This page – directed primarily at the University of Toronto community – summarizes the forms of language training available at the University of Toronto relevant to the study of Buddhism.
Burmese Language Training
To provide DSR Pali students with a well-rounded training that includes a South or Southeast Asian vernacular, since fall 2018 Christoph Emmrich has been teaching literary Burmese to undergraduate and graduate students. This has allowed U of T to join Cornell University and UC Berkeley as the only two other North American universities where Burmese is regularly taught.
Chinese Language Training
Chinese language training occurs in the Department of East Asian Studies – see here for information: https://www.eas.utoronto.ca/languages/enrolment-instructions/chinese
Japanese Language Training
Japanese language training occurs in the Department of East Asian Studies – see here for information: https://www.eas.utoronto.ca/languages/enrolment-instructions/japanese
Korean Language Training
Japanese language training occurs in the Department of East Asian Studies – see here for information: https://www.eas.utoronto.ca/languages/enrolment-instructions/korean
Newar Language Training
Newar, the Tibeto-Burman language of Nepal key for understanding the transmission of medieval Buddhism and Hinduism, is a South Asian vernacular which has been taught on various levels at the DSR by Christoph Emmrich since 2015. Apart from the monolingual Newar Language Department of Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, U of T is the only university where Newar is taught together with Newar Buddhism and Hinduism.
Pali Language Training
Pali, a sacred language of contemporary South and Southeast Asian Buddhism, has been taught at U of T since the 1970s. After a hiatus, of a couple decades, however, in 2015 it began to be taught again by Christoph Emmrich and Libbie Mills, with the assistance of Bryan Levman. Pali is taught at U of T both in Romanization and in the Burmese script, embedding it in a contemporary regional tradition and enabling students to read Pali on palm leaf manuscripts.
The fundamentals of Pali are taught over 1 or 2 years, according to student need. From the very beginning, the course is taught through select passages from the scriptures of the Pali canon in Roman transliteration, giving an immediate view into Buddhist doctrine and practice, and Pali literary history. Students also learn to read the language in Burmese script, to give access to palm leaf manuscripts in that character set.
Here, Bhante Rewatha, a Sinhalese Buddhist monk studying Pali and Sanskrit in the DSR in 2020-21, reads a passage studied in the sixth week of the course: https://play.library.utoronto.ca/1fb1b63b0a2905ab099f46f6edaa1a1e
Sanskrit Language Training
Sanskrit materials offer a gateway to learning more about the arts, sciences, and philosophies of South Asia, as well as the religious streams of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. As a language of scholarly exchange, it has had a large influence through Asia and over time. Six department members work with students on materials in Sanskrit, offering students an excitingly wide range of supervision.
In intermediate and advanced Sanskrit language courses students have the opportunity to read a wide range of texts in a workshop atmosphere. In preparation for that work, the introductory courses teach the fundamentals of Sanskrit in a single year, using an inverted classroom model, in which students watch lecture videos online ahead of class time, and come to class to workshop the material. Students can return to the lecture videos as often as they need, and the highly interactive class time works well in bringing up all the possibilities and difficulties that each feature of the language presents. As they are learning the language, students also have the opportunity to watch videos of Yumi, a fellow student, as she learned it in 2016. Each week, Yumi is seen completing a sample from the weekly exercises. Students report that they find watching a peer tackling the problems both helpful and companionable.
Overall, the program has proven very popular, with a class size of ~40 students. Besides students of religion, philosophy and Classics, taking the language to give access to writings on philosophy and religion, those engaged in other fields choose it as an elective. As an example, there is a substantial proportion of students in linguistics, computer science, and computational linguistics. These students speak of their pleasure in the order of the language and its generative possibilities, from root words to final forms, and from there to evocative compounds.
Here is a recording of Shahana Ramanathan, a professionally trained Indian classical (Bharathanatyam) dancer in her fourth year at the UofT, studying Women and Gender Studies, Equity Studies and Philosophy in 2020-21. She is reading a passage studied in the sixth week of the course: https://play.library.utoronto.ca/291a8d34e93bdcfc6a73cf1fda5792e1
Tamil Language Training
The study of Tamil at the DSR has begun to be established on a firm footing since 2020. Tamil is the only South Asian regional language whose literary corpus goes back to the early centuries of the Common Era. Thus, it is the only South Asian language which comes near to rivaling Sanskrit in antiquity, with a diglossic register (implying marked variants between the spoken dialects and the written forms) as well as a historical evolution that comprises a minimum of four stages from Classical to Early Medieval to Late Medieval to Modern.
The significance of the study of Tamil at U of T must be understood in the light of the existence in Canada, and particularly in Toronto, of the largest diasporic Sri Lankan Tamil population outside Sri Lankan numbering, as per the 2016 census at least 150,000 in the GTA. Tamil is also the third most spoken South Asian language in Canada.
The establishment of the Francois Gros Collection of 8500 valuable Tamil books and manuscripts (which includes the first printed Bible in South Asia) at Robarts was jointly managed by the Librarian in charge for South Asia at Robarts Lana Soglasnova and Srilata Raman at the DSR. The project won the 2019 Annual Librarian’s Prize of the American Association of Librarians as well as a SSHRC grant for the cataloging, which currently remains in suspension due to Covid-19.
This year the pandemic has opened up the possibility of online teaching in a creative way. We are running a Classical Tamil Grammar course as a Directed Reading for upper-level graduate students where there is the participation of students also from the History Department working on Tamil related projects.
Tibetan Language Training
The University of Toronto has been building Tibetan Studies for more than a decade, and our undergraduate and graduate programs are strong and growing rapidly. Since the beginning of our Tibetan Studies programs in 2003, faculty and graduate students working in the area have been competitively awarded several million dollars in research funding, several doctoral students have graduated and moved on to teaching positions in Tibetan Studies, and our library has become the largest Tibetan collection in Canada.
The U of T has been teaching Tibetan language since 2005. In 2016, a U of T team published Nettle Online Tibetan, open-source, open-access software developed for online delivery of instruction in Classical Tibetan language. In addition to providing basic instruction in Classical Tibetan grammar and translation, the courses developed in Nettle teach contextual competencies relevant to producing scholarship in Religious Studies, History, or Linguistics using sources in Classical Tibetan. This online course is run at the University of Toronto but the materials are also widely and freely used internationally.
In this video, Dr. Sean Hillman, a graduate of the Department for the Study of Religion, speaks about his experiences studying Tibetan in India and at the University of Toronto and the value of Tibetan language training.
The U of T Libraries have the largest Tibetan language collection in Canada. The Library began purchasing subscriptions to the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center’s electronic text collections in 2008. In 2013, a collaboration between the University of Toronto and Columbia University’s research libraries was established to harness expertise in Tibetan collection services at both universities and increase the availability of Tibetan resources to a wider community of scholars in both Canada and the United States. The partnership provides for jointly sponsored acquisitions trips to enhance the Tibetan collections at both universities, and a shared point of service for research consultations. Since this collaboration began, the U of T’s Tibetan Collection has more than doubled in size.