” Sometimes even an intrepid traveller needs a bit of peace and quiet.
* * * It wasn’t just merchants who had to haggle at the market.
Another manuscript, IOL Khot 140, is a list of goods for a Khotanese monastery in the 10th century.
If translation apps do eventually make them redundant, it will be the end of a tradition that goes back a long way.
The Central Asian manuscript collections provide plenty of evidence that phrasebooks were popular with travellers on the Silk Road in the first millennium AD.
One Tibetan-Chinese phrasebook (found in Or.8210/S.1000 and S.2736) was obviously compiled for merchants.
The phrasebook is also there for travellers who encounter problems such as illness, being robbed, or being accused of being a thief, including the essential (but perhaps not very effective) “what have I done wrong!?
” Probably more useful is the translation of the title of the Tibetan emperor and other high officials in the Tibetan empire.
There is also a Chinese translation of the word in case you need the help of a ritual specialist.
The author of the phrasebook had a sense of humour: the last phrase he included is “shut up!
The phrasebook gives the Tibetan word, followed by the Chinese equivalent, all in the Tibetan script.
Thus it was clearly written for travellers who knew the Tibetan language but little or nothing of Chinese.
In this phrasebook, the names of goods including food, clothes, tools, weapons and armour predominate.
Also here are words and phrases helpful to visitors to a strange town looking for food and a bed for night, and moving on to the next destination.