Thursday, 22 December 2011

Tangut in Tibetan

Perhaps the core problem of Tangutology, which has directly and indirectly involved most of the effort of most Tangutolgists most of the time, has been the reconstruction of the pronunciation of the extinct Tangut language. Modern reconstructions of Tangut are largely based on the evidence provided by a few surviving Tangut lexico-phonological works such as the Homophones and the Sea of Writing, although the phonetic glossing of Tangut characters by means of Chinese characters in the Pearl in the Palm has also provided important evidence for the pronunciation of Tangut. However, it is necessary to first reconstruct the pronunciation of 11th century Chinese before the Chinese glosses can be used to try to reconstruct the pronunciation of the corresponding Tangut characters, and furthermore, as Chinese characters are notoriously incapable of accurately representing the phonetic systems of other languages, even if the pronunciation of the Chinese characters can be accurately reconstructed, they may only give an approximation of the actual Tangut pronunciation. For these reasons, phonetic glosses in Chinese characters are inferior to phonetic glosses given in phonetic scripts such as Tibetan or Phags-pa. Luckily for us, a number of Tangut Buddhist manuscripts with phonetic transcriptions of Tangut characters in the Tibetan script are known, and have been the subject of considerable interest to Tangutologists ever since the existence of such manuscripts was first reported by Nevsky in 1926.


A Tangut manuscript with Tibetan phonetic glosses : British Library Or.12380/3495


I recently started a project to transcribe the known Tangut-Tibetan manuscripts and collate the readings of the Tibetan glosses by various scholars. So far I have only covered the five Tangut-Tibetan manuscripts collected from the Tangut fortress city of Khara-Khoto by Aurel Stein during his expedition of 1913–1916, and now held at the British Library in London. Thanks to the wonderful International Dunhuang Project these manuscripts are available online for all to see. The following pages are currently available, but I hope to add more manuscripts next year :


As I have only just started this project, it would be premature to attempt an analysis of the way Tibetan is used to represent Tangut pronunciation in these manuscripts, but it is worth making a few general observations.

Firstly, many of the manuscripts are in poor condition, with tattered edges and tears, resulting in many illegible or only partially legible Tangut characters and Tibetan glosses. The poor legibility is exacerbated by the often hard to read Tangut and Tibetan handwriting used in these manuscripts. The Tibetan glosses are particularly difficult (for me at least) to read as they are generally written in an untidy, cursive, headless script in which many letterforms are very similar to other letterforms (e.g. the letters ng , d and ra all look almost identical in some hands), and without context it can be difficult to be sure exactly what letters are intended. For this reason, in many cases the identification of the Tibetan gloss can only be determined with certainty by reference to the reconstructed reading of the corresponding Tangut character. Thus the Tibetan gloss for the 3rd character of the 1st line of Or.12380/3495 looks identical to the Tibetan gloss for the 3rd character of the 1st line of Or.12380/1842, and they could both potentially be ngu, du or ru. In the case of Or.12380/3495 Tai Chung Pui reads it as ru because it fits the Tangut reconstruction of L5130 (*rjur), but in the case of Or.12380/1842 Tai Chung Pui reads it as ngu because it fits the Tangut reconstruction of L0508 (*ŋwu), whereas in the latter case Berthold Laufer, who in 1928 did not have any reconstruction of the Tangut text to refer to, reads it as du.

Secondly, Tibetan is a writing system that is particularly well-equipped to represent a wide range of phonetic values, and we could hope for a very accurate transcription of Tangut pronunciation using the Tibetan script. However, this does not seem to be the case. Although most Tibetan glosses do approximately correspond to the modern phonetic reconstructions of the corresponding Tangut characters, the correspondence is disappointingly poor, with only a very few characters showing an exact correspondence between Tangut reconstruction and Tibetan transcription (e.g. L2098 𗧓 "I, me" which is reconstructed *ŋa and glossed ŋa ... which also happens to be the Tibetan word for "I, me"). In most cases the Tibetan glosses miss out what should be essential phonetic features, for example transcribing *mja as ma, *ŋwu as ŋu, *ɣjɨ̣ as rgi, *war as wa, *lew as li, and *lhjwịj as lhi. Either the modern reconstructions of Tangut are seriously flawed (a possibility I can't reject) or the Tibetan scribes were content to provide a very approximate representation of Tangut, so approximate that it is hard to imagine that a Tangut speaker could have understood much that a Tibetan reading the Tibetan transcriptions of Tangut was saying. So what was the purpose of the Tibetan transcriptions? My theory is that they were intended for Tibetan monks to be able to chant in unison with their Tangut colleagues, not knowing what they were chanting or needing to chant perfectly, but just vaguely correct enough to be able to chant along without sticking out like a sore thumb. Maybe the Tibetan monks who made the transcriptions did not speak a word of Tangut, and they just wrote down what they thought they heard, which would explain why the transcriptions are so imprecise.

