August 10, 2012


The Tibetan word do for the number “two” (used only in counting or measuring something)—gang (“one”),  do (“two”), and gsum (“three”), and so on—must be a loan-word. 

But do in do nub must be derived from da, I think. 

But what about do in do dam pa, do gal, and do shal? Cognate with mdo (as in mdo ’dzin)?


  1. Don't neglect do with meaning of an island (or isthmus) in a lake!

    Do you think *da nub would develop into do nub because of some kind of vowel harmony (like you have in Mongolian?).

    It seems to me that some of the do words may go back to an archaic word that just means 'head,' as some glossaries suggest.

    Some of these things are jewelry names, aren't they? Like do-ker (a hair ornamenting device) and do-shal (necklace), not to mention se-mo-do. How do you translate that one? Interesting that Se-mo-do is also a name for an island in Gnam-mtsho, the great lake at the edge of the Jangthang. You know the one. Lots of early Kagyus and Bonpos meditated on that island, and there are marvelous stories about them, since they had to stay there all summer on limited food supplies until they could walk back to the mainland on the ice (but it's semi-salt water that doesn't freeze all that easily... although I guess it does...).

  2. Dear Dan,

    As always, thank you for your comments and insights. I am a bit ashamed to admit that I do not know do in the sense of an “island” in a lake. Thank you. I would, however, like to see it in actual use.

    Your “vowel harmony” explanation might work here. Tibetan grammarians might reason the change (from da to do) as brjod bde dbang gis.

    With regard to the point raised in your third paragraph, I thought do in most of your examples actually has the meaning of mdo (“string”), a meaning still in vogue in modern Tibetan and some other Himalayan languages (i.e. Eastern Bhutanese). Incidentally both mdo and rgyud (as in perhaps Sanskrit) have the meaning of “string” or “thread.” Could it be at a certain point in time do and mdo meant the same. But mdo also has the meaning of “ intersection” as in lam gyi mdo (“crossroad”). Could it be that your do in the sense of an island in a lake actually has the connotation of “point” (though not necessarily of intersection)?



  3. Dear D,

    It should be possible to locate cases of usage, but because of the ubiquitousness of the final stop "do" syllable, it's hard to search for them using the computer. The best known usages are in place names. But since there aren't so many large islands in lakes in central Tibet.... One of the best known is Yar-'brog Do, in Yar-'brog Lake. It was the place of birth of the famous Mar-pa Do-pa as well as the Zhang-ston of Snying-thig fame. Then you have all those islands and isthmuses in Gnam-mtsho, like Bkra-shis Do, Bya-do, Se-mo-do etc. (refer to maps of the area in Bellezza's books).

    That's about the best I can do with do for now. Have a good night.