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Cairangsanzhou, Tsering Samdrup (2022) Pragmatics in Old Tibetan: Investigations Based on Several Dunhuang Texts. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Historical Pragmatics is uncharted territory in Old Tibetan studies. This dissertation explores pragmatics in the Old Tibetan (8th to 11th centuries) as a language represented in texts discovered in Cave 17 in Dunhuang. This dissertation attempts to take a small step toward understanding socio-pragmatics in Old Tibetan manuscripts from Central Asia by understanding honorification and humilification in Old Tibetan. Primarily taking historical and social texts such as Old Tibetan Annals, Old Tibetan Chronicle, Old Tibetan Rāmāyaṇa, and a selected group of Old Tibetan epistolary writings as the corpus, this dissertation solicits linguistic tokens such as verbs of speech and motion, nouns, pronouns, and deferential titles in these texts to extrapolate social meanings embedded in such individual linguistic tokens. It is evidenced from the corpus that socio-historical backgrounds and syntactic contexts serve as the backdrop for investigating honorific and humilific use of Old Tibetan verbs, nouns, and pronouns, as well as deferential titles and expressions. From the investigation, we can observe that there, it seems, is a hierarchy for the honorific terms in Old Tibetan. For instance, the motion verb gshegs ‘to go’ is used explicitly for the royal family members of the Tibetan Empire in the documents covering imperial matters; by contrast, ministers take a different motion verb mchi ‘to go’, which is still honorific, but not appropriate for the royals. Contrasting the use of pairs of honorifics and humilific verbs is another way to pinpoint the employment of pragmatic significance in Old Tibetan. For instance, honorific stsald ‘to give’ and humilific gsol ‘to give’, attested in the same letter, demonstrates the different social status of agents merely by the subject taking a different verb in the text. The variation in the structure of different types of Old Tibetan epistolary writings is also significant in exploring the pragmatics expressed in these writings. All in all, different pragmatic strategies used in the Old Tibetan texts present a linguistic atlas that resembles the social reality of Tibetans and Tibetan speakers at the time and their elaborative ways of expressing (im)politeness in the language.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Nathan Hill and Barbara Pizziconi
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 26 Oct 2022 15:22

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