to be playing around here in this last part of the glossary, having a bit of fun, perhaps even making the sentences & verses up based on his own knowledge of ZZ language (most of his work is demonstrably extracted from the text of the Abhidharmic Bon scripture known as the Mdzod-phug).  One indication among others this may have been made up by Zhu is just the fact that pad-ma, a Tibetan transcription of Indic padma (the lotus, of course, but here metaphorically used for the 'female sign'), is parading as a Zhang-zhung word, and I believe this kind of misrecognition of Sanskrit as Zhang-zhung is something that happened more and more as time went on:  

cug no ni nam tha wer tse 
wir som (lbir som) tsa med pad ma ra 
di byil sa cim [sa cis?] nyum no ti 
ku ri dhing ning ra pi cod  

and he supplies this Tibetan translation for it:
'dod chags mi rnams pho mtshan che 
'dod log bu med [bud med] mo mtshan dmar 
khrel med ming po sbyor ngan dran 
mi 'dzem sring mo ma legs spyod 

I venture to translate the Tibetan like this:
Lustful men [have] big male genitals. / Women with wrong desires have red female genitals. / The shameless brother thinks about bad union. / The immodest sister practices 'not nice.' 
I think I translated that about as tastefully as could be expected or hoped for. I won’t discuss each Zhang-zhung word. Otherwise we’ll get way off course. I want to just discuss the ZZ word tha-wer, which is the one that was just now (see above) translated into Tibetan as pho-mtshan ('male marker'). I only got into this because years ago (guess it was 1991) when I handed in my dissertation I was chided by one of my advisers for being too prudish when translating the list of the 32 marks/signs of Lord Shenrab (they in large part do correspond to the 32 marks of the Buddha that are much better known to the world, and differ in some remarkable ways, but that’s not my point here), from the Khams-’bring [middle-lengthed version of the Khams-brgyad scripture], the passage in question being bodily mark number 26:  gsang-ba’i the-ber sbubs-su nub-pa rta dang blang po [glang po] ’gra-ba [’dra-ba] lags-so, which I translated "His private the-ber is hidden in a sheath like the horse's and elephant’s."  
For the item in context, look at this Tibeto-logic blog page.  
It still pains me being called a prude, a wound that may never ever heal. I mean, for crying out loud, I actually used the words "d***** d***" later on in the damn’d thing, not that anybody read that far. If they had I’m sure I would have heard about it, perhaps never heard the end of it. It’s not that I’m all that proud I did it. I put something much more outrageous in my dissertation, but took it out at the last minute. In this case, I’m glad I did. I had the crazy idea to test my advisers, to see how far they got into the text, thinking if they saw this doosie, they wouldn’t be able to not say something about it. That way I would actually know if they  made it as far as page 279. I’ve heard of other dissertationitis sufferers doing similar kinds of things, so my craziness was at least not unique, and I’m not as weird as you were thinking, am I? Well, am I?  
Anyway, I simply left the word the-ber untranslated, not out of modesty mind you, but because at the time I wasn’t aware of this word being used in any other context.  Really, I wasn’t even sure if it was supposed to be Tibetan or Zhang-zhung or what. It was just a mystery, its meaning divined from its context. But now in hindsight I can see that Zhu believed it was (with a different spelling) a true Zhang-zhung word, and now I know that Hummel (in his book On Zhang-zhung, LTWA, Dharamsala, 2000, p. 11), who of course based himself on Zhu, has the spelling the-wer, alternative reading tha-wer, with the Tibetan equivalent pho-mtshan, and with a slight attempt at interpretation based on the "wer" element, since it is ZZ for 'arrow,' symbol of manhood, etc.  (Well, yes, OK, but wer could even more likely mean 'king'...)  
At least it is true what Hummel says, that the word occurs twice in Zhu, once spelled tha-wer, and once spelled the-wer, but both times glossed with Tibetan word pho-mtshan, that very literally means male sign, so I'm not sure how arrows or kings would enter into it. Part of my problem is that all the Tibeto-Burman evidence for words for penis that I had been able to locate anywhere seemed to more-and-less resemble Tibetan མཇེ་ / mje (which anatomically speaking would not include the scrotum, but the word-collecting that finally fed into the STEDT database appears careless in this regard). The Chinese points in the same direction, too, since it seems there is nothing like tha-wer/the-ber there to be found. Even taking into account the possibility of genital flip-flop (this is a phenomenon you will have to ask a real Tibeto-Burmanist, not me, to explain to you, or, even if it won’t be nearly as much fun, you could do the 2nd best thing and schmoogle for it;  I know Karen does it [by Karen I mean the language of course, dummy, What did you think I meant?]) I have failed over the years to find a candidate for a cognate word in any Tibeto-Burman (or any other kind of) language.  That is, until yesterday.  
For some reason or another, instead of daydreaming about gorgeous supermodels with outstanding personal assets and minimal fabric over them, I was idly looking through an ancient article by John Avery, "Ao Naga Language of Southern Assam," American Journal of Philology, vol. 7, no. 3 (1886), pp. 344-366. Ao, a Tibeto-Burman language, is spoken by several thousand Nagas in Assam close to the Burmese border. There is an Ao entry in — Where else? — WikipediaSo anyway, what Avery (on p. 347) says is that there is an Ao-language word frequently used to indicate the male gender of persons, and that word is tebur (noticing, too, that a similar word, tebong, is used to indicate male gender of animals).  
Well, that's the only bit I've been able to come up with that could help argue that the ZZ the-ber might have some real honest-to-g-d Tibeto-Burman background. Any other ideas?  I fully realize that looking as far away as the Nagas might be considered a bit of a stretch. 
Badly yours, 

