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Zhangzhung language

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Title: Zhangzhung language  
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Subject: Zhangzhung, Bodish languages, West Himalayish languages
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Zhangzhung language

Region Western Tibet and Central Asia
Extinct tenth century
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xzh
Linguist List Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist
  Template:Infobox language/linguistlist

Zhang-Zhung (Tibetan: ཞང་ཞུངWylie: zhang zhung) is an extinct Tibeto-Burman language that was spoken in what is now western Tibet. The term 'Zhang-zhung language' has been used to refer to two different entities. The first 'Old Zhang-zhung' refers to the language which appears in a small number of documents preserved in Dunhuang. The language of these text was identified as 'Zhang-zhung' by F. W. Thomas and this identification has been accepted by Takeuchi Tsuguhito (武内紹人). However, Dan Martin questions the wisdom of connecting the language of these texts to the language which occurs occasionally in the scriptures of the Bon religion.

'A Cavern of Treasures' (mdzod phug)

'A Cavern of Treasures' (Tibetan: མཛོད་ཕུགWylie: mdzod phug) is a terma uncovered by 'Shenchen Luga' (Tibetan: གཤེན་ཆེན་ཀླུ་དགའWylie: gshen chen klu dga') in the early eleventh century.[1] Martin (n.d.: p. 21) identifies the importance of this scripture for studies of the Zhang-zhung language:

"For students of Tibetan culture in general, the mDzod phug is one of the most intriguing of all Bon scriptures, since it is the only lengthy bilingual work in Zhang-zhung and Tibetan (some of the shorter but still significant sources for Zhang-zhung are signalled in Orofino 1990."[2]

External relationships

Bradley (2002) says Zhangzhung "is now agreed to have been a Kanauri or West Himalayish language." Guillaume Jacques (2009) rebuts earlier hypotheses that Zhangzhung might have originated in eastern (rather than western) Tibet by having determined it to be a non-Qiangic language.[3]


The Zhang Zhung language is claimed to have multiple different scripts.[4] However, these scripts appear to have little existence outside of calligraphy manuals. One extant document, a seal originally held at Tsurpu monastery,[5] is claimed to be written in such a script. In the words of McKay (2003: p. 447):

"There is also a Zhang-zhung alphabet, but despite its rather unusual appearance to anyone who is unfamiliar with the Indo-Tibetan ornate style of lettering known as lan-tsha, one observes that it is modeled letter by letter upon Thon-mi Sambhota's alphabet of thirty letters."[6]


Further reading

  • lists and passages with parallels in Abhidharma works of Vasubandhu and Asanga, or in Prajnaparamita Sutras: A progress report." University of Jerusalem.
  • David Bradley (2002) "The Subgrouping of Tibeto-Burman", in Chris Beckwith, Henk Blezer, eds., Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages. Brill.
  • Dan Martin (2004), "Zhang-zhung Dictionary".
  • Haarh, Erik. The Zhang-zhung Language: A Grammar and Dictionary of the Unexplored Language of the Tibetan Bönpos. Universitetsforlaget i Aarhus og Munksgaard, 1968.
  • Hummel, Seigbert and Guido Vogliotti, ed. and trans. On Zhang-zhung. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2000.
  • Namgyal Nyima Dagkar. “Concise Analysis of Zhang Zhung Terms in the Documents of Dunhuang.” In Tibet, Past and Present: Tibetan Studies I, edited by Henk Blezer, Proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000, vol. 1, pp. 429–439. Leiden: Brill, 2002.
  • Namgyal Nyima (Rnam rgyal nyi ma). Zhang-zhung – Tibetan – English Contextual Dictionary. Berlin, 2003. Description: This new dictionary of Zhangzhung terminology from the Bön tradition of Tibetan religion includes 3875 entries drawn from 468 sources. These entries include Tibetan and English definitions as well as the citation of passages in which they occur with full bibliographical information for these passages.
  • Tsuguhito Takeuchi. “The Old Zhangzhung Manuscript Stein Or 8212/ 188.” In Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages, edited by Christopher Beckwith, Proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000, vol. 6, pp. 1–11. Leiden: Brill, 2002.

See also

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