The Tibetic languages (Tibetan: བོད་སྐད།) are a cluster of Tibeto-Burman languages descended from Old Tibetan, spoken across a wide area of eastern Central Asia bordering the Indian subcontinent, including the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas in Baltistan, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. 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.
Tibetic languages are spoken by some 6 million 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 (see rGyalrongic languages; rGyalrong people are identified as 'Tibetan' in China), 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.
|Ethnicity||Tibetan people and Sherpa|
|China (Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Yunnan); India (Ladakh, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh); Pakistan (Baltistan); Nepal; Bhutan|
Division of Tibetic Cultural Areas
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.
The 25 languages include a dozen major dialect clusters:
and another dozen minor clusters or single dialects, mostly spoken by a few hundred to a few thousand people:
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. 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.
Marius Zemp (2018) hypothesizes that Tibetan originated as a pidgin with the West Himalayish language Zhangzhung as its superstratum, and Rgyalrongic as its substratum. Similarly, Tamangic also has a West Himalayish superstratum, but its substratum is derived from a different Sino-Tibetan branch.
Tournadre (2014) classifies the Tibetic languages as follows.
Tournadre (2005) classifies the Tibetic languages as follows.
According to Bradley, the languages cluster as follows (dialect information from the Tibetan Dialects Project at the University of Bern):
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.
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.
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] 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.
Proto-Tibetic, the hypothetical proto-language ancestral to the Tibetic languages, has been reconstructed by Tournadre (2014). Proto-Tibetic is similar to, but not identical to, written Classical Literary Tibetan. The following phonological features are characteristic of Proto-Tibetic (Tournadre 2014: 113).
Reconstructed Proto-Tibetic forms from Tournadre (2014) include:
Pre-Tibetic is a hypothetical pre-formation stage of Proto-Tibetic.
*ty-, *ly-, *sy- were not palatalized in Pre-Tibetic, but underwent palatalization in Proto-Tibetic (Tournadre 2014: 113-114). Posited sound changes from Pre-Tibetic to Proto-Tibetic include *ty- > *tɕ-, *sy- > *ɕ-, *tsy- > *tɕ-, and *ly- > *ʑ-. However, Tournadre (2014: 114) notes that many Bodish languages such as Basum, Tamang, and Kurtöp (East Bodish) have not undergone these changes (e.g., Bake (Basum) ti ‘what’ vs. Proto-Tibetic *tɕ(h)i and Bake tɨ ‘one’ vs. Proto-Tibetic *g(ǝ)-tɕ(h)ik; Kurtöp Hla: ‘iron’ and Bumthap lak ‘iron’ vs. Proto-Tibetic *ltɕaks).
Some Pre-Tibetic reconstructions, along with reconstructed Proto-Tibetic forms and orthographic Classical Literary Tibetan, from Tournadre (2014: 114-116) are listed below.
|Gloss||Pre-Tibetic||Proto-Tibetic||Classical Literary Tibetan|
|one||*g(ǝ)-tyik||*g(ǝ)-tɕ(h)ik||gcig / gchig གཅིག་ / གཆིག (Old Tibetan)|
|big||*tye||*tɕ(h)e||che ཆེ་ (Old Tibetan)|
|ten||*b(ǝ)-tyu||*b(ǝ)-tɕu||bcu / bchu བཅུ་ / བཆུ་ (Old Tibetan)|
|what||*tyi||*tɕ(h)i||ci / chi ཅི་ / ཆི་ (Old Tibetan)|
|to cut (past stem)||*b(ǝ)-tsyat||*b(ǝ)-tɕat||bcad བཅད་|
|flea||*ldi||*ldʑi||lji ལྗི་, ‘ji ་འཇི་|
|iron||*s(ǝ)-lak(s) > *l-sak(s) > *l-tsyak(s)||*ltɕaks||lcags ལྕགས་|
|to suppress||*bnans||*mnans||mnand (Old Tibetan)|
|eye||*d(ǝ)myik||dmyig དམྱིག་ (Old Tibetan); mig|
|flower||*mentok||men-tog མེན་ཏོག (Old Tibetan); ་me-tog|
The Amdolese language (Tibetan: ཨ་མདོ་སྐད་, Wylie: A-mdo skad, Lhasa dialect: [[Help:IPA/Tibetan|[[[Help:IPA/Tibetan|[ámtokɛ́ʔ]]]]]]; also called Am kä) is the Tibetic language spoken by the majority of Amdolese, mainly in Qinghai and some parts of Sichuan (Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture) and Gansu (Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture).
