The Study of Tibetan Language at UVa

The University of Virginia has been a global leader in the teaching and research of Tibetan language, as well as creating new pedagogical resources for its study. Since the 1970s, the study of Classical Tibetan language has been a central component of graduate work in Tibetan Studies through the Department of Religious Studies. Rigorous training in translating Tibetan textual genres has beendr04_1244 complemented by the study of Spoken Tibetan, including Tibetan styles of monastic debate and colloquial Tibetan. With the inclusion of Modern Spoken Tibetan as a major component of the Department of East Asian Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, UVa affords both undergraduate and graduate students unique opportunities for immersion in Tibetan language and literature.

Classical Tibetan

As the investigation of diverse genres of primary textual materials provides a major source for understanding Tibetan religious culture, graduate students in Tibetan and Buddhist Studies immerse themselves in the study of Tibetan language. Steven Weinberger teaches the four-semester sequence of literary Tibetan courses, and David Germano and Kurtis Schaeffer not only teach courses on classical literary Tibetan on a regular basis, they also assist students with textual materials which form the basis for fieldwork and dissertation research.

Modern Tibetan

In 2007, Tibetan language was added to the Department of East Asian Languages, Literatures, and Cultures’ degree programs in East Asian Studies and East Asian Languages and Literatures, with Tsetan Chonjore serving as Director of Tibetan Language Studies. Chonjore taught at UVa through his retirement in 2017, sharing his extensive background in educating and assisting American, Canadian, and European students and scholars with Tibetan language skills and fieldwork projects. Franziska Oertle currently teaches spoken Tibetan.

Rather than using English grammar as a model for teaching Tibetan language, Chonjore emphasized a contextual teaching method—an interactive method which entails creating a situation (for example, a trip to the post office) and involves students in dialogue. Similar to language training techniques used by the Peace Corps, this methodology engages students in speaking Tibetan in a short time and also provides a more natural way for them to learn Tibetan grammatical constructs. Students utilize Chonjore’s own Colloquial Tibetan: A Textbook of the Lhasa Dialect, a textbook widely used by instructors of Modern Spoken Tibetan language across the U.S., India, Nepal, and Europe

In addition to teaching students to speak colloquial Tibetan, Chonjore introduces various forms of Tibetan writing practices and exposes them to a variety of modern literary genres, including poetry, narratives, religious texts, and historical writings. Viewing language as the DNA of a culture, Chonjore also integrates into his language lessons instruction on central aspects of Tibetan culture.

Course Offerings

  • RELB 5470 Literary Tibetan V and RELB 5480 Literary Tibetan VI (first-year literary Tibetan)
  • RELB 5800 Literary Tibetan VII and RELB 5810 Literary Tibetan VIII (second-year literary Tibetan)
  • RELB 8230 Advanced Literary Tibetan
  • RELB 8260 Readings in Tibetan Literature
  • TBTN 1010 Elementary Tibetan I
  • TBTN 1020 Elementary Tibetan II
  • TBTN 2010 Intermediate Tibetan I
  • TBTN 2020 Intermediate Tibetan II
  • TBTN 3010 Advanced Modern Tibetan I
  • TBTN 3020 Advanced Modern Tibetan II
  • TBTN 3030 Advanced Modern Tibetan III
  • TBTN 3040 Advanced Modern Tibetan IV
  • UVa’s Intensive Summer Tibetan Program