Classical Tibetan
Classical Tibetan refers to the language of any text written in Tibetan
Tibetan language
The Tibetan languages are a cluster of mutually-unintelligible Tibeto-Burman languages spoken primarily by Tibetan peoples who live across a wide area of eastern Central Asia bordering the Indian subcontinent, including the Tibetan Plateau and the northern Indian subcontinent in Baltistan, Ladakh,...

 after the Old Tibetan period and before the modern period, but in particular refers to the language of early canonical texts translated from other languages, especially Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

. The phonology
Phonology is, broadly speaking, the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language. That is, it is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use...

 implied by classical Tibetan orthography
The orthography of a language specifies a standardized way of using a specific writing system to write the language. Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example Kurdish, Uyghur, Serbian or Inuktitut, there can be more than one orthography...

 is basically identical to the phonology of Old Tibetan, but the grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

 varies greatly depending on period and geographic origin of the author. Such variation is an underresearched topic.


The classical written language has nine case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

s, although traditional Tibetan grammarians discussed only eight, based on those of Sanskrit.:
  • absolutive (unmarked morphologically)
  • genitive (-gi, -gyi, -kyi, -'i, -yi)
  • ergative
    Ergative case
    The ergative case is the grammatical case that identifies the subject of a transitive verb in ergative-absolutive languages.-Characteristics:...

    Instrumental case
    The instrumental case is a grammatical case used to indicate that a noun is the instrument or means by or with which the subject achieves or accomplishes an action...

     (-gis, -gyis, -kyis, -s, -yis)
  • locative (-na)
  • allative (-la)
  • terminative ( -ru, -su, -tu, -du, -r)
  • comitative (-dang)
  • ablative (-nas)
  • elative
    Elative case
    See Elative for disambiguation.Elative is a locative case with the basic meaning "out of"....


Case morphology is affixed to entire noun phrases, not to individual words.

Nominalizing suffixes — pa or ba and ma — are required by the noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

 or adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

 that is to be singled out;
  • po or bo (masculine
    Grammatical gender
    Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

    ) and mo (feminine
    Grammatical gender
    Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...

    ) are used for distinction of gender or for emphasis.

The plural
In linguistics, plurality or [a] plural is a concept of quantity representing a value of more-than-one. Typically applied to nouns, a plural word or marker is used to distinguish a value other than the default quantity of a noun, which is typically one...

 is denoted, when required, by adding the morpheme (-rnams), when the collective nature of the plurality is stressed the morpheme (-dag) is instead used. These two morphemes combine readily (i.e. rnams-dag 'a group with several members', and dag-rnams 'several groups'). When several words are connected in a sentence they seldom require more than one case element, and that comes last.

There are personal, demonstrative, interrogative and reflexive pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

s, as well as an indefinite article, which is plainly related to the numeral for "one."


A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

s do not inflect for person or number. Morphologically there are up to four separate stem forms, which the Tibetan grammarians, influenced by Sanskrit grammatical terminology, call the "present" (lta-da), "past" (das-pa), "future" (ma-'ongs-pa), and "imperative" (skul-tshigs), although the precise semantics of these stems is still controversial. The so-called future stem is not a true future, but conveys the sense of necessity or obligation.

The majority of Tibetan verbs fall into one of two categories, those that express implicitly or explicitly the involvement of an agent, marked in a sentence by the instrumental particle (
kyis etc) and those that express an action that does not involve an agent. Tibetan grammarians refer to these categories as tha-dad-pa and tha-mi-dad-pa respectively. Although these two categories often seem to overlap with the English grammatical concepts of transitive and intransitive, most modern writers on Tibetan grammar have adopted the terms "voluntary" and "involuntary", based on native Tibetan descriptions. Most involuntary verbs lack an imperative stem.

Many verbs exhibit stem ablaut among the four stem forms, thus a or e in the present tends to become o in the imperative byed, byas, bya, byos 'to do'), an e in the present changes to a in the past and future (len, blangs, blang, longs 'to take'); in some verbs a present in i changes to u in the other stems (dzin, bzung, gzung, zung 'to take'). Additionally, the stems of verbs are also distinguished by the addition of various prefixes and suffixes, thus sgrub (present), bsgrubs (past), bsgrub (future), sgrubs (imperative). Though the final -s suffix, when used, is quite regular for the past and imperative, the specific prefixes to be used with any given verb are less predictable; while there is a clear pattern of b- for a past stem and g- for a future stem, this usage is not consistent.

Only a limited number of verbs are capable of four changes; some cannot assume more than three, some two, and many only one. This relative deficiency is made up by the addition of auxiliaries or suffixes both in the classical language and in the modern dialects.

Verbs are negated by two prepositional particles: mi and ma. Mi is used with present and future stems. The particle ma is used with the past stem, prohibitions do not employ the imperative stem, rather the present stem is negated with ma. There is also a negative stative verb med 'there is not, there does not exist', the counterpart to the stative verb yod 'there is, there exists'

As with nouns, Tibetan also has a complex system of honorific and polite verbal forms. Thus, many verbs for everyday actions have a completely different form to express the superior status, whether actual or out of courtesy, of the agent of the action, thus lta 'see', hon. gzigs; byed 'do', hon. mdzad. Where a specific honorific verb stem does not exist, the same effect is brought about by compounding a standard verbal stem with an appropriate general honorific stem such as mdzad.

See also

  • Standard Tibetan
    Standard Tibetan
    Standard Tibetan is the most widely used spoken form of the Tibetan languages. It is based on the speech of Lhasa, an Ü-Tsang dialect belonging to the Central Tibetan languages. For this reason, Standard Tibetan is often called Central Tibetan...

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