Amdolese is one of the four main spoken Tibetic languages, the other three being Central Tibetan, Khams Tibetan, and Ladakhi. These four related languages share a common written script but their spoken pronunciations, vocabularies and grammars are different. These differences may have emerged due to geographical isolation of the regions of Tibet. Unlike Khams and Standard Tibetan, Amdolese language is not a tonal language. It retains many word-initial consonant clusters that have been lost in Central Tibetan.Baima language
Baima (autonym: pe˥˧) is a language spoken by 10,000 Baima people, of Tibetan nationality, in north central Sichuan Province, and Gansu Province, China. Baima is passed on from parents to children in Baima villages. It is spoken within the home domain and is not used in any media of mass communication. Baima is often classified as a Sino-Tibetan dialect and is currently endangered.
In terms of geographical locations, Baima is spoken in:
Baima 白马 Township, Pingwu County, Mianyang, Sichuan 四川
Baimaguhe 白马谷河, Wen County 文县, Gansu 甘肃
Wujiao 物角村, Jiuzhaigou County 九寨沟县, Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan 四川Baima uses subject–object–verb (SOV) word order, initial consonant word clusters and is tonal. It is unclassified within Sino-Tibetan; there are multiple layers of borrowings from Amdo, Khams, and Zhongu Tibetan, as well as lexical and grammatical connections with Qiangic languages. Basic vocabulary is about 85% Tibetic and 15% Qiangic, and the Tibetic words do not link to any established group of Tibetic languages. Chirkova (2008) suggests that the Qiangic vocabulary "might be a retention from the language originally spoken by the Báimǎ before their shift to a form of Tibetic in the 7th century." She accepts Baima as Tibetan, but as an isolate within the Tibetic languages.Basum language
Basum (autonym: brag gsum 'three cliffs'; Basong 巴松话; Bake) is a divergent Bodish language spoken by about 2,500 people in Gongbo'gyamda County 工布江达县, Nyingtri Prefecture, Tibet, China. Basum is spoken by 13.5% of the population of Gongbo'gyamda County. Glottolog lists Basum as unclassified within Bodish.
Basum is spoken in Cuogao Township 错高乡 and Xueka Township 雪卡乡 of Gongbo'gyamda County 工布江达县, Nyingtri Prefecture, Tibet, China (Qu, et al. 1989).Bodish languages
Bodish, named for the Tibetan ethnonym Bod, is a proposed grouping consisting of the Tibetic languages and associated Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in Tibet, North India, Nepal, Bhutan, and North Pakistan.
It has not been demonstrated that all these languages form a clade, characterized by shared innovations, within Sino-Tibetan.Shafer, who coined the term "Bodish", used it for two different levels in his classification. His Bodish proper branch was divided into West, Central, South and East Bodish.
It is now generally accepted that the languages Shafer placed in the first three subgroups are all descended from Old Tibetan, and should be combined as a Tibetic subgroup, with the East Bodish languages as a sister subgroup.Shafer also identified a broader Bodish grouping comprising Bodish proper, Tshangla, Rgyalrongic and Tamangic (which he called "Gurung").Bradley (1997) also defined a broad "Bodish" group, roughly equivalent to the "Tibeto-Kanauri" group in other classifications. Within this grouping, Bodish proper is a subgroup with two branches, Tibetic and East Bodish:
East Bodish is among the least researched branches of Sino-Tibetan. Languages regarded as members of this family include Bumthang (Michailovsky and Mazaudon 1994; van Driem 1995), Tshangla (Hoshi 1987; Andvik 1999), Dakpa (Lu 1986; Sun et al. 1991), Zhangzhung (Nagano and LaPolla 2001), and maybe Zakhring (Blench & Post 2011).
