The Info List - Tibetic Language

--- Advertisement ---

The Tibetic languages (Tibetan: བོད་སྐད།) are a cluster of Sino-Tibetan languages spoken primarily by Tibetan peoples, who live across a wide area of eastern Central Asia bordering the Indian subcontinent, including the Tibetan Plateau and the northern Indian subcontinent in Baltistan, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan. Classical Tibetan is a major regional literary language, particularly for its use in Buddhist literature. The Central Tibetan language (the dialects of Ü-Tsang, including Lhasa), Khams Tibetan, and Amdo Tibetan are generally considered to be dialects of a single language, especially since they all share the same literary language, while Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Sherpa, Ladakhi, and Balti are generally considered to be separate languages.[citation needed] The Tibetic languages are spoken by some 8 million or more people. With the worldwide spread of Tibetan Buddhism, the Tibetan language has spread into the western world and can be found in many Buddhist publications and prayer materials; with some western students learning the language for translation of Tibetan texts. Outside Lhasa itself, Lhasa Tibetan is spoken by approximately 200,000 exile speakers who have moved from modern-day Tibet to India and other countries. Tibetan is also spoken by groups of ethnic minorities in Tibet who have lived in close proximity to Tibetans for centuries, but nevertheless retain their own languages and cultures. Although some of the Qiang peoples of Kham are classified by China as ethnic Tibetans, Qiangic languages are not Tibetic, but rather form their own branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Classical Tibetan was not a tonal language, but some varieties such as Central and Khams Tibetan have developed tone registers. Amdo and Ladakhi-Balti are without tone. Tibetic morphology can generally be described as agglutinative.


1 Languages 2 Classification 3 Writing systems 4 Historical phonology 5 References 6 Further reading 7 External links

Languages[edit] Nicolas Tournadre (2008) describes the language situation of Tibetan as follows:

Based on my 20 years of field work throughout the Tibetan language area and on the existing literature, I estimate that there are 220 'Tibetan dialects' derived from Old Tibetan and nowadays spread across 5 countries: China, India, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan [which] may be classed within 25 dialect groups, i.e. groups which do not allow mutual intelligibility. The notion of ‘dialect group’ is equivalent to the notion of language but does not entail any standardization. Thus if we set aside the notion of standardization, I believe it would be more appropriate to speak of 25 languages derived from Old Tibetan. This is not only a terminological issue but it gives an entirely different perception of the range of variation. When we refer to 25 languages, we make clear that we are dealing with a family comparable in size to the Romance family which has 19 groups of dialects.[2]

The 25 languages include a dozen major dialect clusters:

Central Tibetan (Ü-Tsang), Khams (Chamdo, Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan), Amdo (Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan), Choni (Gansu, Sichuan), Ladakhi (Jammu and Kashmir), Balti (Gilgit-Baltistan), Burig (Jammu and Kashmir), Lahuli–Spiti (Himachal Pradesh), Dzongkha (Bhutan), Sikkimese (Sikkim), Sherpa (Nepal, Tibet), Kyirong-Kagate (Nepal, Tibet)

and another dozen minor clusters or single dialects, mostly spoken by a few hundred to a few thousand people:

Jirel (Nepal), Chocangaca (Bhutan), Lakha (Bhutan), Brokkat (Bhutan), Brokpa (Bhutan), Groma (Tibet), Zhongu (Sichuan), Gserpa (Sichuan), Khalong (Sichuan), Dongwang (Yunnan), Zitsadegu (Sichuan) and Drugchu (Gansu).

In addition, there is Baima, which retains an apparent Qiangic substratum, and has multiple layers of borrowing from Amdo, Khams, and Zhongu, but does not correspond to any established branch of Tibetic.[3] The more divergent dialects such as this are spoken in the north and east near the Qiangic and Rgyalrongic languages, and some, such as Khalong, may also be due to language shift. The Tibetic languages used for broadcasting within China are Standard Tibetan (based on the Ü dialect of Lhasa and used as a lingua franca throughout Ü-Tsang), Khams and Amdo. Classification[edit]

Tournadre (2005, 2008)

Tournadre (2005)[4] classifies the Tibetic languages as follows:

Central Tibetan

The basis of Standard Tibetan that includes various Nepalese varieties

Khams Amdo Dzongkha–Lhokä

Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Lakha, Naapa, Chocangaca, Brokkat, Brokpa and probably Groma


Ladakhi, Burig, Zangskari, Balti

Lahuli–Spiti Kyirong–Kagate Sherpa–Jirel

Sherpa, Jirel

The other languages (Thewo-Chone, Zhongu, Khalong, Dongwang, Gserpa, Zitsadegu, Drugchu, Baima) are not mutually intelligible, but are not known well enough to classify. Tournadre (2013) adds Tseku and Khamba to Khams, and groups Thewo-Chone, Zhongu, Baima as an Eastern branch of Tibetic.