Thirdly, the Tibetan glosses utilise prefix letters (g, d, b, m and ') and superfixed letters (s, r and l) in a way that suggests they might have been intended to indicate a particular pronunciation of the corresponding Tangut character, but it is not immediately obvious what this might have been (it has been suggested that these nominally silent letters may have been intended to represent tone in Tangut, but I am not convinced), and they are used inconsistently (e.g. L1245 ·jij is glossed as either ye or g.ye). Likewise, the glosses frequently use a final letter -'a, seemingly to indicate a long vowel, but again it is used inconsistently (e.g. L1278 ·jɨ is glossed as either g.yi or g.yi'). Perhaps the oddest feature of the Tibetan transcriptions is the use of prefix letters in front of letters that do not allow prefix letters in standard Tibetan orthography, for example d.wi དཝི and g.ru' གརུའ. This feature occurs across different manuscripts, and could suggest that the scribes were actually using a formally defined orthography for transcribing Tangut, and not just putting down what they could hear, as I suggested above.



Addendum [2011-12-26]

Marc Miyake has posted a series of commentaries on this post :


Friday, 11 November 2011

Phags-pa Uyghur Seals

In last week's blog post about a Phags-pa Uyghur inscription at Dunhuang, I mentioned that there are very few extant examples of Uyghur written in the Phags-pa script, so this week I thought I'd take a look at some examples of Phags-pa Uyghur seal imprints on 14th century Old Uyghur and Mongolian documents. It turns out that that the place where you can find the largest number of manuscripts with Phags-pa Uyghur seal imprints is the Berlin Turfan-Collection of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Fifteen Old Uyghur documents and the seal impressions on them are discussed in detail in a 1998 paper by Matsui Dai entitled "Uigur Administrative Orders Bearing 'Qutluγ-seals'". Matsui notes in the abstract that the documents are administrative orders for delivering various objects such as flour, and that "they are issued by a single group of officers and dated to the 14th century when Uiguristan was under the domination of Chaghatai-ulu".


Drawings of six types of seals on Uyghur documents (Matsui 1998 Fig. 1)


The table below lists some examples of seal imprints in Phags-pa (and other scripts for completeness) that I have noticed on Old Uyghur and Mongolian manuscripts in the Berlin Turfan-Collection. Many of the seals are virtually illegible, but some of them, as in the example below, are relatively clear and easy to read.


Uyghur administrative order (U 5297) with a Phags-pa Qutluɣ seal


The top seal in the above document illustrates the most common Phags-pa Uyghur inscription, which is simply the word ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ quth luq (Old Uyghur qutluɣ), meaning "good luck" or "good fortune" [Matsui Type A]. The Phags-pa word quth luq occurs on at least eleven seals in the table below. In seven examples the word quth luq occurs by itself, but in three examples it is prefixed by the Phags-pa word ꡄꡞꡋ cin (Old Uyghur čïn), meaning "true, sincere" [Matsui Type E]. With a slightly different spelling the same word also occurs on a jade seal with the Old Uyghur inscription ꡅꡞꡋ ꡉꡦꡟ ꡂꡦꡙ chin thėu gėl (Old Uyghur čïn tükäl), meaning "true perfection". Thus, on these seals cin quth luq (Old Uyghur čïn qutluɣ) means "true good fortune" (Matsui translates into Japanese as "真に幸運な). The eleventh qutluɣ seal (MongHT 071) was the first to be noticed, in 1909, on a Mongolian document, and has the longest inscription : ꡡ ꡘꡡꡋ ꡢꡟꡊ ꡙꡟꡢ ꡌꡡꡙ ꡛꡟꡋ o ron qud luq pol sun (orun qutluɣ bolzun) "May there be good fortune [in this] country".

Many of the seals also bear a tamga in the form of an inverted Tibetan letter Cha (), which was commonly used on coins issued by several Chaghatayid khans (1226–1388), in particular Duwa (reigned AH 681–706, AD 1282–1307). It is thus known as the "Chaghatayid tamga" or "Duwa tamga".