According to Shafer, East Bodish languages are the most conservative branch of the Bodish languages.
As for grammars of the East Bodish languages, there is Das Gupta (1968) and Lu (2002). Some papers on Kurtöp include Hyslop (2008a, 2008b, 2009).Central Tibetan language
Central Tibetan, also known as Dbus, Ü or Ü-Tsang, is the most widely spoken Tibetic language and the basis of Standard Tibetan.
Dbus and Ü are forms of the same name. Dbus is a transliteration of the name in Tibetan script, དབུས་, whereas Ü is the pronunciation of the same in Lhasa dialect, [wy˧˥˧ʔ] (or [y˧˥˧ʔ]). That is, in Tibetan, the name is spelled Dbus and pronounced Ü. All of these names are frequently applied specifically to the prestige dialect of Lhasa.
There are many mutually intelligible Central Tibetan dialects besides that of Lhasa, with particular diversity along the border and in Nepal:
Limi (Limirong), Mugum, Dolpo (Dolkha), Mustang (Lowa, Lokä), Humla, Nubri, Lhomi, Dhrogpai Gola, Walungchung Gola (Walungge/Halungge), Tseku, BasumEthnologue reports that Walungge is highly intelligible with Thudam, Glottolog that Thudam is not a distinct variety. Tournadre (2013) classifies Tseku with Khams.Clear Script
Clear Script (Oirat: ᡐᡆᡑᡆᡋᡅᡔᡅᡎ, Тод бичг, [tot bit͡ʃ(ə)k], tod biçg; Mongolian: Тод бичиг, ᠲᠣᠳᠣᠪᠢᠴᠢᠭ tod bichig, [tɔt bit͡ʃək], Russian Buryat: Тодо бэшэг, Todo besheg ([tɔdɔ bɛʃək]), or just todo) is an alphabet created in 1648 by the Oirat Buddhist monk Zaya Pandita for the Oirat language. It was developed on the basis of the Mongolian script with the goal of distinguishing all sounds in the spoken language, and to make it easier to transcribe Sanskrit and the Tibetic languages.Greater Magaric languages
The Greater Magaric languages are a branch of Sino-Tibetan languages proposed by Nicolas Schorer (2016). Schorer (2016: 286-287) considers Greater Magaric to be closely related to the Kiranti languages as part of a greater Himalayish branch, and does not consider Himalayish to be particularly closely related to the Tibetic languages, which include Tibetan and the Tamangic languages.
Matisoff (2015: xxxii, 1123-1127), in the final print release of the Sino-Tibetan Etymological Dictionary and Thesaurus (STEDT), has also proposed a Kham-Magar-Chepang language group.Gyalpo spirits
Gyalpo spirits are one of the eight classes of haughty gods and spirits (Wylie: lha srin sde brgyad) in Tibetan mythology and religion. Gyalpo (Tibetan: རྒྱལ་པོ, Wylie: rgyal po), a word which simply means "king" in the Tibetic languages, in Tibetan mythology is used to refer to the Four Heavenly Kings (Tibetan: རྒྱལ་ཆེན་བཞི) and especially to a class of spirits, both Buddhist and Bon, who may be either malevolent spirits or oath-bound as dharmapalas (Wylie: chos skyong, bon skyong).Kagate language
Kagate is a language from the subgroup of Tibetic languages spoken by the Kagate people primarily in the Ramechhap district of Nepal.Khams Tibetan
Khams Tibetan (Wylie: Khams skad, THL: Khamké) is the Tibetic language used by the majority of the people in Kham, which is now divided between the eastern part of Tibet Autonomous Region, the southern part of Qinghai, the western part of Sichuan, and the northwestern part of Yunnan, China. It is one of the six main spoken Tibetic languages, the other five being Central Tibetan language, Amdo, Ladakhi , Dzongkha and Balti. These Tibetic languages share the same written script, but their pronunciations, vocabularies and grammars are different. These differences may have emerged due to geographical isolation of the regions of Tibet. Khams Tibetan is used alongside Standard Tibetan and Amdo Tibetan in broadcasting. Khams Tibetan is not mutually intelligible with other Tibetic languages.
