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Tibetan Studies triumphs again at the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Potala Palace in Lhasa

9 January 2012

Dr Ulrich Pagel from Department of the Study of Religions and Dr Nathan W. Hill from Department of China and Inner Asia and Departments of Linguistics have received a three-year £542,000 research grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The grant was awarded for a project that combines Tibetan Studies with computational linguistics, entitled 'Tibetan in Digital Communication: Corpus Linguistics and Lexicography'.

The AHRC is the UK's largest public body funding research in the arts and humanities. It has supported Tibetan Studies at SOAS over the last nine years, awarding Pagel a £304,000 grant for research on the Central Asian Tibetica at the British Library in 2002 and a £299,420 grant in 2009 to explore the history of the tantric community of Rebkong.

Together with Dr Edward Garrett, a specialist in computer programming and linguistics, Pagel and Hill will develop an annotated digital corpus of 1,000,000 syllables of Tibetan texts spanning the language's entire history. The project will also include a fully-funded doctoral student in Linguistics, to be supervised by Hill.

Pagel said the corpus will itself be a powerful resource for scholars working with Tibetan language materials in a wide range of disciplines —including history, religion, literature and linguistics—since it offers ready access to, and comparison across, texts from different time periods, regions and genres. “It will also provide an important foundation for subsequent work on a historically comprehensive, lexicographically rigorous dictionary of Tibetan, akin to the Oxford English Dictionary,” Pagel said.

By building this corpus for Tibetan, the cost of developing language technologies, such as text messaging, spellcheckers and machine-aided translation will be reduced. These technologies would give Tibetans the choice to use their language as they see fit in a world that is increasingly shaped by digital communication.

Scheduled to begin September 2012 and conclude in August 2015, the annotated digital corpus and its associated tools will be made freely available online on a specially designed website during the final year of the project.

For further information, contact:

Dr Ulrich Pagel
Reader in the Languages and Religions of Tibet and Central Asia
+44 (0)20 7898 4782
up1@soas.ac.uk