Zeno 29117 : Chaghatayid, AR dinar, Muhammad Khan (AH 740–741, AD 1339–1340), Tirmidh Madinat al-Rijal AH 741 (AD 1340), with tamga of Duwa on reverse


In addition to the qutluɣ seals, there are several seals with other inscriptions in Phags-pa script. Two seals (U 5316 and U 5323) have a Phags-pa inscription that looks like ꡂꡨꡦꡙ gyėl on the righthand side, and the same text rotated 180° on the lefthand side [Matsui Type D], which perhaps represents Tibetan rgyal རྒྱལ་ "king", with fronting of the a after the gy- (cf. the spelling of buyan as buyėn and qaya as qayė in the Phags-pa inscription at Dunhuang). Another seal (U 5303) has an incomplete inscription ꡌꡦ ... ꡂꡦ ... pė[...] gė[...] which I cannot provide a plausible reading for. One last seal (MongHT 071) has an inscription which I provisionally read as ꡁꡦꡘ ꡏ ꡋꡟ ꡍ ꡁꡦ ꡍꡟ khėr ma nu pha khė phu, but I am unsure how to interpret this, or even what language this is (khėr could be Mongolian "how", and manu could be Mongolian "our", but that does not make a lot of sense).

There is one seal only that has a definite Chinese Phags-pa inscription (U 5312, in Phags-pa seal script and imprinted in red). It is incomplete, but I read it as ꡂꡡꡋ ꡙꡞꡃ ꡟ ꡔꡞꡋ gon l[iŋ] u ži[n], corresponding to Chinese Guǎnlǐng Wú Rén 管領吳仁, where guǎnlǐng 管領 "supervisor" is the title of a Yuan dynasty official who oversees staff in a government agency (Hucker #3318), and Wu Ren is the name of the official.


