Languages written in Tibetan script
The Tibetan script is a segmental writing system (abugida) of Indic origin used to write certain Tibetic languages, including Tibetan, Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Ladakhi, Jirel and Balti.
It has also been used for some non-Tibetic languages in close cultural contact with Tibet.
The printed form is called uchen script while the hand-written cursive form used in everyday writing is called umê script. This writing system is used across the Himalayas, and Tibet.
The script is closely linked to a broad ethnic Tibetan identity, spanning across areas in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet.
The Tibetan script is of Brahmic origin from the Gupta script and is ancestral to scripts such as Meitei, Lepcha, Marchen and the multilingual ʼPhags-pa script.
Table of Contents
- 1 - Central Tibetan
- 2 - Old Tibetan
- 3 - Amdo Tibetan
- 4 - Laya dialect
- 5 - Tshangla language
- 6 - Thakali language
- 7 - Sikkimese language
- 8 - Pemako Tshangla dialect
- 9 - Lunana dialect
- 10 - Lhasa Tibetan
- 11 - Kurtöp language
- 12 - Ladakhi language
- 13 - Balti language
- 14 - Khams Tibetan
- 15 - Gongduk language
- 16 - Dzongkha
- 17 - Classical Tibetan
- 18 - Chochangachakha language
- 19 - Bumthang language
- 20 - Bible translations into Ladakhi
- 21 - Zangskari language
Central Tibetan, also known as Dbus, Ü or Ü-Tsang, is the most widely spoken Tibetic language and the basis of Standard Tibetan.
Old Tibetan refers to the period of Tibetan language reflected in documents from the adoption of writing by the Tibetan Empire in the mid-7th century to works of the early 11th century.
The Amdo Tibetan is the Tibetic language spoken in Amdo. It has two dialects, the farmer dialect and the nomad dialect.
Laya is a Tibetic variety spoken by indigenous Layaps inhabiting the high mountains of northwest Bhutan in the village of Laya, Gasa District. Speakers also inhabit the northern regions of Thimphu and Punakha Districts. Its speakers are ethnically related to the Tibetans. Most speakers live at an altitude of 3,850 metres (12,630 ft), just below the Tsendagang peak. Laya speakers are also called Bjop by the Bhutanese, sometimes considered a condescending term. There were 1,100 speakers of Laya in 2003.
Tshangla is a Sino-Tibetan language of the Bodish branch closely related to the Tibetic languages and much of its vocabulary derives from Classical Tibetan. Tshangla is primarily spoken in Eastern Bhutan and acts as a lingua franca in the country alongside Dzongkha; it is also spoken in Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet. Tshangla is the principal pre-Tibetan (pre-Dzongkha) language of Bhutan.
Thakali is a Sino-Tibetan language of Nepal spoken by the Thakali people, mainly in the Myagdi and Mustang Districts. Its dialects have limited mutual intelligibility.
The Sikkimese language, also called Sikkimese, Bhutia, or Drenjongké, Dranjoke, Denjongka, Denzongpeke and Denzongke, belongs to the Tibeto-Burman languages. It is spoken by the Bhutia in Sikkim, India and in parts of Province No. 1, Nepal. The Sikkimese people refer to their own language as Drendzongké and their homeland as Drendzong.
Pemako Tshangla dialect
The Pemakö dialect is a dialect of the Tshangla language. It is the predominant speech in the Pemako region of the Tibet Autonomous Region and an adjoining contiguous area south of the McMahon line in Arunachal Pradesh in India. Though Tshangla is not a Tibetic language, it shares many similarities with Classical Tibetan, particularly in its vocabulary. Many Tibetan loanwords are used in Pemako, due to centuries of close contact with various Tibetan tribes in the Pemako area. Pemako Tshangla has undergone tremendous changes due to its isolation and Tibetan influence.
The Lunana language, Lunanakha is a Tibetic language spoken in Bhutan by some 700 people in 1998. Most are yak-herding pastoralists. Lunana is a variety of Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan.
