Dictionary Series

Heinrich August Jäschke (1817-1883)

The Tibetan-English dictionary published by Heinrich Jäschke in 1881, based on his Tibetan-German dictionary of several years earlier, was based on research undertaken whilst living among Tibetans in the border areas around Ladakh, Lahoul and Spiti.


Jäschke was a Moravian missionary working on the translation of the bible into Tibetan. He took particular interest in the spoken language, because in this he felt his ?instrument must be, as in the case of every successful translator of the Bible, so to say, not a technical, but the vulgar tongue.?


He felt Csoma deserved ?all eulogy? for his work, but was also clear about its weak points. ?It is to be regretted,? he wrote, ?that, with the knowledge he certainly must have possessed of the later language and literature, he should have restricted the scope of his labours to the earlier periods of literature, and when in his Grammar conversational phrases are quoted as examples, they are almost without exception in the dialect of the Kangyur, and of little practical value.?


Jäschke?s work included all the words cited by Csoma, and also by Professor Schmidt, the author of a Tibetan grammar. Unlike Csoma, he arranged his work according to the Tibetan alphabet. He also attempted to provide guidelines on pronunciation, even refering to the dialect of Eastern Tibet, presumably based on his conversations with travelling traders and pilgrims. Jäschke employs a complex system of diacritic marks to indicate pronunciation (based on the system of a certain Professor Lepsius), but it is explained in his introduction.


Given that he was a Christian missionary, it is not surprising that Jäschke?s dictionary is wholly inadequate for translating Buddhism. Notwithstanding this, there are many examples drawn from the Life of Milarepa, and the dictionary may be used even now when translating simple stories or historical accounts.

The Works of H. A. Jäschke


A Tibetan-English Dictionary: with Special Reference to the Prevailing Dialects: to which is added an English-Tibetan Vocabulary. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1881.


Tibetan Grammar, London: Trubner & co., 1883

Based on the introduction to Jäschke?s dictionary.