Shokjang was born in Labrang in Amdo. He studied Tibetan literature at the Northwest Nationalities University in Lanzhou. He is a leading intellectual of his generation. He has published four books: The Courage of the Path (ལམ་གྱི་སྙིང་སྟོབས།); The Pen’s Strength (སྙུ་གུའི་སྟོབས།); For Freedom I Have No Regrets (རང་དབང་གི་དོན་དུ། ང་ལ་བློ་འགྱོད་མེད་།); and The Courage of Rangdrol (རང་གྲོལ་སྙིང་སྟོབས།). He writes on Tsenpo and Samsara.
Tibetan Spelling Mistakes and More
Once a father received a letter from his son which read, “It has been a year since my thigh got stuck together with my chest (ང་བརླ་བྲང་ལ་འབྱར་ནས་ལོ་གཅིག་ཡིན།).” As the father was not literate, he asked a lama to read the letter for him. After reading it, the Lama told the father, “Your son’s thigh (brla) has become stuck to his chest (brang).” [In Tibetan, (བརླ brla) means thigh and (བྲང་། brang) means chest]. The father was much saddened by the news.
What the son meant was that it had been one year since he arrived at Labrang (bla brang) (ང་བླ་བྲང་དུ་འབྱོར་ནས་ལོ་གཅིག་ཡིན།), but since he misspelled the word, it created confusion and gave the wrong message to his father. In one of the writer Yangba’s articles titled “Tibetan, A Language That Can Be So Very Misspelled,” he talks about a banner on which was written “The People-Killing Brigade” (མི་གསོད་རུ་ཁག). The title shocked him. Totalitarian governments suppress their people mercilessly but it was unbelievable that they were establishing such a brigade to kill people. Actually, the real meaning of the text was “The Fire-Killing Brigade”, not “The People-Killing Brigade”. Here again there was a spelling error because in Tibetan, the word “me” (མེ ) means fire and “mi” (མི) means human. Since the root word for both is “ma” (མ), if you change the first vowel with the third vowel, it means something totally different. But who knows? One day the “The Fire-Killing Brigade” may really be converted to “The People-Killing Brigade” and there’ll be no place for us to hide.
These past few years, the local government has made countless banners with such spelling errors. For instance, spelling mistakes like Ganlho Donkey Prefecture (ཀན་ལྷོ་བོང་རིགས།) are quite common. (Here they wrote “bong rigs བོང་རིགས།” instead of “bod rigs བོད་རིགས”. ‘Bod’ means Tibetan and ‘bong’ means donkey.) It is good to see that many writers are concerned about the issue and of course in the end it is our responsibility to take care of our own language. But whether because of bad influences from the local government or not, spelling mistakes are proliferating almost everywhere from individual publications to websites, blogs and on WeChat as well. Many Tibetans don’t even hesitate before making these spelling mistakes.
Recently, I saw a brochure while I was at home. There were both Tibetan and Chinese text on it. It said, “Nyima Restaurant for Super Beings or High Lamas.” (ཉི་མ། བླ་གྲ་ང་གསོལ་ཁང་།) I was quite confused and just looked at the Chinese letters and then understood what it meant. But if you are someone who doesn’t understand Chinese, then it will definitely confuse you because of the spelling mistake. What the brochure means is “Nyima Labrang Restaurant”. If we go back to the original meaning of the misspelled brochure, ‘la’ means high or superior, ‘ta’ means the tip of an animal’s hair, ‘nga’ means I and ‘solkhang’ means restaurant. As the phrase is spelled, it means “Nyima Restaurant for High Lamas” or “Nyima Restaurant for Super Beings” instead of “Nyima Labrang Restaurant.” Instead of the name of a common Tibetan restaurant in Amdo Labrang, because of the wrong spelling, the restaurant has become a special restaurant for lamas and super beings. How confusing is that?
Actually, Labrang in Amdo is a cultural hotspot. The Geluk monastery of Labrang Tashi kyil is established there. The restaurant I mentioned above is a popular restaurant that many locals, both monks and lay people, frequent but either no one took the trouble to mention the mistake to the owner or the owner was very stubborn about it.
Frankly speaking, it is our responsibility to study and preserve our own language before it gets ruined by our enemies. These days, there are people who talk a lot about the importance of the Tibetan language but in reality, they don’t study Tibetan well and don’t use it in a practical way. So there’s a gap between what they say and their practice in reality. I don’t think such fake things will last for long.
Any country or human being has the right to study their language and also the responsibility to avoid misusing it. Having both right and responsibility is part of your freedom and it is your fundamental responsibility to study and preserve your own language freely. If you can’t handle the basic responsibility, you can’t have the other rights.
In the recent years, we started writing about freedom and democracy and protesting for them as well, but we are not studying our own language and pointing out our own mistakes. I have worry and concern about our understanding of the situation of our own culture and society. Sometimes, I feel that Tibetans now are just like the Tibetans that came before us.
Just as it will take us time to correct and get rid of these spelling mistakes, so it will surely take us time to get a proper understanding of our culture and society and solve the Tibetan issue.
The original link: http://www.korawa.com/index.php?c=content&a=show&id=106
(Translated by Dhondup Tashi Rekjong)