Lhasa Tibetan, or Standard Tibetan, is the Tibetan dialect spoken by educated people of Lhasa, the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. It is an official language of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
The Kurtöp language is an East Bodish language spoken in Kurtoe Gewog, Lhuntse District, Bhutan. In 1993, there were about 10,000 speakers of Kurtöp.
The Ladakhi language is a Tibetic language spoken in Ladakh, a region administered by India as a union territory. It is the predominant language in the Buddhist-dominated district of Leh. Though a member of the Tibetic family, Ladakhi is not mutually intelligible with Standard Tibetan.
Balti is a Tibetic language natively spoken by the ethnic Balti people in the Baltistan region of Gilgit−Baltistan, Pakistan, Nubra Valley of the Leh district and in the Kargil district of Ladakh, India. The language differs from Standard Tibetan; many sounds of Old Tibetan that were lost in Standard Tibetan are retained in the Balti language. It also has a simple pitch accent system only in multi-syllabic words while Standard Tibetan has a complex and distinct pitch system that includes tone contour.
Khams Tibetan is the Tibetic language used by the majority of the people in Kham. Khams is one of the three branches of the traditional classification of Tibetic languages. In terms of mutual intelligibility, Khams could communicate at a basic level with the Ü-Tsang branch.
Gongduk or Gongdu is an endangered Sino-Tibetan language spoken by about 1,000 people in a few inaccessible villages located near the Kuri Chhu river in the Gongdue Gewog of Mongar District in eastern Bhutan. The names of the villages are Bala, Dagsa, Damkhar, Pam, Pangthang, and Yangbari (Ethnologue).
Dzongkha is a Sino-Tibetan language spoken by over half a million people in Bhutan; it is the country’s sole official and national language. The Tibetan script is used to write Dzongkha.
Classical Tibetan refers to the language of any text written in Tibetic after the Old Tibetan period. Though it extends from the 12th century until the modern day, it particularly refers to the language of early canonical texts translated from other languages, especially Sanskrit. The phonology implied by Classical Tibetan orthography is very similar to the phonology of Old Tibetan, but the grammar varies greatly depending on period and geographic origin of the author. Such variation is an under-researched topic.
The Chocha Ngacha language or Chochangachakha or Tsamang is a Southern Tibetic language spoken by about 20,000 people in the Kurichu Valley of Lhuntse and Mongar Districts in eastern Bhutan.
The Bumthang language ; also called “Bhumtam”, “Bumtang(kha)”, “Bumtanp”, “Bumthapkha”, and “Kebumtamp”) is an East Bodish language spoken by about 20,000 people in Bumthang and surrounding districts of Bhutan. Van Driem (1993) describes Bumthang as the dominant language of central Bhutan.
Bible translations into Ladakhi
The first portion of the Bible, the Gospel of John, in a Tibetic language was translated by Moravian Church missionaries William Heyde, Edward Pagel, and Heinrich August Jäschke, and later Dr. August Francke. It was printed in 1862 at Kyelang capital of Lahul in Kashmir. The whole New Testament was printed in 1885 in Ladakh. Another version was translated in 1903. So as not to have the problem of various dialectal differences it was translated into classical Tibetan, but this was not understood by most people. Yoseb Gergen, a Tibetan Christian translated the entire Bible, complete in 1935. This version was translated into a dialect of Tibetan Gergen had accidentally stumbled across, and which was understandable by all Tibetans. It was finally published in 1948. This is known in India as the Tibetan OV Bible. Eliya Tsetan Phuntshog published a New Testament in 1970. There is currently a project going on to translate the Bible into the East Tibetan dialect.
Zangskari is an endangered Tibetic language. It is mostly spoken in Zanskar in Union Territory of Ladakh, India, and also by Buddhists in the upper reaches of Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh, and Paddar, Jammu and Kashmir. It is written using the Tibetan script.