November 03, 2012


Here is a recapitulation (for myself and my students) of the use of the particle dang in Tibetan. An attempt has been made by Tibetan grammarians to classify five different functions of dang (i.e. ’byed sdud, rgyu mtshan, tshe skabs, and gdams ngag) but as pointed out by sKal-bzang-’gyur-med (pp. 207–223), there does not seem to be a need to follow them. He himself speaks of four functions (i.e. mtshams sbyor, bya ba’i sbyar gzhi ston pa, gdams ngag, and tshe skabs). In modern textbooks, dang is either called a “Soziativpartikeln” (as in Hahn 1985: 64–67, §) or “Komitativ” (as in Schwieger 2009: 277–279). It has also been called “coordinative conjunction particle” (Beyer 1992: 241, §3.1.2) and “informal command particle” (Beyer 1992: 369, §5.6). 

For pragmatic purpose, the functions of dang sgra, which may be called a “connective,” will be  boiled down to three:

(a) Connective: The primary function of dang as a connective maybe subdivided into two:  (1) The particle dang connects two or more nouns including (verbal nouns or verbal substantives). For example, me dang chu “fire and water,” ’gro ba dang ’ong ba “going and coming.” (2) The connective dang can be construed with certain heteronomous verbs (e.g. adjectival verbs). See our entry (“x + དང་ + བྱ་ཚིག་). We might wonder if dang (with apparently a “disjunctive” function) in some of the examples such as x dang ’bral ba (“to be devoid of or free from x”) or x dang ’gal ba “to be in contradiction with” has still a connective or conjunctive function. Grammatically, there should be no problem to consider dang in these examples to have a connective or conjunctive function. 

PS. In English or German, it may be possible to start a sentence with “and” but in Tibetan it is impossible. It is, however, possible to begin a sentence with de nas, de yang, de la, and so on.

(b) Temporative (tshe skabs): The structure is as follows: full form of a verb (autonomous or heteronomous) + dang. E.g. lo rgyus rnams gsan pa dang | yab rgyal po thugs dran med du brgyal | “As soon as [he] heard the stories, the father fainted.” The connection between the two two actions or events involved would be either simultaneous or in immediate succession depending on the present or perfect form of the verb with which dang is construed. 

(c) Imperative/Instructive: Tibetan grammarians seem to distinguish “imperative” (skul tshig), so to speak, from “instructive” (gdams ngag). The former is perhaps seen only as a form of an autonomous verb (in addition to present, future, and past forms) whereas the latter purely in terms of a function of a word in a sentence. E.g. sgo ’di phye dang “Open this door!” In addition, dang with an imperative/instructive function seems to also presuppose a connective function inasmuch as a consequential/causal connection (for following or not following the command or instruction) seems to be implied. The implication seems to be something like: “Do x or else…!” or “Do x and you will see that ….”

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