Bradley (1997)

According to Bradley,[5] the languages cluster as follows (dialect information from the Tibetan Dialects Project at the University of Bern):

Western Archaic Tibetan (non-tonal), including Ladakhi, Balti and Burig Amdo Tibetan (including Thewo-Chone) (non-tonal) Khams Tibetan (tonal) Western Innovative Tibetan (Lahuli–Spiti) (slightly tonal)

Dialects of Upper Ladakh and Zanskar, of the Northwest Indian Border Area (Lahaul and Spiti district and Uttarakhand), and of Zanda County (westernmost Tibet)

Central Tibetan (slightly tonal)

Most dialects of Ngari Prefecture in western Tibet, of the northern Nepalese border area in Nepal, Tsang dialects of Shigatse Prefecture, and Ü dialects (Lhokha, Lhasa, etc.). The basis of Standard Tibetan.

Northern Tibetan (slightly tonal)

Dialects of Gêrzê, of Nagqu Prefecture in north-central Tibet, and of Nangqên County in South Qinghai (Considered dialects of Khams by Tournadre)

Southern Tibetan (slightly tonal)

Groma language of Chumbi Valley in southern Tsang, Sikkimese in India, Sherpa and Jirel in Nepal, and various languages of Bhutan: Dzongkha, Brokkat, Brokpa, Chocangaca, Lakha, Laya dialect, Lunana dialect.


Some classifications group Khams and Amdo together as Eastern Tibetan (not to be confused with East Bodish, whose speakers are not ethnically Tibetan). Some, like Tournadre, break up Central Tibetan. Phrases such as 'Central Tibetan' and 'Central Bodish' may or may not be synonymous: Southern (Central) Tibetan can be found as Southern Bodish, for example; 'Central Tibetan' may mean dBus or all tonal lects apart from Khams; 'Western Bodish' may be used for the non-tonal western lects while 'Western Tibetan' is used for the tonal lects, or 'Bodish' may even be used for other branches of the Tibeto-Kanauri languages. Writing systems[edit] Main articles: Tibetan script and Tibetan braille Most Tibetic languages are written in one of two Indic scripts. Standard Tibetan and most other Tibetic languages are written in the Tibetan script with a historically conservative orthography (see below) that helps unify the Tibetan-language area. Some other Tibetan languages (in India and Nepal) are written in the related Devanagari script, which is also used to write Hindi, Nepali and many other languages. However, some Ladakhi and Balti speakers write with the Urdu script; this occurs almost exclusively in Pakistan. The Tibetan script fell out of use in Pakistani Baltistan hundreds of years ago upon the region's adoption of Islam. However, increased concern among Balti people for the preservation of their language and traditions, especially in the face of strong Punjabi cultural influence throughout Pakistan, has fostered renewed interest in reviving the Tibetan script and using it alongside the Arabic-Persian script. Many shops in Baltistan's capital Skardu in Pakistan's "Northern Areas" region have begun supplementing signs written in the Arabic-Persian script with signs written in the Tibetan script. Baltis see this initiative not as separatist but rather as part of an attempt to preserve the cultural aspects of their region which has shared a close history with neighbors like Kashmiris and Punjabis since the arrival of Islam in the region many centuries ago. Historical phonology[edit] Old Tibetan phonology is rather accurately rendered by the script. The finals were pronounced devoiced although they are written as voiced, the prefix letters assimilated their voicing to the root letters. The graphic combinations hr and lh represent voiceless and not necessarily aspirate correspondences to r and l respectively. The letter ' was pronounced as a voiced guttural fricative before vowels but as homorganic prenasalization before consonants. Whether the gigu verso had phonetic meaning or not remains controversial. For instance, Srongbtsan Sgampo would have been pronounced [sroŋpʦan zɡampo] (now pronounced [sɔ́ŋʦɛ̃ ɡʌ̀mpo] in Lhasa Tibetan) and 'babs would have been pronounced [mbaps] (pronounced [bapˤ][dubious – discuss] in Lhasa Tibetan). Already in the 9th century the process of cluster simplification, devoicing and tonogenesis had begun in the central dialects can be shown with Tibetan words transliterated in other languages, particularly Middle Chinese but also Uyghur. The concurrence of the evidence indicated above enables us to form the following outline of the evolution of Tibetan. In the 9th century, as shown by the bilingual Tibetan–Chinese treaty of 821–822 found in front of Lhasa's Jokhang, the complex initial clusters had already been reduced, and the process of tonogenesis was likely well underway. The next change took place in Tsang (Gtsang) dialects: The ra-tags were altered into retroflex consonants, and the ya-tags became palatals. Later on the superscribed letters and finals d and s disappeared, except in the east and west. It was at this stage that the language spread in Lahul and Spiti, where the superscribed letters were silent, the d and g finals were hardly heard, and as, os, us were ai, oi, ui. The words introduced from Tibet into the border languages at that time differ greatly from those introduced at an earlier period. The other changes are more recent and restricted to Ü and Tsang. In Ü, the vowel sounds a, o, u have now mostly umlauted to ä, ö, ü when followed by the coronal sounds i, d, s, l and n. The same holds for Tsang with the exception of l which merely lengthens the vowel. The medials have become aspirate tenues with a low intonation, which also marks the words having a simple initial consonant; while the former aspirates and the complex initials simplified in speech are uttered with a high tone, shrill and rapidly. References[edit]

