This short illustrated book offers a general introduction to the physical, paleographic, and grammatical features of early Tibetan documents and writings. As a practical introduction, it emphasizes Tibetan Dunhuang manuscripts, and lays out specific methods for recording, and in many cases quantifying codicological, paleographic, and orthographic features. The approach unites digital humanities with the examination of original documents to offer scholars a working method for describing early Tibetan writings.
The book has two main sections. The first, longer section introduces methods for describing early Tibetan documents and writings, and the second, shorter section demonstrates these methods through a case study of a selection of documents. The first section consists of four parts. The first part concerns codicology in the narrow sense of the description of the physical features of a document, from its materiality to its mise en page. The second part details methods for recording the orthographic and grammatical features of early Tibetan writing, with an emphasis on quantification. The quantifiable features are often specific to 8th to 10th century written Tibetan, but many features are applicable to later writings, and the methods themselves – in particular the emphasis on quantification – can be adapted to later Tibetan writings. The third part introduces methods for describing the paleography of early Tibetan handwriting. Emphasizing ductus, it puts forward a typology of index letters, and delineates a cluster of features to be recorded in order to characterize a given scribal hand. Part four, “miscellanea”, is a very short catchall for those features that fall outside of the parameters of codicology, orthography, and paleography. Examples would be the inclusion in the text of personal names, loan words, and idiosyncratic orthographies that don’t fall under existing rubrics in part two.
The second section of the book is a case study that demonstrates the methods introduced in the first section. It describes the codicological, orthographic, and paleographic features of a selection of pivotal and fairly well-discussed Old Tibetan documents, including the Old Tibetan Chronicle and two versions of the Old Tibetan Rāmāyaṇa. The documents are presented briefly, and the relevant data is arranged in a table for ease of comparison. In the process, the case study discusses several significant markers for dating documents and writing, from paper re-use to specific orthographic features. An appendix gives a detailed description of the Old Tibetan Chronicle itself as a model for applying our methods for describing manuscripts and writings.