Hyslop Orthography LSA2011

Kurtöp (Tibeto-Burman)
orthography development in
[email protected]
• Introduction to Kurtöp and literacy in Bhutan
• Factors involved in orthography development in
‘Deep’ vs. ‘shallow’ representation
‘faithful’ representation
Government expectations
Script choice (Roman-based vs. ’Ucen-based)
Religion (Buddhism)
National language (Dzongkha – linguistically a Tibetan
• Kurtöp is a previously undescribed Tibeto-Burman
language of Bhutan (Hyslop 2011 is first
grammatical description)
• About 15,000 speakers in Northeastern Bhutan
• No monolingual speakers. Most fluent in
Dzongkha (national language) as well as Tshangla
(unwritten lingua franca of eastern Bhutan),
Nepali and many are also fluent in Hindi and
• Mainly literate in Dzongkha and English
Linguistic Factors
• ‘Deep’ vs. ‘shallow’ representation:
• Relatively simple and predictable allomorphy on case
enclitics and verbal suffixes.
• e.g. perfective -pa ~ -wa ~ -sa
• e.g. hortative -ki ~ -ci ~ -iki
• Consensus among community members to represent
allomorphy in all examples.
Linguistic Factors
• How much to represent:
• Tone and vowel length are contrastive, though not terribly
robust. High/low tone contrasts following sonorants.
Long/short contrasts in open syllables.
• Again, speaker consensus to represent the contrasts.
Governmental Policies
• Linguistic research in Bhutan is necessarily
collaborative and thus so is orthography
• The government requires both Roman and ’Ucenbased orthographies.
• ’Ucen is the Tibetan-based orthography (abugida)
derived from Brahmi
in the 7th century
Tshui and Joyi versions of ’Ucen
<tshugs.yig> tshui
<mgyogs.yig> joyi
Buddhism and ’Ucen
• Buddhism is a state religion in Bhutan.
• Buddhist texts, written in ’Ucen (Tshui) are sacred.
• As extension, anything written in ’Ucen is often
considered sacred
• As such, issues surrounding ’Ucen are very
Background: The ’Ucen syllable
Background: The ’Ucen syllable
In the Classical Tibetan Orthography,
syllables are represented according to
this diagram.
The “R” represents a simple onset, or
in the case of an onset-less syllable,
the vowel. C1, C2, and C4 may be
used to add consonants to the onset,
making it complex. The V slots are for
vowels. C3 represents a single coda
(if present) and C5 makes a complex
coda (rarely occurs).
Classical Tibetan <bsgrubs>
For example, to write <bsgrubs> The
complex onset is <b> in C1; <s> in
C2 position, <g> in root position;
<r> in C4. /u/ is represented
below C4. <b> in C3 and <s> in C5
indicate the complex coda.
’Ucen and Tibetan/Dzongkha
 Classical Tibetan phonology had around 28
consonants (labial, dental, palatal, velar).
 And complex onsets
 And five vowels
 No tone
’Ucen and Tibetan/Dzongkha
 After almost 1,400 years of change, Lhasa Tibetan
(the prescribed standard) has:
A new series of retroflex consonants
Two new vowels (front high and mid rounded)
High and low tonal registers; level and falling tonal
Changes in voicing/aspiration contrasts
Simplified onsets
’Ucen and Bhutan
 The modern use of ’Ucen assumes the 1400 years of change
from Classical Tibetan to modern Lhasa Tibetan.
 ’Ucen is used this way in Bhutan; for example, words with
complex onsets in Classical Tibetan are still written as such in
modern Tibetan/Dzongkha, but not pronounced as such.
 Representing any pronunciation using ’Ucen entails the reader
to infer the sound change.
 There is no way to represent various aspects of the phonology
of other synchronic Bhutanese languages – such as complex
onsets – in the history of Bhutanese education.
Contemporary <bsgrubs>
After approximately
1400 years of change,
<bsgrubs> is
pronounced: ɖùp
Kurtöp phonology
Kurtöp complex onsets
Some problems
But in Kurtöp pra = ‘monkey’
Some problems
Idea 1: Use
’Ucen in a way
similar to
How to represent
vowels other
than /ɑ/?
Problems, continued
This would be confused
with /lé/ in Dzongkha/Tibetan
This leads people to tend to pronounce the
word correctly, but does not follow the
traditional conventions and is unattractive.
Proposed solution
 Based on existing (but rarely used) conventions
established in Tibetan to represent different languages.
 Should not affect Dzongkha transference issues
 Aesthetically pleasing
 Kurtöp speakers find it intuitive and easy to read
Proposed solution
 Existing computer fonts do not allow the needed
 Chris Fynn, DDC font developer, agreed to adapt the
Bhutan ’Ucen fonts (joyi and tshui) to accommodate
the new combinations
 In addition to the complex onsets, the adapted fonts
will be able to mark tone
Proposed solution
Tshui font is
finished and joyi is
scheduled to be
finished by March.
/ká/ /khí/ /gú/ /ŋé/ /có/
/c/ /kja/ /ʈa/ /kra/ /kla/ /klwa/
 Kurtöp speakers preferred a shallow and faithful
representation -- for both Roman and ’Ucen based
 With regard to ’Ucen, the cursive, or Joyi, version
was preferred, due to its somewhat neutral religious
affiliation and its status as an indigenous script.
 Reading rules from Tibetan/Dzongkha posed serious
problems for Kurtöp, which is not a direct
descendent from Classical Tibetan and has a
different phonology.
 Adapting ’Ucen to fit Kurtöp phonology required
considerations in:
transference from Dzongkha
standard conventions
historical uses of ’Ucen
religious sensitivity (e.g. representing Classical Tibetan
religious borrowings, script choice)
Research on Kurtöp has been funded by the National Science
Foundation and the Endangered Languages Documentation
Project. All research and orthography development has been
done in collaboration with the Dzongkha Development
Commission in Bhutan. I am also grateful for discussion with
and comments from Karma Tshering, Kuenga Lhendup, Scott
DeLancey, Keren Rice, and Kris Stenzel.
Thank you!

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