^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Old–Modern Tibetan". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.  ^ Tournadre N. (2008), "Arguments against the Concept of ‘Conjunct’/‘Disjunct’ in Tibetan" in Chomolangma, Demawend und Kasbek. Festschrift für Roland Bielmeier zu seinem 65. Geburtstag. B. Huber, M. Volkart, P. Widmer, P. Schwieger, (Eds), Vol 1. p. 281–308. http://tournadre.nicolas.free.fr/fichiers/2008-Conjunct.pdf ^ Katia Chirkova, 2008, "On the position of Báimǎ within Tibetan", in Lubotsky et al (eds), Evidence and Counter-Evidence, vol. 2. ^ *N. Tournadre (2005) "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes." Lalies, 2005, n°25, p. 7–56 [1] ^ Bradley (1997)

Further reading[edit]

Beyer, Stephan V. (1992). The Classical Tibetan Language. SUNY Press. ISBN 0-7914-1099-4.  Denwood, Philip (1999). Tibetan. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 90-272-3803-0.  Denwood, Philip (2007). "The Language History of Tibetan". In Roland Bielmeier, Felix Haller. Linguistics of the Himalayas and beyond. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 47–70. ISBN 3-11-019828-2. CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link) van Driem, George (2001). Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region containing an Introduction to the Symbiotic Theory of Language. Brill. ISBN 9004103902.  AHP43 Amdo Tibetan Language

External links[edit]

Tibet portal Languages portal

The Tibetan Dialects Project Languages on the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas — Nicolas Tournadre Overview of Old Tibetan Synchronic phonology by Nathan Hill L'évolution des langues et les facteurs écolinguistiques : le cas des langues d'éleveurs et des langues d'agriculteurs sur le Haut Plateau tibétain at CNRS-LACITO China’s Tibet policy continued attempt at erasing Tibetan language

Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Research on Tibetan Languages: A Bibliography

v t e

Bodic (Tibeto-Kanauri) languages




Central Tibetan Standard Tibetan (Old, Classical) Mugom Basum


Amdo Tibetan Choni


Khams Tibetan Tseku Khamba


Ladakhi Purgi Zangskari Balti Lahuli–Spiti


Groma Sikkimese Sherpa Jirel Dzongkha Brokkat Brokpa Chocangaca Lakha Naapa Laya Lunana


Baima Dao


Kyirong-Kagate (Yolmo) Zhongu Khalong Dongwang Gserpa Zitsadegu Drugchu

East Bodish

Dakpa Tawang Dzala Nyen Chali Bumthang Kheng Kurtöp Nupbi


West Himalayish

Kinnauri Sunam Jangshung Shumcho Pattani Tinan Gahri Kanashi Rangpo Darma Byangsi Chaudangsi Rangkas Zhangzhung


