Getting Started in Ladakhi
Getting started in Ladakhi was a great hurdle as there was nothing in print to help the beginner make simple sentences. Feeling the need for a book like this, I wrote the first edition (1994) after only two years in Ladakh, when I still really didn’t know much. With six years more experience, the second edition was much improved, especially in explaining grammar and in having a more comprehensive vocabulary section.
This book tries to reflect the speech of Leh: I was careful to avoid classical language and include only what I hear, as ancient or excessively polite forms are not much use to the beginner. In monasteries, however, you may find people who like to use classical or Tibetan forms, and of course there are regional differences, even from one village to the next. However, most Ladakhis can understand the Leh variety, and can tell you what the local alternative is.
The written Ladakhi is included so that Ladakhis can read it if the pronunciation doesn’t work, and learners may learn the writing system. It is not difficult and will help you understand pronunciation.
With sentences, a word-by-word translation is included. Owing to basic differences between the two languages it was not always possible to make the word-by-word line precise, but I hope it gives a sense of sentence structure and encourages readers to create new sentences by substitution. Without this, they cannot break phrases down and actually learn rather than pointing to the printed page.
The written Ladakhi or Bodik found in most books published in Ladakh is a mix of ancient Classical Tibetan and modern Ladakhi. Modern Ladakhi, modern Tibetan and Classical Tibetan are not mutually intelligible and thus can be considered three distinct languages. Revering the Classical language, many Ladakhis believe that spoken Ladakhi is somehow not correct, and that grammar and proper language must be difficult and obscure. I have been told more than once that ‘spoken Ladakhi has no grammar'.
Actually, spoken Ladakhi has a rich grammar, full of subtlety and nuances of meaning. Indeed, it has a highly developed and fascinating system of verb forms (called evidentiality in linguistics) lacking in the Classical language.