PS: The STEDT database has quite a variety of Tibeto-Burman words for penis on display. It’s interesting — I’d go so far as to say totally relevant — that the syllable the with this meaning is found in the Karenic languages.* 

(*and I suppose it is just barely possible that the the could owe something to a PIE form such as *twen (for ‘tail’). For *twen see Douglas Q. Adams, Studies in Tocharian Vocabulary IV, Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 106 (1986), pp. 339-341, at p. 340.)


Postscript: I wish I could say I’ve read this short article with the following title, but I don’t have it. As you can see, it must be exactly on topic: Paul K. Benedict, “A Further (Unexpurgated) Note on Karen Genital Flip-flop,” Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, vol. 6, no. 1 (1981), pp. 103-104.  What the original expurgated note was I have no way of telling. But I do have Benedict's other paper, "A Note on Genital De-Flip-flopping, with an Apology to Tsou boki," Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, vol. 17, no. 2 (Fall 1994), pp. 155-157. If short ones are not to your liking, you may want to read a long paper about Zhang-zhung. If you don’t mind the punishment, look here. And if that makes you too tired to think, and you’re ready to plunge into the lexical materials, look here. A blog here at Tibeto-logic introduced these things in a brief and perhaps for that reason more friendly way, I don’t know. Fyi: My sublimated Freudianism isn’t meant for serious, and anyway, I’m sure if my issues aren't resolved by now, they’re simply intractable. (Or I’m just being resistant to therapy, you decide.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Released! Tibskrit 2014

If you know Tibskrit already, or if you’re keeping Tibskrit 2011 on your laptop taking it with you wherever you go, this updated version is meant for you. I know I promised it would pass the 1,000,000 word mark. Still, I hope you won’t complain too bitterly if it falls slightly short of that perfect number. That’s a lot of typing to do in just ten years, and I assure you that every one of those keystrokes was performed by one of my poor, and by now sore, fingers and thumbs. I hope you appreciate the home-made garage-band quality of it and will excuse an occasional rough edge.

This is a reference work meant for people involved in Asian Studies or Buddhist Studies of some kind or another. Its chief usefulness will be — as its title implies — for people who are involved in literary studies in Sanskrit and/or Tibetan languages. For more explanations and apologies, just download the file and read the introductory part. Then the next time you want to know if there has been a study or translation of a particular work, if there is information on a particular writer, you can check to see if there is something here that can help you find out more. All you have to do is do an ordinary word search through the file. You don’t even need to be connected to the internet to do it.

Why not just do a Schmoogle-search for it? you may be asking.  Because it’s designed such that you get a compact set of references instead of 100,000 hits, mostly carbon copies. That said, go ahead and Schmoogle and search through Tibskrit, too. I mention some other important resources in the file itself (only in .doc format with 13 megabytes), sooo....

