Tibetan crayon – and other new words

By: Johnny Baltzersen, chair, CICED 

As we all know, language is constantly evolving. Words come and go. This is especially true for the Tibetan language. Since time immemorial, Tibetan has been rich in philosophical and literary concepts, and along with Tibetan culture, the language is studied extensively all over the world.

However, there has been a lack of innovation and development of the language to include concepts to describe modern technology and newer societal phenomena.

With the launch of [New] Basic Education Policy/BEP in 2004, the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India set out to create ‘a system of education having traditional Tibetan education as it core and modern education as its essential co-partner ‘.

And of course, modern education requires modern terminology to match. Since 2004, Danish aid has funded the creation of more than 10,000 new Tibetan words and concepts.

The work is being done by a team of linguists at the Department of Education in Dharamsala. Every six months, an expert committee meets to discuss and approve proposals for new words and suggestions for how to explain them. Typically, the committee meets for seven days and reviews all proposals from morning to night. Most recently, 900 words, including ‘thumbtack’ and ‘marathon’.

The many new words and concepts and their explanations are published both digitally and in book form, and are widely used by Tibetans in exile and in Tibet studies around the world. Via cyberspace, the digital version even sneaks across the Himalayas to benefit Tibetans in Lhasa and the surrounding area.

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