SOAS University of London

Centres and Institutes Office

Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages Symposium


1 September 2010 

The Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages

Now when the majority of the world’s languages are under imminent threat of extinction, thorough description of the hundreds of living Tibeto-Burman languages is of great importance. Despite this imperative, research into the earlier stages of Tibeto-Burman languages with a long written history is also vital. The older written Tibeto-Burman languages, such as Bailang (1c.), Tibetan (8c.), Newar (9c.), Burmese (12c.), Tangut (13c.) and Manipuri provide a diachronic depth to comparative, historical and typological studies of contemporary languages, and are indeed essential for solving many of the puzzles which the myriad of today’s tongues present.

This has been well understood in Indo-European linguistics for a long time, and Indo-Europeanists are aware of usefulness of comparison with the classical languages such as Hittite, Tocharian, Sanskrit and Greek in deciphering contemporary phenomena. Up till the present time, Tibeto-Burman scholarship has not tended to share the same insight, and the older languages of the Tibeto-Burman family have been unjustly neglected.

The Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages Symposium

In 2000 Professor Christopher Beckwith of Indiana University initiated the Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages Symposium with the aim of raising the methodological rigour of Tibeto-Burman historical linguistics to that of other language families such as Indo-European or Uralic.

The first three symposia were organised as panels of the meetings of the International Association for Tibetan Studies.

The fourth symposium was organized as a panel of the 41st International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London in September 2008.

This fifth meeting will be held as a panel of the 16th Himalayan Languages Symposium (1-5 September, 2010) again also at SOAS.

The proceedings of the first three conferences have been published by Brill, and the proceedings of the fourth conference will be out in time for the fifth.

A major aim of this meeting is to stimulate interaction among scholars working on different languages in Tibeto-Burman and approaching them from different perspectives.

Papers of any kind dealing with primary texts in the older Tibeto-Burman languages are welcome, whether the focus be linguistic, philological, textual, historical or literary. Also welcome are contributions on any Tibeto-Burman languages with a pre-modern literary tradition. These include but are not limited to Bailang, Burmese, Lepcha, Manipuri, Nam, Naxi, Tangut, Tibetan, Yi, and Zhangzhung.

Further Information

Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages Symposium


Dr Nathan Hill, 

16th Himalayan Languages Symposium

Further information about the 16th Himalayan Languages Symposium on 2-5 September.

Organised by: Centre of Chinese Studies , Centres and Programmes (REO)