January 06, 2014

ངའོ། །

The other day I was reading a difficult text with some bright Chinese students, and we discussed about the possible role of final particle (rdzogs tshig) as an inherent verb “to be.” I think Dan and I already discussed this in our talk-backs to one of our entries. To recall is also the point that I already made regarding traditional Tibetan scholars’ unwillingness to regard verbs “to be” (yin pa)and “to be there” (yod pa) and auxiliary verbs as verbs at all, which is, in my view, a serious conceptual error. At any rate, back to the point that I actually wanted to make. In my view, the difference between nga and nga’o is that the former is just a word (“I”) whereas the latter a sentence (i.e. “It is me or I am.”). And what makes it a sentence? It is the rdzogs tshig! Such sentences, in my view, show that rdzogs tshig sometimes functions like a verb “to be.” There are many such examples but I consider nga’o because it seems to be shortest possible sentence. We do have, however, one-word sentence particularly in the imperative: song! (“Go!”)



  1. You just reminded me of something I read recently, an article from linguist Scott DeLancey on clausal nominalization in Tibeto-Burman languages. The title is "Finite Structures from Clausal Nominalization in Tibeto-Burman". Quoted from the article:

    By the time of its attestation in Classical Tibetan, ‘o is nothing but a final particle; there is
    no homophonous but distinct copula as there is in Kuki-Chin. It probably reflects a
    widespread Proto-Tibeto-Burman copular root *way which we will see below turning up in
    other branches. As far as I know, this etymon has no other reflex in modern varieties of
    Tibetan, in all of which the oldest copulas are forms of Classical Tibetan yin and yod.
    However, it is well attested elsewhere in the Bodish branch, and Bodic subbranch, to
    which Tibetan belongs. In Kurtöp, representing the East Bodish languages which are the
    closest cousins of Tibetan, the copulas are na and wen, the latter < *way-na (DeLancey
    2008b). We find the root as a copula in West Himalayan, the closest to Tibetan of the
    non-Bodic branches, as in Rangpo hwə- (Zoller 1983:68), and in Kiranti, representing East
    Himalayan, as in Limbu existential wa· (van Driem 1987).
    Since *way then clearly reconstructs for each of the ancestors of Tibetan, from the
    nearest node all the way back, its loss in Tibetan calls for some explanation; the
    explanation is that it persisted into Classical Tibetan as the sentence final particle,

  2. Dear A, many thanks for your detailed beneficial comments.