Tibetan-style Chinese

Language Log linked to a blog post at Geek of All Trades that looks at a how lettering in one language can be made to resemble another, with Urdu-ized Devanagari as a specific example.

In China this is most often done with Chinese characters and Tibetan script. Here are some fairly popular examples:

The image above is from the cover of an album by Han Hong, a singer born in Tibet whose songs flavor generic Mando-pop with Tibetan influences. The 日 element in her last name 韩 and the trailing stroke of the 红 are reminiscent of Tibetan writing.

This is Fan Wen's 2004 best-seller Land of Water and Milk (水乳大地), which centers around French missionary efforts in eastern Tibet.

The Chinese characters in the title are Tibetan-ized - certain elements have been replaced with Tibetan vowel indicators, and extra Tibetan letters and markings are strewn about randomly. It's surrounded by the familiar mantra of Avalokiteshvara (both rightside-up and upside-down).

Dongba symbols are found elsewhere on the cover (click to enlarge) and in the book's frontspiece.

In 2006, Fan published a follow-up to Land of Water and Milk called Land of Sympathy (悲悯大地). The design of the 悲 character combines a number of Tibetan print elements and ends up looking a bit less blindly-assembled than the type on the first book.

The cover also includes a line in printed Tibetan that appears to be the book's title (please leave a translation in the comments if you can read Tibetan).

This is the cover of Tibetan Mastiff (藏獒), written by Yang Zhijun and published in late 2005. As in Fan Wen's covers, the title incorporates various Tibetan elements; it's interesting how often Tibetan-ized Chinese makes use of elements like the circular nasal-marker that appear only when writing loan words.

The cover (click for the full version) also contains some "real Tibetan" writing which is upside-down and backwards. The second volume, published in 2007, retains the type-design of the title but removes the extraneous Tibetan writing. And perhaps more than coincidentally, the author's name is written in the same typeface as Fan Wen's on the cover of Land of Water and Milk.

The best example of this practice is probably the movie poster for Lu Chuan's 2004 western adventure, Kekexili: Mountain Patrol (可可西里). To my eyes, the Chinese characters do a much better job of evoking Tibetan writing than the examples given above, and the kicker is that what at first looks like a series of vowel markings on top of them turns out to be the the romanized title "Ke Ke Xi Li."

The effect was subsequently used on a number of other Hoh Xil-related book and CD titles.

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There are currently 7 Comments for Tibetan-style Chinese.

Comments on Tibetan-style Chinese

so is tibet part of china or the opposite?

I remember when I first came across Ke Ke Xi Li a couple years ago. With limited Chinese at the time, I assumed the text was actually Tibetan. Definitely an awesome example. Good movie too - if not a little depressing.


Great post, Joel.
My enormously rusty two years of college Tibetan agrees with you that the words under 悲悯大地 are a translation of the title; I can identify the first word as "snying rje" = "compassion" and the last bit "khams" is in compounds meaning "land" or "realm" I think.

Thanks, Jim. That's a lovely resource there, with the transcription and the image of the word in Tibetan writing.

the tibetan is indeed a translation of the title of the book, although it's misspelled and grammatically incorrect. the first word, snying che ba, means compassionate or sympathetic (rather than sympathy). the second word, rjig rten khams, does mean world or land, but it's misspelled. (there is an incorrect vowel marker on the second syllable -- it reads "rtin" instead of "rten".

Thanks, connie. That's good to know.

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