Seals on Old Uyghur and Mongolian Documents

Seal Shelfmark Phags-pa Notes
U 5284 Old Uyghur ? plus Chaghatayid tamga .
oṁ (Sanskrit).
Old Uyghur.
U 5285 Illegible.
Illegible.
U 5288 (1358) ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ Phags-pa quth luq = Old Uyghur qutluɣ "good fortune".
U 5291 (1358) ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ Phags-pa quth luq = Old Uyghur qutluɣ "good fortune".
U 5292 Illegible.
oṁ (Sanskrit).
U 5297 ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ Phags-pa quth luq = Old Uyghur qutluɣ "good fortune".
Old Uyghur qutluɣ "good fortune" twice.
U 5300 (1357) Old Uyghur qutluɣ "good fortune" twice.
ꡄꡞꡋ ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ Phags-pa cin quth luq = Old Uyghur čïn qutluɣ "true good fortune" plus Chaghatayid tamga .
Old Uyghur ?
U 5303 (1360) Illegible.
Illegible.
Persian ? (Matsui suggests Brāhmī).
ꡄꡞꡋ ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ Phags-pa cin quth luq = Old Uyghur čïn qutluɣ "true good fortune".
Old Uyghur ? plus Chaghatayid tamga .
ꡌꡦ ... ꡂꡦ ... Phags-pa pė[...] gė[...]. pė- is an unusual spelling, which does not occur in Chinese (this initial/vowel combination is not attested in Měnggǔ Zìyùn), and would not be expected in Mongolian or Uyghur, which do not have an initial p- in native words, although possibly it represents Old Uyghur bä[-] (e.g. bäg "lord"). However, it is also possible that pė- is a mistake for the graphically similar lė- (cf. MongHT 071 where pol sun is miswritten pop sun), although that does not give an obvious reading either.
U 5305 Illegible.
Illegible.
Flower design.
Phags-pa ?
U 5308 Illegible.
U 5309 (1358) ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ Phags-pa quth luq = Old Uyghur qutluɣ "good fortune".
U 5312 ꡂꡡꡋ ꡙꡞꡃ ꡟ ꡔꡞꡋ Phags-pa gon l[iŋ] u ži[n] = Chinese Guǎnlǐng Wú Rén 管領吳仁 "Supervisor Wu Ren". The Phags-pa letters are written in the seal script style that is normal for Chinese Phags-pa official seals; this is different to the Phags-pa Uyghur seal inscriptions, which use ordinary Phags-pa letters.
U 5315 Uncertain.
U 5316 (1361) ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ Phags-pa quth luq = Old Uyghur qutluɣ "good fortune".
ꡂꡨꡦꡙ Phags-pa gyėl ? = Tibetan rgyal རྒྱལ་ "king" ? on each side with rotational symmetry, plus Chaghatayid tamga .
Chaghatayid tamga .
U 5323 Illegible.
Persian ? (Matsui suggests Brāhmī).
ꡂꡨꡦꡙ Phags-pa gyėl ? = Tibetan rgyal རྒྱལ་ "king" ? on each side with rotational symmetry, plus Chaghatayid tamga .
Illegible.
U 5324 Illegible.
Illegible.
Persian ? (Matsui suggests Brāhmī).
Illegible.
ꡄꡞꡋ ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ Phags-pa [cin?] quth luq = Old Uyghur čïn qutluɣ "true good fortune" plus Chaghatayid tamga .
Old Uyghur qutluɣ "good fortune" ?
U 5325 (1357) ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ Phags-pa quth luq = Old Uyghur qutluɣ "good fortune".
U 5967 (1362) ꡢꡟꡉ ꡙꡟꡢ Phags-pa quth luq = Old Uyghur qutluɣ "good fortune".
Illegible.
Illegible.
Illegible plus Chaghatayid tamga .
MongHT 071 page 1 ꡡ ꡘꡡꡋ ꡢꡟꡊ ꡙꡟꡢ ꡌꡡꡌ ꡛꡟꡋ Phags-pa o ron qud luq pop sun (pop is a mistake for the graphically similar pol) = Old Uyghur orun qutluɣ bolzun "May there be good fortune [in this] country". In addition to the miswriting of Phags-pa letter LA () as Phags-pa letter PA (), the letters of each syllable are disjointed (not ligatured as required in normal Phags-pa writing), indicating that the inscription was copied by someone who was not very familiar with the Phags-pa script. Orthographically, the final -d for qut where the other seals have -th is unexpected but plausible, and the initial p- for bol is not that unusual (cf. the Phags-pa spelling of pur xan for Mongolian burqan "Buddha"). The formula qutluɣ bolzun "May you have good fortune!" is very common, but I cannot find another example of the expression preceded by oron ~ orun "place, seat, throne, territory, country", which I assume here indicates "[in this] country, may there be good fortune".
Chaghatayid tamga in centre of an eight-petalled flower with Brāhmī letters (?) or symbols on each petal.
MongHT 071 page 2 ꡁꡦꡘ ꡏ ꡋꡟ ꡍ ꡁꡦ ꡍꡟ Phags-pa khėr ma nu pha khė phu (?) plus Chaghatayid tamga . The Phags-pa inscription is written sideways, and can be seen at the correct orientation by rotating the seal imprint anticlockwise 90° (click on the image to rotate).
Chaghatayid tamga .
Illegible.
Chaghatayid tamga .
MongHT 074 Unknown writing (Mongolian?) on both sides, plus three tamgas in middle (Chaghatayid tamga at bottom ?).
Illegible.
MongHT 071 recto Unknown writing on both sides, plus Chaghatayid tamga .
MongHT 076 verso Illegible (Brāhmī ?).
Vajra design ?
Uncertain (Brāhmī ?).

In addition to the above examples, the following manuscripts have, or have been claimed to have, Phags-pa Uyghur seals :

  • U 3908 — this manuscript has five small seal imprints on it, one or more of which Zieme 1974 apparently reads as Phags-pa qutluɣ, but in my opinion none of these seals have Phags-pa inscriptions on them, and it is doubtful that they are even writing.
  • U 5510 — Matsui states that this document has two Phags-pa seals (his types D and E), but for the life of me I cannot see them anywhere.
  • U 5232 — this manuscript has two small seal imprints on it, one of which Zieme 1974 apparently reads as Phags-pa qutluɣ, but in my opinion neither of these seals have Phags-pa inscriptions on them, and it is doubtful that they are even writing.
  • K 7719 (中国国家博物馆) — Matsui states this has one seal imprint (his type A), but I have not seen this manuscript.
  • Ot. Ry. 8127 (谷大学大宮図書館) — Matsui states this has four seal imprints (his types A, C, D and E), but I have not seen this manuscript.
  • Istanbul No. 12 (İstanbul Üniversitesi Merkez Kütüphanesi) — Matsui states this has two seal imprints (his types A and C), but I have not seen this manuscript.


Bibliography



Last updated : 2014-12-15.