Saturday, December 31, 2011

Two Proto-Berlitz Phrasebooks

Source:  HERE.
Sometimes when you are reading two books at the same time you can find yourself faced with some interesting juxtapositions, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t venture to say my two examples of early phrasebooks are entirely identical or parallel, but they do demonstrate a certain level of human commonality that probably doesn’t especially need to be pointed out to anyone, although I suppose there could be exceptions...

There is an especially long and richly detailed biography (for so it calls itself) of what may be the city holy for more people in the world than any other, although I’m not completely sure about that. I’m talking about Simon Sebag Montefiore's book Jerusalem, the Biography. Near the middle of the book, reached only after weeks of bedtime reading, I came across an amusing passage about a pilgrim, a German knight (Ritter) of the Rhineland named Arnold von Harff. He made for himself lists of handy words and phrases in  various languages, including both Arabic and Hebrew. I guess it’s clear he hoped these phrases would help him, as well as others, to better communicate with the local inhabitants of the countries he visited. Here are some phrases that leave only a little doubt what kind of business he was hoping to conduct:

"How much will you give me?
I will give you a gulden.
Are you a Jew?
Woman, let me sleep with you tonight.
Good madam, I am already in your bed."

This Herr von Harff was one pilgrim with plenty of pluck, and not just middling-to-average pickup lines. Among his other accomplishments (and quite apart from his evident heteronormalcy and Judaeophobia), he managed to go up on the — then as now Islamic — Noble Sanctuary (Haram as-Sharif) in disguise, making him look like a kind of proto-Sir Richard Burton.

Meanwhile, moving to the other end of the Eurasian world and back half a millennium further in human history, we learn from Sam van Schaik and Imre Galambos's even newer book Manuscripts and Travellers that there exists, until this day, a bilingual Sanskrit and Khotanese phrasebook for pilgrims on their way to China. You can almost hear the interrogating tone of the immigration officer:

"And where are you going now?

I am going to China.

What business do you have in China?

I’m going to see the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī .

When are you coming back?

I’m going to China, then I’ll return."

I’ll skip over some of the rest of the dialogue, in order not to spoil it for you. There is mention of a Tibetan monk suspected by a border official of being a liar. The following three lines may or may not be about him, but it does seem so:

“He is dear to many women.
He goes about a lot.
He makes love...

Bring a bowl! The Tibetan teacher has become ill.”

It’s evident that Tibetan monks, or at the very least traveling facsimiles of Tibetan monks, had developed a shady reputation in late-10th-century Khotan. Well, to judge from this phrasebook, which may have had humorous intent as well... At least one of these Tibetan monks seems to have had problems keeping down Khotanese road food, perhaps a common enough predicament after all.

No need to mention the notoriety 
of medieval European appetites 
set loose in the Outremer 
on their way to the Holy Sepulcher.

Of course, the Central Asia traveler’s assumed destination was the place most holy to the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning Mañjuśrī. It seemed like everyone wanted to go to Wutai Shan in those earlier days. Vairocanavajra went there, as did Padampa Sanggyé before him. I hope to go some day as well.

Mañjuśrī holding the Ruyi scepter,
seen in Taipei, June 2011.

Notice the lion.


Robert Elsie, Texts and Documents of Albanian History. This online essay is more concerned with the early documentation of Albanian language, but it does have a nice brief discussion of the phrasebook of Arnold of Harff, that included “words and phrases in Croatian, Albanian, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Hungarian, Basque and Breton.” Of course von Harff was not the originator of the genre; there were Latin-Greek bilingual phrasebooks in the time of the Roman Empire, as I seem to recall from somewhere.

Kelly Lynne Maynard, I want to buy it in the Albanian Glossary of Arnold von Harff, Transactions of the Philological Society, vol. 107, no. 2 (2009), pp. 231-252.  Try to access it here.  Still more articles can be located that have to do with von Harff if you will only search for them.  There are also translations of his journal that are more and less available.

Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem, the Biography, Alfred A. Knopf (New York 2011), at p. 298.

Sam van Schaik and Imre Galambos, Manuscripts and Travellers: The Sino-Tibetan Documents of a Tenth-century Buddhist Pilgrim, De Gruyter (Berlin 2012), at pages 141-3.

