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 5 of 13

Special Rules

Certain combinations of root consonants, superscripts, subscripts, suffixes, and so forth may also affect the pronunciation of a Tibetan word. Therefore, we have delineated fifteen rules that, in conjunction with the general principle stated above, determine the THL Simplified Phonetic rendering of a Tibetan word. These rules are:

1. The letters “c” and “ch” of the Wylie transliteration system are both rendered as “ch” in phonetic transcription. In this case conformity with Wylie is less important than avoiding mispronunciation as a hard “c” such as occurs in the English words “cat,” “cut,” and “crew.” Examples:

  • bcu > chu
  • gcig pa > chikpa
  • rin chen > Rinchen
  • nag chu > Nakchu.

2. The letters “th,” “ph,” and “tsh” are rendered “t,” “p,” and “ts,” respectively, to avoid obvious mispronunciation:

  • phag pa > pakpa
  • gser thang > Sertang
  • khang tshan > khangtsen

3. When the vowels o and u are followed by the suffixes d, n, l, and s, they acquire an umlaut and become, respectively, ö and ü. The umlaut is used to reflect the significant pronunciation difference between a standard “o” or “u” and these modified forms. Continuity with Wylie is maintained, albeit with the slight divergence of an added diacritic mark (the umlaut). Note: while the suffixes l and n are pronounced, d and s simply affect the vowel.

Pronunciation: “ö” corresponds to the sound “ö” in the German name Götter or the “eu” in the French word feu (roughly the vowel sound in the English foot).

“ü” corresponds to the sound “ü” in the German word Rücke or the “u” of the French word rue (roughly the vowel sound of the English cute). Examples:

  • bka’ brgyud > Kagyü
  • bsod nams > Sönam
  • yul > yül
  • dus tshod > dütsö
  • bon po > Bönpo

4. When the vowel a is followed by the suffix d, n, l, or s, it is rendered as “e.” However, when this occurs in the final syllable of a word it is rendered “é.” Similarly, when the vowel e (greng bu) is the final sound in the last syllable of a word it is rendered as “é” (note: when the vowel e is not the final sound in a syllable or is not in the last syllable of a word it is rendered as “e” to minimize the proliferation of accent marks).

Pronunciation: these vowels are pronounced like the “ä” in the German Käse (roughly like the vowel in the English hay) or the ai in the French aime (roughly like the vowel in the English help). Examples:

  • sde dge > Degé
  • brgyad > gyé
  • dge rgan > gegen
  • ral pa can > Relpachen
  • tshe ring > Tsering
  • byes > Jé
  • bstan ’dzin > Tendzin
  • jam dpal dbyangs > Jampelyang

5. The suffixes g and b are devoiced and rendered “k” and “p,” respectively, since this most closely approximates actual pronunciation. Examples:

  • dge legs > Gelek
  • kha btags > khatak
  • sngags pa > ngakpa
  • byang chub > jangchup
  • thub bstan > Tupten
  • thabs > tap

6. When ba and bo appear as the final syllable of a word, they are transcribed as “wa” and “wo,” respectively. This also includes ba’i (> wé, about which see rule 16 below) and bar (> war) as final syllables, although the latter is more evident in literary forms. Examples:

  • lha sa ba > Lhasawa
  • jo bo > Jowo
  • dpabo > pawo
  • ’gro ba’i > drowé
  • gsal bar > selwar
  • Note: this only applies to final syllables. Thus, bar ba > barwa and not warwa

7. The consonant clusters py, phy and by are transcribed respectively as “ch,” “ch,” and “j.” Examples:

  • spyan ras gzigs > Chenrezik
  • phyag > chak
  • sbyin bdag > jindak

8. The consonant cluster my is transcribed as “ny.” Examples:

  • smyong > nyong
  • dmyal ba > nyelwa

9. Consonant clusters with r subscripts (which are pronounced as retroflexes) are transcribed with an “r.” Thus:

  • kr, pr, and tr are all transcribed as “tr”
  • khr, phr, and thr are all transcribed as “tr”
  • gr, br, and dr are all transcribed as “dr”

Examples:

  • sgrol ma > Drölma
  • grub thob > druptop
  • sprul sku > trülku
  • bras spungs > Drepung
  • phrin las > trinlé

For all other consonant clusters in which the r subscript is not pronounced, such as mr, sr, and so forth, THL Simplified Phonetics simply drops the “r” in accordance with the general principle. Examples:

  • srung ma > sungma
  • srog rlung > soklung
  • rdzun smra ba > dzünmawa

10. Consonant clusters containing a subscript la are transcribed as “l” with the exception of zl, which is transcribed as “d.” Examples:

  • klad pa > lepa
  • glog > lok
  • zla ba > dawa

11. Consonant clusters with an l superscript and h root letter are rendered “lh.” Examples:

  • lha sa > Lhasa
  • lho phyogs > lhochok
  • lhun grub > lhündrup

12. Consonant clusters with a d prefix and b root letter undergo transformations in the following way, depending on whether the consonant cluster includes the subscripts y or r:

  • db is pronounced “w”
  • dby is pronounced “y”
  • dbr is pronounced “r”

Examples:

  • dbang > wang
  • dbyar kha > yarkha
  • dbral > rel

13. When the second syllable of a word begins with the prefix achung (’), nasalization occurs as follows:

  1. An “n” is inserted after the first syllable, and the suffix of the first syllable (if there is one) is elided. Examples:
    • bka’ ’gyur > Kangyur
    • dge ’dun > Gendün
    • ngos ’dzin > ngöndzin
    • rig ’dzin > Rindzin
    • mkha’gro > khandro
    • dkyil ’khor > kyinkhor
  2. If the root letter of the second syllable is pha or ba, an “m” is inserted after the first syllable, and the suffix of the first syllable (if there is one) is elided. Examples:
    • chos ’phel > Chömpel
    • dpal ’bar > Pembar
    • sku ’bum > Kumbum
    • Note: if the root letter of the second syllable is ph or b with a subscribed ya or ra, an “n” is inserted rather than an “m.” Examples:
      • dpal ’byor > Penjor
      • rgyu ’bras > gyundré
  3. Note: there are some exceptions to the form the nasalization takes:
    • skyabs ’gro > kyamdro
    • rtenbrel > temdrel
    • lambras > lamdré

14. Multiple vowels that have discrete sounds and are connected by an achung (’) are transcribed by dropping the achung. Examples:

  • le’u > leu
  • khyi’u > khyiu

15. When two of the same vowels are connected by an achung, they are transcribed by dropping the achung and combining the two vowels into one. Examples:

  • pa’ang > pang
  • gri’i > dri

16. When two different vowels are connected by an achung and the second vowel is an “i,” the first vowel undergoes the same transformation as with the suffixes d, n, l, and s (detailed in rules 3 and 4 above). Note: this “i” represents the particle of the sixth grammatical case and therefore is always the final syllable of a word. Examples:

  • gro ba’i > drowé
  • rgyal bu’i > gyelbü
  • rin po che’i > rinpoché
  • bdag po’i > dakpö
  • le’u’i > leü
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THL Simplified Phonetic Transcription of Standard Tibetan, by David Germano