A Brief History of Tibetan Grammar
Paṇ chen, don grub
This paper aims to make a brief introduction to the Tibetan grammar by dividing its history into three periods for the convenience of explanation, and introducing the famous Tibetan grammatical works after explaining the process of creation of the Tibetan script by Thonmi sambhoṭa (7th century) as well as his grammatical works.
The problem whether the Sum chu pa and Rtags ’jug are Thon mi’s authentic works is a debatable topic among the modern scholars, but in the traditional understanding, the four works: Sum chu pa, Rtags ’jug, Gnas brgyad chen mo, and Smra sgo are considered to be the first basic Tibetan grammatical works. It is to be noted that the Gnas brgyad chen mo and Smra sgo are the grammatical treatises related both to Sanskrit and Tibetan. This suggests that Tibetan grammar has been closely related to and influenced by Sanskrit grammar since the early time.
From the time of Dbus pa blo gsal in the 12th century to the time of Rnam gling pan. chen in the 18th century, a lot of commentaries on the Sum chu pa and Rtags ’jug were written, although most of them were quite short and lacking in detailed discussions. One of the most important figure was Rnam gling pan. chen who made a significant achievement in the development of commentary on the Sum rtags by discussing the usage of la don particles and others in detail, but his interpretation was criticized by Pra ti rin chen don grub (17–18th cent.) in many respects. Moreover, Si tu also criticized many former interpretations such as those of Rnam gling paṇ chen and Pra ti, and so on.
It is clear that Rnam gling pan. chen’s interpretation had a great influence on the formation of the grammatical tenets of Pra ti and Si tu. From the time of Pra ti and Si tu, the style of interpretation of classical Tibetan grammar has been divided into two groups: the Pra ti style and the Si tu style. Subsequent grammarians did not necessarily belong to either of the two styles. There also occurred fusion interpretations where the advantages of them was selected by later commentators. At any rate, the two styles have played an important role in Tibetan grammatical tenets since the 18th century.
Furthermore, in the latter half of the 20th century, when Tshe tan zhabs drung and Dmu dge bsam gtan appeared, the Tibetan grammarians aimed at reformation of the Tibetan language that was destroyed or damaged during the Cultural Revolution. At the same time, a reassessment of traditional Tibetan grammar has begun to be discussed by way of a new form of system that incorporates insights gained from the modern linguistics and the traditional interpretations of the verses of the Sum Rtags.
The Annals of the Research Project Center for the Comparative Study of Logic
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Departmental Bulletin Paper
Departmental Bulletin Papers