I was in Palo Alto today and got another chance to accelerate the learning curve – as it were – of my Tibetan project.
After listening to a few of the RFA Tibetan podcasts, I noticed a phrase that kept coming up again and again. It sounded like:
Now any Tibetan student worth his salt knows that tashi delek is the Tibetan equivalent of Hello. And when it’s spoken quickly, it comes out more like tash’ dele. So it was fairly clear to me that this must be a greeting, especially because it’s often used when a new reporter begins speaking after another one has just finished.
I tried typing snippets of the phrase into the various Tibetan to English online dictionaries but a big problem is that most use the Wylie transliteration system.
The good thing about Wylie – you can use the Western alphabet to exactly spell Tibetan words – including letter stacks and silent letters. The bad thing – with all of the silent letters, it’s a pretty low probability that you’ll be able to find a word in a Wylie dictionary if you don’t know how it’s correctly spelled in written Tibetan.
So after walking around Emeryville hearing and pondering sen gye nam ba tso for a few days, when we arrived in Palo Alto I decided to google Tibet Palo Alto, and lo and behold I found that there is a Tibetan crafts store here too.
Off I went to Tibet Designs where I met the very nice Norzin Lama. Unlike the Tibetan I met in Berkeley she was very familiar with RFA and said she listens to it almost every day. She even knows the person who does the RFA Tibetan intro.
Sen gyi nam ba tso according to her means listeners – and therefore the whole phrase means Hello Listeners. The sen gye part is still a mystery to me, though I was able to look up listener in my English-to-Tibetan dictionary to find the word nyen pa – most likely what I thought was nam ba.
And I know that tso can be added to a singular Tibetan noun to make it plural. For example, my Lonely Planet Tibetan Phrasebook says that nga means I whereas nga tso means we. Similary khong is he while khong tso is they (masculine). So my guess is that nyen pa tso is listeners.
To my delight, I further confirmed with her that Ü-ke is indeed the Lhasa dialect. Norzin said that most young Tibetans today can’t understand Ü-ke, as they speak their own Nepal and Indian slang versions of Tibetan. Bummer…
I decided to go out on a limb (since I don’t at all understand the language yet) and tell her that I thought the Kham dialect sounded somewhat similar to Ü-ke, whereas Amdo sounded distinctly different. She wholeheartedly agreed saying that she can understand Khampo, but “Amdo, whooooooaaa! Very different!”
Maybe I have an ear for this after all…