Here is something about a 10th-century German phrasebook, although mostly about one from the time of World War II. Here is an amusing piece about Berlitz phrasebooks, but by far the most amusing phrasebook incident ever is one I once read in a book by “Australian photojournalist” Sorrel Wilby, shortly before I closed the covers of the book forever (I think the book still exists in a sibling library in central Michigan). Her Journey across Tibet is not something I could ever bring myself to recommend. Sorry Sorrel, but if this is any consolation, it could just be me. We have to take that into account.

Not running a commercial operation here, I didn’t really intend to make an advertisement for Berlitz, and in fact my favorite phrasebook is one they didn’t publish:  Wicked Italian for the Traveler by Howard Tomb, Workman Publishing (NY 1989). There are lots of usable gems there, but try this one out the next time you unexpectedly find yourself in Italy. First the phonetic version, which you should pronounce aloud, within hearing of your loved ones, particularly if you have never studied Italian before:

    Eel pro-FOND-oh mee-STAIR-oh dee cho key sty dee-CHEND-oh me een-FWOKE-ah eel KWORE-ay.

    Il profondo mistero di ciò che stai dicendo mi infuoca il cuore.*

§    §    §

Happy New Year/Sylvester to everyone who has ever read Tibeto-logic, and equally to everyone who never has! And if you see our old friend Arno, tell him I’m sorry, I hope he’ll forgive me, and Please come back. I’ve been at this for over five years now, and will, before many more months have gone by, reach the 100th blog entry. Trying to think of something special to do for numero 100 besides just more of the same-old same-old...  Any ideas? Should I redecorate? Or is that too superficial?

˙ǝɹıɟ uo ʇɹɐǝɥ ʎɯ sʇǝs pıɐs ʇsnɾ noʎ ɹǝʌǝʇɐɥʍ ɟo ʎɹǝʇsʎɯ punoɟoɹd ǝɥʇ*

Happy 2012 (it's not the end of the world, you know, although it may be the end of the world you know...).

§    §    §

Postscript (January 2, 2012)

I forgot to say anything about Tibetan-language phrasebooks. So here's my collection of Lonely Planets. Someone told me there have been five, which must mean I’m missing one, but actually, to follow what it says inside the books, there have only been four editions up to and including the one of 2008. Is there a new one I haven’t heard about?

1st edition, October 1987 —
by Melvyn G. Goldstein, with
the help of Gelek Rinpoche &
Trinley Dorje

2nd edition, June 1996 — by
Sandup Tsering &
Melvyn C. Goldstein

3rd edition, May 2002 —
by Sandup Tsering

4th edition, February 2008 —
by "Phrasebooks" &
Sandup Tsering.

Someday somebody will write a history of Tibetan language learning that will include these things.

Has anyone noticed any good or passably good Tibetan phrasebooks on-line?  This one is very interesting, a little awkward to use just because it’s so technologically advanced it takes my primitive machine a long time to maneuver from one phrase list to the other.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marginal Amusement at the Bodleian

Earlier today, under inspiration from the latest blog entry from Janus, I was doing an internet search for ‘Hero Capable [of overcoming all comers all at] Once,’ or, in the original tongue, Dpa'-bo Chig-thub. What to my great surprise could possibly pop up, but a rare catalog of Tibetan manuscripts and so forth that are kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. It’s so rare it’s not even a publication, really, just a typescript done, as you might expect, on a typewriter. I could hardly believe my eyes. What could explain this outrageously good fortune?
A Descriptive Catalogue of the Tibetan Manuscripts Held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, prepared by John E. Stapleton Driver in ca. 1970, and revised by David Barrett, 1993. Total page count: 152.
Some very thoughtful person put it up for us in a searchable PDF format. Here.

You can find something entertaining already, 4 pages into it (there are no page numbers) in the entry for MS.Tibet.a.1, described as "a meditation text," with the title Bla mgon dbyer med kyi rnal 'byor thun mongs ma yin pa nyamsu len tshul rin chen dbang gi rgyal po'i do shal.

