Dick & Garlick has a thought-provoking post on Jamyang Norbu‘s

five-part essay in the Times of Tibet which attempts to refute propaganda myths about the Chinese ‘modernization’ of the Tibetan language. In response to the claim that the language lacked a scientific vocabulary prior to Chinese intervention, Norbu methodically lists every neologism adopted in the early 20th century, demonstrating that the Tibetans had names for modern inventions like electricity, radio, photography and the airplane long before the occupation of their homeland. In the process, he creates an unusual portrait of a society and a language adapting to modern times.

Dick & Garlick quotes some of the borrowings used in the early part of the century:

Tibetans called the telegraph tar from the Hindi for wire, a motorcar was a mota or gari, from gaadi, flashlights were known as bijili after the Hindi word for electricity, and the postal service was called dak. Borrowed words like these were in common use throughout the country, while in Lhasa you could smoke a shik-ray (cigarette), chew gig-chiri (chewing gum), or buy a tikkus (ticket) to the beskop (bioscope, cinema) to watch the movies of Charlie Chumping.

The first part of the series is here; you can get to them all from Norbu’s author page, linked to his name above.


  1. Those essays will keep me busy for a while.
    In the meantime, I think it is worth mentioning that Hindi tar isn’t only a wire, but telegram/telegraph etc, in umpteen Indian languages as well. In Kim, Kipling uses tar for telegram in ch. 11.
    Kipling writes tikkut for ticket (Kim ch. 2), and transcribes गाड़ी gaa.dii ‘carriage’ as garri in ch.7.
    Dak for mail etc. is Hindi etc. as well.
    An extra bonus for me is that the author in one single paragraph (Besides kerosene and cement …) manages to mention no less than three inventions by Swedes: the primus stove, safety-matches and the zipper.

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