Like Central Tibetan, Khams Tibetan is a tonal language.Khampa Tibetan is also spoken by about 1,000 people in two enclaves in eastern Bhutan, the descendants of pastoral yak-herding communities.Kyirong language
Kyirong is a language from the subgroup of Tibetic languages spoken in the Kyirung district of the Shigatse prefecture, of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Language structure
Kyirong has lexical tone, with a three-tone system.Kyirong–Kagate languages
Kyirong–Kagate is a subgroup of Tibetic languages spoken primarily in Nepal, with a hundred or so speakers across the border in Tibet.
Kyirong (Lende), Kagate, Tsum, Langtang, Yolmo (Helambu Sherpa), Nubri, GyalsumdoAlthough there is a varying degree of mutual intelligibility between these varieties, they are considered separate languages by their respective speakers. There are also some major distinctions. For example, Kyirong has a three-tone system whereas Yolmo and Kagate have a two-tone system. The Gyalsumdo language variety spoken in the Manage district of Nepal shows strong similarities to Kyirong, as well as Nubri, and would therefore likely be classed in the "Kyirong–Kagate" group.Ladakhi–Balti languages
The Ladakhi–Balti languages or Western Archaic Tibetan languages are a subgroup of the Tibetic languages spoken in Jammu and Kashmir, India and Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. The lects lack mutual intelligibility and are considered separate languages by their speakers. The grouping includes:
Ladakhi, including (Jammu and Kashmir)
Zangskari (Jammu and Kashmir)
Purki (Jammu and Kashmir)
ChangthangProto-Western Tibetan has been reconstructed by Backstrom (1994).Lahuli–Spiti languages
The Lahuli–Spiti languages or Western Innovative Tibetan languages are a subgroup of the Tibetic languages spoken in the Lahaul and Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh, India. They are more closely related to Standard Tibetan than to the neighboring Ladakhi–Balti languages spoken further north.
According to Tournadre (2014), the Lahuli–Spiti languages include:
Lahuli (Stod Bhoti)
Tukpa (Nesang)Tibetan language
Tibetan language may refer to:
Classical Tibetan, the classical language used also as a contemporary written standard
Standard Tibetan, the most widely used spoken dialect
any of the other Tibetic languagesTibeto-Burman languages
The Tibeto-Burman languages are the non-Sinitic members of the Sino-Tibetan language family, over 400 of which are spoken throughout the highlands of Southeast Asia as well as certain parts of East Asia and South Asia.
Around 60 million people speak Tibeto-Burman languages, around half of whom speak Burmese, and 13% of whom speak Tibetic languages. The name derives from the most widely spoken of these languages, namely Burmese (over 32 million speakers) and the Tibetic languages (over 8 million).
These languages also have extensive literary traditions, dating from the 12th and 7th centuries respectively.
Most of the other languages are spoken by much smaller communities, and many of them have not been described in detail.
Some taxonomies divide Sino-Tibetan into Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman branches (e.g. Benedict, Matisoff). However, other scholars deny that Tibeto-Burman comprises a monophyletic group. Van Driem argues that the Sino-Tibetan family should be called "Tibeto-Burman", but this usage has not been widely adopted.
Others exclude a relationship with Chinese altogether (e.g. Beckwith, R. A. Miller).Tibeto-Kanauri languages
The Tibeto-Kanauri languages, also called Bodic, Bodish–Himalayish, and Western Tibeto-Burman, are a proposed intermediate level of classification of the Sino-Tibetan languages, centered on the Tibetic languages and the Kinnauri dialect cluster. The conception of the relationship, or if it is even a valid group, varies between researchers.Tsum language
Tsum is a language from the subgroup of Tibetic languages spoken by the Tsum people primarily in the Tsum valley of the Gorka District of Nepal. The language is also known as Tsumke.
Tibetan language topics
(Himachal, Uttarakhand, Nepal, Sikkim)
(Tibet, Bhutan, Arunachal)
|circum-Myanmar tribal belts|
|East and Southeast Asia|
|Dubious (possible isolates)|
Italics indicates single languages that are also considered to be separate branches.