If you are ready for the direct download of Tibskrit 2014, go HERE.  (That means click once or twice on that underlined word.  And if it doesn't work for you, try it again tomorrow.)

For a general page with a messy list of download links, including this one, go HERE (this is only in case the just-given link may have expired).

Nota bene! Nobody in the universe has permission to upload this file to a site that charges for, or requires paid membership for, downloads (that includes you, Scribd! and you, lanoo2552!).

For the old blog (dated February 2, 2011) on the release of Tibskrit 2011, you can look here.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Road to Imeus

Somewhere in the final section, at the right-hand side (the eastern end),
of the Peutinger Table

I no longer harbor the least regret for the time spent in my high school Latin classes. No doubt they were a torture in some ways. I particularly remember how the back row of the classroom, made up entirely of boys, would break out in interminable peals of hilarity every time anyone had to pronounce the word factum, which was often. My teacher who had taught Latin to my aunt always succeeded in her efforts to remain unembarrassed, even impassive, until the laughter finally faded away and we could go back to work identifying genitive endings and the like. I found this scene tiresomely predictable. But I have to say that once we got past the Gallic Wars and moved on to other things, like Virgil and particularly Ovid's Metamorphoses, I enjoyed it very much. 

I do in truth make use of Latin every day in ways both obvious and subliminal, but I haven’t gone on to look at western classics all that much, since I soon after lost myself in Sanskrit, a little later on in Tibetan language study. Last night being exceptional, I happened to catch a fascinating lecture in the field of early cartography by a young and evidently brilliant classicist named Scott Johnson. To jot a bit of what he said on a thumbnail, he spoke about a very long scroll of a world map, in the form of a faithful 13th-century hand-copy now kept in Vienna, of a circa 300 CE original. It’s 22 feet long and one foot high; that means the geographical features are severely squeezed north-to-south, while it's west-to-east coverage extends from the British Isles to Sri Lanka. Labeled in Latin, it is best known by the name of “The Peutinger Table.”  Like so many other early maps, it was intended as a route map, labeling landmarks and possible stops along the way.

So, anyway, to get to my point before you can move your cursor over the “view the next blog...”  As the Tibeto-centric type of person I have become, I was intrigued to see on the map, far to the east, a set of mountains marked “Mons.Imeus.” (Tibetan readers will notice and appreciate the tsheg-like dots dividing the words). This I knew has to be a form of the better-known name Himalaya (Snow Treasury) or, more likely, Himavan (Snowy). Disbelief will be dispelled with a glance at today’s frontispiece, near the middle, beneath the burn hole. There you see it clear as day, a ca. 300 CE reference to the Tibetan world.

I went to look again at C.I. Beckwith’s dissertation, thinking that was a place I had seen the name, but what I did find on its page 33 is that Hemodos (=Emodon) is the name of the mountains to the north of India according to the classical authors; it is obvious they could only mean the main line of the Himâlayas. Perhaps this Hemodos and Imeus are just  different ways of recording the same name? For more spellings check the Pleiades website, here, although I can’t tell you how the Caucasus Mountains got in there (once something slips into the pool of data it can be nigh impossible to fish it out again).  Anyway, Beckwith saw Imaos (etc.) as referring to the mountain complex of the Pamirs (plus the T'ien-shan), with Hemodos (etc.) being the name of the Himalayas. I think he was probably right, although I wouldn’t mind to hear different ideas if you have any. The classical western world knew something of the Himálayan Mountains towering over India, but to find out what little they knew about the Tibetans living up above them on the Himalayan Plateau, you have no better place to look than Beckwith’s dissertation, still unpublished after all these years. (And no, we’re not talking about any old gold digging ants.)

As an afterthought, in hindsight I can say that even reading the Gallic Wars at a young age had its good effect. It soured me forever to the very idea of devoting my life to the study of war, and made me resolve to trace the ways of peace, while simultaneously and without fear of contradiction admiring those who make themselves into obstacles for injustices. My heroes are the ones who stop wars, or create the conditions that keep them from happening. The wealthy and powerful are the ones who have to try the hardest to earn our respect in this respect, their wealth or their power alone just doesn’t cut it.

