Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
THL Simplified Phonetic Transcription of Standard Tibetan
by David Germano and Nicolas Tournadre
December 12, 2003
Section 4 of 13

The General Principle

The THL Simplified Phonetic system maintains continuity with the Wylie transliteration system in some respects but also diverges from it in other respects. We retain Wylie for representing the root letter of a syllable for most of the thirty Tibetan consonants (see the table immediately below). The exceptions are: Wylie “c,” which is rendered “ch”; Wylie “th,” which is rendered “t”; Wylie “ph,” which is rendered “p”; and Wylie “tsh,” which is rendered “ts.” One final difference is the achung, which is rendered with an apostrophe mark (’) in Wylie. Since this letter is silent, when it is the root consonant THL Simplified Phonetics renders it as “a,” “i,” “u,” “e,” or “o,” according to its vowel.

The Thirty Consonants of Tibetan

k
kh
g
ng
ch
ch
j
ny
t
t
d
n
p
p
b
m
ts
ts
dz
w
zh
z
a (Wylie = ')
y
r
l
sh
s
h
a

The Four Vowels

i
u
e
o

Note: the approximate pronunciation of the four vowels (unless modified according to rules 3, 4, or 16 below) is as follows: a = vowel in “hut”; i = vowel in “hit” or “reel”; e = vowel in “say” or “help”; and o = vowel in “note.”

The THL Simplified Phonetic system, in contrast to Wylie, drops all Tibetan letters not pronounced in a given syllable. This includes the superscribed consonants r, l, and s; the prefixes g, d, b, m, and ; the suffixes d, , and s; and the post-suffixes s and d.

Even though a prefix, superscript, subscript, or suffix is dropped in the phonetic transcription of a word, it may influence the pronunciation of the vowel or root consonant and thereby affect the phonetic rendering (the rules below detail such cases). Thus, the THL Simplified Phonetic rendering of a word represents only its pronunciation in Standard Tibetan.

As the examples below will show, the following suffixes are pronounced: g, ng, n, b, and m. Although in actual speech the suffixes r and l are generally replaced by a lengthening of the preceding vowel, the THL phonetic transcription scheme retains them because they are still audible if a speaker is enunciating clearly. Therefore, r and l are included in the list of suffixes that are pronounced.

In the following examples, the Wylie transliteration is given in the first group of syllables (those preceding the >), and the THL phonetic rendering follows the >. The letters that are actually pronounced are indicated by bold type, and proper names are capitalized.

Examples:

  • dag pa > dakpa
  • ring po > ringpo
  • rin chen > Rinchen
  • lab > lap
  • dum bu > dumbu
  • dmar po > marpo
  • ril bu > rilbu
  • sa skya pa > Sakyapa
  • blo bzang > Lozang (also Lopzang)
  • rnying ma pa > Nyingmapa
  • dge lugs pa > Gelukpa
  • gzhis ka rtse > Zhikatsé
  • mar me > marmé
  • dge bshes > geshé

Note: when words in phonetic transcription are used in English sentences they function just like English words. Thus, the plural is formed by adding an s, the possessive by adding ’s, and so forth, and such English-grammar additions have no effect on the phonetic transcription. Examples:

  • the three geshés
  • Lozang’s book
#!essay=/thl/phonetics/
THL Simplified Phonetic Transcription of Standard Tibetan, by David Germano