search catalogue

An Audio-Visual Archive of Dzardzongke (South Mustang Tibetan)

Landing page image for the collection "An Audio-Visual Archive of Dzardzongke (South Mustang Tibetan)".

Looking at Dzar (left) and Dzong (right) coming down from Ranipuwa (Muktinath) in South Mustang, Nepal. Photo by Marieke Meelen, 2022. Click on image to access collection.


Language Dzardzongke
Depositor Marieke Meelen, Charles Ramble
Affiliation University of Cambridge, EPHE, Paris
Location Nepal
Collection ID 0666
Grant ID SG0716
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

Dzardzongke or South Mustang Tibetan (SMT) (28° 53′ 37.3848” N 83° 48′ 38.106” E, ca. 1800 speakers) is a severely endangered language spoken in a number of villages in Mustang, Nepal. It is related to Loke/Lowa, another language of the Bodish branch of the Sino-Tibetan language, which is also an endangered language spoken in Upper Mustang. Most speakers of Dzardzongke are fluent in Nepali and Seke as well and Dzardzongke is not used in writing or education, putting it in a very precarious situation. Due to economic difficulties in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake and the current pandemic, speakers are rapidly leaving the villages to find employment in Kathmandu and abroad. This is having a disastrous effect on the local language and cultural traditions. This collection therefore presents audio-visual materials that will help preserve the local language and unique pre-Buddhist Bon cultural tradition. It will consist of a wide range of materials, from dialogues to rituals, group conversations, as well as guided tours of local historical places.


Group represented

The group represented in this collection are speakers of Dzardzongke – also referred to as ‘South Mustang Tibetan’ (SMT) in the literature. Dzardzongke is a severely endangered languages spoken in a small number of villages in Baragaon (South Mustang) in Nepal. Most speakers of Dzardzongke are fluent in Nepali and at least one other language (Seke or Loke) as well as the Baragaon area is traditionally part of one of the most important trans-Himalayan trade routes and Nepali is the language of education. This documentation project was carried out predominantly in Dzar and surrounding villages, like Kingar, Kagbeni and Chusang, and the main language worker and technician is from nearby Lubrak. In addition, we interviewed speakers who live in Upper Mustang, but still speak a variety of Dzardzongke alongside Loke (which is the local Upper Mustang variety). Many Dzardzongke speakers have left the area (for Kathmandu or abroad – New York in particular), especially in recent years after economical hardship following the 2015 earthquake and the pandemic. This has led to an influx of migrants from Dolpo who settled in the abandoned villages where Dzardzongke was traditionally spoken, which has further endangered the preservation of the language.


Special characteristics

This collection is a result of a collaborative effort between a local author, Nyima Drandul, a local technician, Kemi Tsewang, an anthropologist, Charles Ramble, and a linguist, Marieke Meelen. This unique collaborative team ensured the feasibility of data collection, curation and annotation in this remote and difficult area. It greatly enriched the collection as it allowed us to get access to historical places that have never before been filmed with local villagers explaining the significance of the place as well as the document collections that were archived there.

Another unique feature that came as a result of this collaboration is the development of an orthographical system that is not only linguistically sound, easy to use and endorsed by the local community. This meant that in addition to collecting the audio-visual data, we were able to publish the first-ever book in the Dzardzongke language.

Finally, during our project, we made use of state-of-the-art Automatic Speech Recognition for low-resource languages, which greatly sped up our transcription.

All audio & video files will be deposited along with their transcription and translations in 2023.


Collection contents

In total, the audio-visual output will be ~15 hours consisting of rituals and traditional task/activity descriptions, conversations and dialogues, narrated short stories from the Kretschmar (1995) collection and an autobiography (by Nyima Drandul). More details will follow when the project is completed in 2023.


Collection history

The project from which this deposit originated was financed by an ELDP Small Grant awarded to Marieke Meelen and Charles Ramble for the period July 2022-April 2023. Data collection for the project began in August 2022 and last until mid September 2022. The research team spent most of their time in the village Dzar as it is a central point in the Dzardzongke valley where most speakers are located. The 6-week period in the field was focused on data collection and curation as well as knowledge sharing between team members who are all located in different places, e.g. practical guidance on how to use transcription and translation tools like ELAN, learning more about the Dzardzongke language, etc.
When Marieke Meelen and Charles Ramble returned to Cambridge and Paris respectively, they continued work on data curation and annotation, staying in contact with local Dzardzongke speakers Kemi Tsewang and Nyima Drandul. Because the team was so efficient with their time in the field, further recordings were not necessary, but further transcription and translation sessions were held regularly between Charles Ramble and Nyima Drandul via zoom, why Marieke Meelen focused on developing and optimising the Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) tool for Dzardzongke.

Full deposits of all data and annotation will be made at the end of the project in 2023.


Other Information
Transcriptions were done in the newly-developed orthography, which is a romanised form (which all speakers are familiar with) reflecting the actual pronunciation. This deliberately diverges from the Tibetan script, which is not only problematic from a linguistic point of view, but also confusing as it relies on the representation of sounds as they were pronounced over a thousand years ago, which have since changed significantly. An overview of all orthographical details can be found in the linguistic introduction to Nyima Drandul’s autobiography, which will be published soon after completion of the project.


Acknowledgement and citation

The research team are extremely grateful to all Dzardzongke speakers and other local hosts who helped to build this collection in any form, e.g. by participating in interviews, by allowing us to film rituals and songs, by hosting us, etc.
Users of any part of this collection should acknowledge Marieke Meelen and Charles Ramble as the main investigators and Kemi Tsewang and Nyima Drandul as core members of the research team, as well as the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme as the funder of this project.

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Meelen, Marieke & Ramble, Charles. 2022. An Audio-Visual Archive of Dzardzongke (South Mustang Tibetan). Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].


Powered by Preservica
© Copyright 2024