A bit of the Madaba Mosaic Map, 6th century

§  §  §

References for your reference

Christopher I. Beckwith, A Study of the Early Medieval Chinese, Latin and Tibetan Historical Sources on Pre-Imperial Tibet, doctoral dissertation, Indiana University (Bloomington 1977).   

Scott Johnson, “From Ptolemy to Pilgrimage: Images of Late Antiquity in Geography, Travel and Cartography.”  Library of Congress Kluge lecture, viewable at YouTube HERE.

Nakamura Hiroshi, “Old Chinese World Maps Preserved by the Koreans,” Imago Mundi, vol. 4 (1947), pp. 3-22. Try  to get it from JSTOR through a subscribing institution, or find a library that has the journal. In this old article, at p. 21, you can see a copy of the old map with the Tibetan letters on it; it’s also illustrated in Schwartzberg’s article as well as Teramoto's, but you can get to it even more quickly HERE. Somebody should do a better study of it from a Tibetological perspective. Is anyone listening?

Sam van Schaik will before long publish a fascinating study of the Grünwedel maps. I’m fairly sure you don't know what those are, but I’m not about to steal Sam’s thunder. Well, maybe a tiny bit.

Joseph E. Schwartzberg, “Cartography of Greater Tibet and Mongolia,” contained in: J.B. Harley and D. Woodward, eds., The History of Cartography, vol. 2, pt. 2: Cartography in the Traditional East and South Asian Societies, University of Chicago Press (1994), pp. 607-681. I’m fairly jolted by the discovery that you can download this as a free PDF file from the publisher of the book, HERE. Most bona fide made-in-Tibet maps aren't all that old, and most of them, like the Peutinger Table, are route maps. They often show highlights of the scenery flattened out on either side of the route, and the route usually follows river courses, and this for obvious reasons given the otherwise highly mountainous terrain.

Teramoto Enga (1872-1949), “Waga kokushi to Toban to no Kankei” [Early Relations between Tibet and Japan — in Japanese], Otani Gakuho, vol. 12, no. 4 (1931), pp. 44-83.  On the old Tibetan map kept in Japan, where it was brought by Enchin in around the 840’s to 850’s. I’ve never seen and don’t have access to this article, but I was thinking you might want to keep an eye out for it.

§  §  §

The Peutinger Table has some great websites devoted to it.  Of course there is always the Wikipedia, the most-consulted reference work in the world today. But instead of that go directly to the real experts, like this one and this one and finally this one, a Roman route planner, fun to play with, entirely replotted onto a thoroughly modern map. There are more, of course, but you might also want to look into (by schmoogling the names) the 420-430 CE Notitia Dignitatum and most impressively, the Rome city map called Forma Urbis Romae from around 200 CE. This last-mentioned has an amazingly complex history of fragmentation and reconstruction that can be traced in delightfully maddening detail here. 

§  §  §

"Imaeus corresponds roughly with the Himalaya, considered by the ancients to be one of the mountains of the great Asian chain which they called Taurus."

Source:  An essay entitled “The Geography of Orosius.”

“Imaeus, corresponding to "Ιμαος and related forms in Greek texts, renders the Pkt form *Himava- «snowy» or the corresponding Skt Himavant- (nom. sg. Himavän)...” “Notice that montes Hemodi (Greek τα Ήμωδα δρη) is the equivalent of Pkt *Hemöda-, Skt Haimavata-, equally «snowy»; intended are two parts of the Himalayan range.”

Source: Erik Seldeslachts, “Translated Loans and Loan Translations as Evidence of Graeco-Indian Bilingualism in Antiquity,” L'antiquité classique, vol. 67 (1998), pp. 273-299, at p. 274.


Today's blog title alludes to a famous episode known as “The Road to Emmaus.” If that doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry about it overly much. It’s another of those places clearly marked on the map yet very probably impossible to find, so you can just forget about the GPS, give it a toss.

Maybe next time, or the time after, I’ll try to convince you of an even much earlier sign that a Himalayan product was well known to the middle eastern and classical western world. I’m enjoying the aroma of it even as we speak. Until then, be confident of good things coming our way.

Said to be in Kham (hard to read the tiny letters),
this shows what a typical traditional Tibetan map (ས་བཀྲ་) looks like,
somewhat topographical