Ethnic Pinyin Of Tibetan

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Ethnic Pinyin Transcription of Tibetan

There is a tradition in contemporary China of directly transcribing the sound of Tibetan words into Roman script. This is sometimes referred to as “ethnic pinyin” or “nationality pinyin,” since it is modeled on the pinyin system of transcribing Chinese words in Roman script. For reasons discussed below, it is a poor system for international use, though it cannot be ignored since it is used widely in Chinese sources. However, it must be understood since these roman script transcriptions – both the ethnic pinyin of Tibetan and the pinyin of Chinese character transcriptions of Tibetan – are widespread in contemporary Chinese texts, maps, datasets, and government documents (including passports!). The most common context in which this must be dealt with is in the personal names of Tibetans and Tibetan places names. For these reasons, THL is attempting to document both types of transcription in the THL Place Dictionary and THL Tibetan Dictionaries. It is important in such documentation to provide the source information for such transcriptions, since, as discussed below, multiple versions can be found in different sources.

Unfortunately, whereas pinyin itself is systematized and standardized, ethnic pinyin is neither. In addition, it can often be confused with the pinyin transcription of the Chinese character version of the Tibetan name, whereas ethnic pinyin is supposed to be a direct transcription of the Tibetan word’s sound. However, in practice, since those creating the ethnic pinyin are often Chinese speakers, or Tibetans influenced by Chinese language and its transcription, the ethnic pinyin is often identical to, or very similar to, the pinyin.

People from outside of China will generally find the ethnic pinyin transcription of Tibetan puzzling. There are three primary reasons for this. Firstly, sounds are transcribed by roman script in accordance with correlations between sounds and roman script found in the pinyin system.

Secondly, the sounds being transcribed are often as found in a specific dialect of Tibetan, especially for such things as place names. Thus someone familiar with how that word or place name would be pronounced in central/standard Tibetan will find the transcription puzzling, since pronunciation varies dramatically from dialect to dialect in Tibetan. Therefore, in analyzing a given transcription it is useful to consider if the term in question has a specific regional association that would point to the transcription being a rendering of a specific dialectical pronunciation.

Thirdly, the Chinese language itself consists of many different dialects which vary greatly in pronunciation. The rendering of a Tibetan term in ethnic pinyin can thus be influenced both in how it is heard, and in how its sounds are associated with roman script letters, by the Chinese dialect with which the transcriber is familiar.

When these factors are taken into account, the transcriptions in ethnic pinyin can be better understood, even if they are clearly a very poor system for communication to an international audience. These problems are also found in the Chinese character transcriptions of Tibetan terms, such as place names, personal names, or technical terms, as well as the consequent pinyin transcriptions of the Chinese characters. However, with ethnic pinyin, these problems are further compounded by virtue of the fact that (i) the system itself is not sufficiently regular so that it is not possibly to predict with reliability how a given Tibetan term would be transcribed with this system and (ii) the results are not standardized so that in different sources somewhat different forms may be given for the same word.

Given the lack of standardization, the best way to understand ethnic pinyin is through looking at examples. The following provides same sample place names and personal names in Tibetan script, THL Wylie, THL simplified phonetics, ethnic pinyin, Chinese characters, and pinyin.

Please note that the personal names given below are taken from passports, where the tendency is to take four-syllable Tibetan names and render them as a single last name with no first name. Our presumption is that these are actually pinyin of the Chinese character version of the Tibetan name, but it is nonetheless of interest to note the combination of the four syllables into a single name.

Tibetan scriptTHL WylieTHL simplified phoneticsethnic pinyinChinese characterspinyinNote
Tibetan scriptdkon mchog dpal bzangTHL simplified phoneticsethnic pinyinChinese charactersgongqubarangSichuan-based transcription of a personal name.
Tibetan scriptphun tshogs rnam rgyalTHL simplified phoneticsethnic pinyinChinese characterspengcuolangjiaSichuan-based transcription of a personal name.
Tibetan scripttshe ring ‘gyur medTHL simplified phoneticsethnic pinyinChinese characterszerenjimeiSichuan-based transcription of a personal name.
Tibetan scripttshe ring don grubTHL simplified phoneticsethnic pinyinChinese characterszerendengzhuSichuan-based transcription of a personal name.
Tibetan scriptgzhis ka rtseTHL simplified phoneticsethnic pinyinChinese characterspinyinCentral Tibet-based transcription of a place name.
Tibetan scriptbsod nams don grubTHL simplified phoneticsethnic pinyinChinese characterssuolangdunzhuCentral Tibet-based (?) transcription of a personal name.
Tibetan scriptbsod nams stobs rgyalTHL simplified phoneticsethnic pinyinChinese charactersshenglongduojiaSichuan-based transcription of a personal name.
Tibetan scriptlha saTHL simplified phoneticsethnic pinyinChinese characterslasaCentral Tibet-based transcription of a place name.

Provided for unrestricted use by the external link: Tibetan and Himalayan Library