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In Session: Foreign Language Pedagogy, Acquisition, and Perception in Pre-Modern East and Inner Asia
2: Mastering the Tangut Language: A New View on Tangut Manuscripts with Tibetan Glosses from Khara-khoto
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
University of Pennsylvania, United States
The Tangut kingdom of Western Xia (1038-1227) was a multi-ethnic state, consisting of Tanguts, Chinese, Tibetans, and Uighurs. Excavated texts from the ruins of the Tangut city of Khara-khoto contain a number of Tangut manuscripts with interlinear Tibetan glosses. While previous scholars mainly used them as Tangut phonetic reconstructional data, my research highlights didactic and religio-political purposes of these bilingual Tangut-Tibetan manuscripts.
12th-century Tangut law codes indicate that a good command of both Tangut and Tibetan was compulsory for ordained monks; coetaneous Tangut sutra colophons, too, illustrate the plethora of texts translated from the Tibetan language. Tibetan lamas of the Kagyu school were active at the Tangut court; also, Western Xia’s monastic communities were often constituted according to monks’ ethnic affiliations – Tangut, Tibetan, or Han. Multiple evidence pinpoints the significance of Tibetan within the late Tangut kingdom.
I argue that these Tangut manuscripts with Tibetan transcriptions were employed as visual aids for Buddhist disciples who were not fluent enough in the Tangut script but familiar with Tibetan. Perhaps they were Tibetan monks or Tangut novices trying to learn and master Tangut Buddhist texts. These bilingual manuscripts, combined with other primary sources in Tangut, enable me to trace the process of introduction, propagation, and implementation of Tibetan language learning in Western Xia.