Tamang Gurung Thakali Manang Gyasumdo Nar Phu Chantyal Ghale Kutang Kaike

v t e

Tibetan language topics

Tibetic languages Old Tibetan  Classical Tibetan Standard Tibetan  Grammar

Script: Umê (Zhuza, Bêcug), Uchen (Chuyik/Khyungyik), Bamyik Braille Regional (Joyig, Monyig and Lhoyig)

Transcription: Wylie, Tibetan pinyin, THL Transcription

v t e

Tibet articles



Timeline List of rulers European exploration Historical money


Prehistory (Neolithic) Zhangzhung Pre-Imperial Empire (7th–9th century)

List of emperors Great Ministers Relations with Tang (618–907)

Era of Fragmentation (9th–11th century)

Guge kingdom

Yuan dynasty rule (1270–1350)

Bureau of Buddhist and Tibetan Affairs

Phagmodrupa dynasty

Relations with Ming (1368–1644)

Rinpungpa dynasty Tsangpa dynasty Ganden Phodrang


Qing dynasty rule (1720–1912)

Lifan Yuan List of imperial residents

Post-Qing to 1950

Tibetan Army

People's Republic of China (PRC) rule

PRC incorporation political leaders

Wars and conflicts

Tibetan attack on Songzhou Battle of Dafei River Mongol invasions of Tibet Tibet–Ladakh–Mughal War Battle of Dartsedo Battle of the Salween River Chinese expedition to Tibet (1720) Lhasa riot of 1750 Sino-Nepalese War Sino-Sikh War Nepalese–Tibetan War Sikkim expedition British expedition to Tibet 1905 Tibetan Rebellion Chinese expedition to Tibet (1910) Xinhai Lhasa turmoil Sino-Tibetan War

Qinghai–Tibet War

1938–39 German expedition to Tibet 1939 Japanese expedition to Tibet Battle of Chamdo Protests and uprisings since 1950

1959 Tibetan uprising 1987–89 Tibetan unrest 2008 Tibetan unrest Self-immolation protests by Tibetans in China


70,000 Character Petition Treaty of Chushul Treaty of Thapathali Treaty of Lhasa Treaty of friendship and alliance with Mongolia Simla Accord (1914) Seventeen-Point Agreement




Lhotse / Changtse Namcha Barwa Tanggula


Yarlung Tsangpo

Grand Canyon

Rongbuk Glacier Tibetan Plateau


Nature Reserve


Traditional regions

Amdo Kham Ü-Tsang

Ü Tsang Ngari


Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Central Tibetan Administration


Definitions of Tibet Foreign relations Human rights


Patron and priest relationship Golden Urn Tibet Area Independence movement Serfdom controversy Sovereignty debate CIA Tibetan program


Regional Government


Postage and postal history Qinghai-Tibet Highway Qinghai–Tibet Railway


Education Languages Religion

Tibetan Buddhism


Imperial Preceptor Dpon-chen

Nyingma Kagyu Jonang Gelug

Ganden Tripa Dalai Lama


Lhamo La-tso Panchen Lama



Sinicization Social classes Tibetan people

Changpa Yolmo Diaspora Names


Art Calendar Cuisine Dzong architecture Emblem Festivals Flag Historical and cultural sites Khata (ceremonial scarf) Literature

Annals Chronicle writers

Music Tibetology Traditional medicine

Outline Index

Category Portal

v t e

Sino-Tibetan branches

Western Himalayas

West Himalayish Tamangic Magaric Chepangic Raji–Raute Dura Newar

Eastern Himalayas

Bodish (Tibetic, East Bodish) Kiranti Baram–Thangmi Lepcha Tshangla Gongduk Lhokpu 'Ole Tani

circum-Myanmar tribal belts (G–Hk–J–R–C)

Karbi Kukish (aka Chin, Zo) Mruic Nungish Pyu


Ao Angami–Pochuri Meithei Tangkhul Zeme


Bodo–Koch Konyak Dhimal Kachin–Luic

East Asia

Sinitic (Chinese, Bai) Tujia Karenic Naic Ersu Qiangic (rGyalrongic)


Mondzish Burmish Loloish

Dubious (possible isolates)

Greater Siangic

Siangic Idu–Taraon

Hrusish (Hruso, Miji) Puroik Kho-Bwa Kaman–Zakhring

Proposed groupings

Burmo-Qiangic Greater Bai Mahakiranti Rung Tibeto-Kanauri Tibeto-Burman Greater Magaric