Learning Classical Tibetan with Nettle

Nettle is open-source, open-access software developed for online delivery of instruction in Classical Tibetan language. These courses were first delivered asynchronously at the University of Toronto, Canada, in 2016-17.

Intermediate level course modules work with already deciphered (tagged) Classical Tibetan digital texts, with online exercises for practice and self-testing. Source texts for these modules are provided by the Tibetan in Digital Communication project, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK (2012-2015), and which built a part-of-speech tagged corpus of Tibetan texts spanning the language’s entire history. The use of digital texts that have already been tagged with grammatical parts of speech allows us to mark word divisions, quotations, case markers, and so on, such that students can initially focus on reading a text rather than deciphering it. As students build confidence and facility these aids can be minimized.

In addition to providing basic instruction in Classical Tibetan grammar and translation, the courses presented on this site teach contextual competencies relevant to producing scholarship in Religious Studies, History, or Linguistics using sources in Classical Tibetan, such as the various forms of Tibetan writing, ethno-linguistic particularities of forms of Tibetan, and the wide range of resources available for advanced reading in Tibetan (i.e., dictionaries and other bibliographic resources, many of which are online).

Our Team

Edward Garrett is a linguist and software developer living in London, England. After receiving a doctorate in linguistics (UCLA, 2001), Edward took a postdoctoral position at the University of Virginia, where he developed software for the Tibetan & Himalayan Library. From 2003-2008, Edward worked as an Assistant Professor at Eastern Michigan University, teaching courses in Language Technology. From 2008-2011, he was Software Developer for the Endangered Languages Archive at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, where he coded its online archive. From 2012-2015, he was a researcher and software developer on the project Tibetan in Digital Communication. Edward is the proprietor of Pinedrop, a software company that develops web solutions and research tools for the arts & humanities.

Frances Garrett is Associate Professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, where she has taught since 2003. She is also Director of the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Centre for Buddhist Studies at the University of Toronto. She grew up in Oregon (with her brother Edward), received a B.A. in Philosophy from Columbia University in 1989 and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia in 2004. Her research has examined the intersections between tantric practice, ritual and occult knowledge and medical theory, and what these tell us about the processes of institutional and ideological change in Tibet. She has worked on the Central Asian Gesar epic, and is now beginning a project focused on contemporary and historical stories about Himalayan mountains, as told by Tibetans, local communities and international mountaineers. She is also experimenting with expeditionary studies as a pedagogical framework. Frances' academic website can be found here

Annie Heckman is a doctoral student in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. After receiving her MFA in Studio Art (New York University, 2006), Annie spent several years working in the visual arts as an educator, artist, and designer, teaching at DePaul University (Visiting Assistant Professor 2011–2014) and at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (Art & Dialogue specialist 2008–2015). Examining certain Tibetan texts as part of her studio research, Annie studied Tibetan language through the University of Chicago's Graham School before relocating to Toronto to pursue further studies. She has since received the Dipty Chakravarty Award for excellence in the study of South Asian Society, History, and Culture, and the Phool Maya Chen Award in Buddhist Studies. Her research focuses on the agency of non-humans in Tibetan life literature.

Khenpo Kunga Sherab is a doctoral student in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, and he also serves as Tibetan language instructor and scholar in residence in the Department, assisting with student and faculty research and teaching. Khenpo Kunga is a Tibetan Buddhist monk and scholar who received the advanced title of Khenpo (“abbot”) in 2005, the culmination of more than 20 years of study and teaching at the Dzongsar Institute for Advanced Studies of Buddhist Philosophy and Research in India. He is the author of several works on Buddhist philosophy in Tibetan. 


This project was funded by grants from the Canadian Ministry for Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU)’s Ontario Shared Online Course Fund and the Online Undergraduate Course Initiative (OUCI) at the University of Toronto. The project team has also received extensive support from the University of Toronto's Director of Online Learning Strategies, Laurie Harrison, and Online Learning Coordinator, Will Heikoop.