Someone wrote on the title page (I give it 'as is,' except for changing it into Wylie):  'di mang gi yi ge phal cher ma dag pa dang 'ga zhig rang zo byas pa'ang mang tsam 'dug pas zhu dag tong tshod mi 'dug go.  This is there translated, “As the text in this is generally corrupt and in a good many cases even made up, there’s no end to correcting it.”

A second person wrote on the title page in a different hand:  'di 'bri mkhan dang khyed rang gnyis ka ma dag pas skyon dan[g] .... rang bzo byed mkhan gtso bo khyed rang 'dra.  — khyed 'dra bas zhus dag gtong ba las ma gtang ba dga 'dug. This is translated, “Of the writer of this and yourself, the chief introducer of corruptions and inventions seems to be yourself." — "Rather than have someone like you make corrections, they were better not made at all.”

And finally, at the end of the text, somebody wrote (in English? Well, no Tibetan is given):  “It would shame you if a scholar were to see such a corrupt text, so I suggest you burn it.”

The original text was purchased in 1885 from two of the Schlagintweit brothers: R.H. and A. If you are like me you may well have trouble keeping straight which of the five Schlagintweit brothers was which, in which case this webpage would be a big help.

But what about the person given as the author of the text, the monk Legshé Ludrub (Legs-bshad-klu-sgrub)?  

A quick search of TBRC and a few other places turned up neither the title of this guruyoga text nor its author.  Who can he be? Where’s our good Doctor Watson?

John E. Stapleton Driver, in case you don’t remember, was the one who translated R.A. Stein’s Tibetan Civilization into English.

As part of this catalog, you can find some of the papers that were left behind by W.Y. Evans-Wentz (1878-1965) — famous editor of such well known works as The Tibetan Book of the Dead — after his own entry into the bar-do. Among these papers are some draft translations by Lama Kazi Dawa Samdrup.

Some of the Tibetan books here came from Solomon C. Malan (1812-1894), a friend and student of Csoma de Körös. For more about this, see P.J. Marczell, The Tibetan Mss. of the Malan Bequest in the Bodleian and Their Relation to the Life and Works of Csoma Körösi, Studia Asiatica, vol. 2, nos. 1-2 (2000), pp. 55-71.  Get it for free (or not!) here.

Other materials came from Samuel Turner (1749-1802), author of An Account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo Lama in Tibet (London 1800).

”A.D. 1806.
”Fifty pounds were paid for some ' Tibetan MSS.' of Capt. Samuel Turner,E.I C.S., who had been sent by Warren Hastings,on a mission to the Grand Llama, in 1785. Of this mission he published an account, in a quarto volume, in 1800. His MSS. consist chiefly of nine bundles of papers and letters in the Persian and Tartar languages, written in the last century, together with a few Chinese printed books. Capt. Turner died Jan. 2, 1802; but as one of his sisters was married to Prof. White,* it was probably through him that the papers were now purchased.”  
        For the source, look here.

(*My note: I guess this means Joseph White, since he did indeed marry Mary Turner, sister of Samuel.)
For more about this, see the late Michael Aris’s article, A Note on the Resources for Tibetan Studies at Oxford, Bodleian Library Record, vol. 10, no. 6 (May 1982), pp. 368-375. Or look at this page of the Bodleian's own website (scroll down the page to the section about Tibet).

Even if they do have street lamps in Oxford, this is not one of them.
Look up the word panopticon for a clue.
Wasn't it invented by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832),
and isn't he the one they still keep locked up in a closet
in London University? None of it makes sense to me. Not really.

If the kind person who did this is still in a generous mood, I suggest they put up two other rare catalogs of Tibetan manuscripts that exist (however seldom) in typescripts.  They are:

P. Denwood, Catalogue of Tibetan Mss and Block-prints outside the Stein Collection in the India Office Library (1975), in 145 pages.  For a reference, look here.

E. Gene Smith, University of Washington Tibetan Catalogue, vols. 1-2 (Seattle 1969).  For a reference, look here.

Or is this asking too much?

Overlooking something?

Who took the photos?  I must confess, it was moi.  All 4 were taken in Oxford, around the time of the Xth IATS in 2003.

Update —  December 31, 2011

For an update with important further information by Charles Manson, particularly the part about an upcoming online catalogue of the Bodleian's Tibetan collection, look here.

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