Tibetic languages

Last updated
Tibetic
Tibetan
Central Bodish
Ethnicity Tibetans
Sherpa
Geographic
distribution
China (Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Yunnan); India (Ladakh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam); Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan); Nepal; Bhutan
Linguistic classification Sino-Tibetan
Early forms
Subdivisions
Glottolog oldm1245 [1]
Tibet provinces.png
Division of Tibetic Cultural Areas

The Tibetic languages 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, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Classical Tibetan is a major regional literary language, particularly for its use in Buddhist literature.

Contents

Tibetic languages are spoken by some 6 million people. [2] 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), the Qiangic languages are not Tibetic, but rather form their own branch of the Tibeto-Burman 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.

Languages

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. [3]

Ethnolinguistic map of Tibet "TIBETO-BURMAN" GROUPS 1967 map with group key, "COMMUNIST CHINA ETHNOLINGUISTIC GROUPS" by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Directorate of Intelligence, Office of Basic Geographic Intelligence, 1967 (cropped).jpg
Ethnolinguistic map of Tibet

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. [4] 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.

Origins

Marius Zemp (2018) [5] 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.

Classification

Tournadre (2014)

Tournadre (2014) [6] classifies the Tibetic languages as follows.

Tournadre (2005, 2008)

Tournadre (2005) [7] classifies the Tibetic languages as follows.

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

Other

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 dialects apart from Khams; Tibeto-Kanauri languages.

Writing systems

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 Perso-Arabic script. Many shops in Baltistan's capital Skardu in Pakistan's "Northern Areas" region have begun supplementing signs written in the Perso-Arabic 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 neighbours like Kashmiris and Punjabis since the arrival of Islam in the region many centuries ago.

Historical phonology

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 ] 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.

Reconstruction

Proto-Tibetic

Proto-Tibetic, the hypothetical proto-language ancestral to the Tibetic languages, has been reconstructed by Tournadre (2014). [6] 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:

  • *g(ǝ)-tɕik ‘one’
  • *g(ǝ)-nyis ‘two’
  • *g(ǝ)-su- ‘three’
  • *b(ǝ)-ʑi ‘four’
  • *l(ǝ)-ŋa ‘five’
  • *d(ǝ)-ruk ‘six’
  • *b(ǝ)-dun ‘seven’
  • *b(ǝ)-rgyat ‘eight’
  • *d(ǝ)-gu ‘nine’
  • *b(ǝ)-tɕu ‘ten’
  • *s(ǝ)-dik-pa ‘scorpion’
  • *s(ǝ)-bal ‘frog’
  • *s(ǝ)-tak ‘tiger’
  • *s(ǝ)-b-rul ‘snake’
  • *s(ǝ)-pra ‘monkey’
  • *s(ǝ)-kra ‘hair’
  • *s(ǝ)-nyiŋ ‘heart’
  • *s(ǝ)-na ‘nose’
  • *d(ǝ)-myik ‘eye’
  • *m(ǝ)-go ‘head’
  • *r(ǝ)-na ‘ear’

Pre-Tibetic

Pre-Tibetic is a hypothetical pre-formation stage of Proto-Tibetic. [6]

*ty-, *ly-, *sy- were not palatalized in Pre-Tibetic, but underwent palatalization in Proto-Tibetic (Tournadre 2014: 113-114). [6] 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 ‘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.

GlossPre-TibeticProto-Tibetic Classical Literary Tibetan
one*g(ǝ)-tyik*g(ǝ)-tɕ(h)ikgcig / gchig གཅིག་ / གཆིག (Old Tibetan)
big*tye*tɕ(h)eche ཆེ་ (Old Tibetan)
ten*b(ǝ)-tyu*b(ǝ)-tɕubcu / bchu བཅུ་ / བཆུ་ (Old Tibetan)
what*tyi*tɕ(h)ici / chi ཅི་ / ཆི་ (Old Tibetan)
flesh*sya*ɕasha ཤ་
know*syes*ɕesshes ཤེས་
wood*sying*ɕiŋshing ཤིང་
to cut (past stem)*b(ǝ)-tsyat*b(ǝ)-tɕatbcad བཅད་
spittle*m(ǝ)-tsyil-ma*m(ǝ)-tɕ(h)il-mamchil-ma མཆིལ་མ་
liver*m(ǝ)-tsin-pa*m(ǝ)-tɕ(h)in-pamchin-pa མཆིན་པ
four*b(ǝ)-lyi*b(ǝ)ʑibzhi བཞི་
field*lying*ʑiŋzhing ཞིང་
flea*ldi*ldʑilji ལྗི་, ‘ji ་འཇི་
iron*s(ǝ)-lak(s) > *l-sak(s) > *l-tsyak(s)*ltɕakslcags ལྕགས་
arrow*mdamda’ མདའ་
to suppress*bnans*mnansmnand (Old Tibetan)
to listen*bnyan*nyanmnyand
eye*d(ǝ)myikdmyig དམྱིག་ (Old Tibetan); mig
flower*mentokmen-tog མེན་ཏོག (Old Tibetan); ་me-tog

Related Research Articles

Tibetan script abugida used to write the Tibetic languages and others

The Tibetan script is an abugida of Indic origin used to write certain Tibetic languages, including Tibetan, Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Ladakhi, Jirel and sometimes Balti. It has also been used for some non-Tibetic languages in close cultural contact with Tibet, such as Thakali. The printed form is called uchen script while the hand-written cursive form used in everyday writing is called umê script.

Tibetan people ethnic group

The Tibetan people are an ethnic group native to Tibet on the crossroads of South and East Asia. Their current population is estimated to be around 6.5 million. In addition to living in Tibet Autonomous Region, significant numbers of Tibetans live in the Chinese provinces of Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan, as well as in eastern Pakistan, northern India, Nepal, Bhutan and the western world.

Dzongkha national language of Bhutan

Dzongkha is a Sino-Tibetan language spoken by over half a million people in Bhutan; it is the sole official and national language of the Kingdom of Bhutan. The Tibetan alphabet is used to write Dzongkha.

Balti language Tibetan language spoken in Baltistan, in Gilgit–Baltistan of Pakistan and adjoining parts of Ladakh

Balti is a Tibetic language spoken by the Balti people in the Baltistan region of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, the Nubra Valley of Leh district and in the Kargil district of Ladakh, India. It is quite different 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.

Ladakhi language Tibetic language spoken in the Ladakh, India

The Ladakhi language, also called Bhoti or Bodhi, is a Tibetic language spoken in the union territory of Ladakh in northern India. 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 people Ethnic group

The Balti are an ethnic group of Tibetan descent with Dardic admixture who live in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan and the Kargil region of India. Smaller populations are found in the Leh region; others are scattered in Pakistan's major urban centres of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad/Rawalpindi.

Ü-Tsang Union of Ü and Tsang kingdoms in central Tibet, do not include Amdo (Qinghai) and Kham (Xikang) nor Ngari (western region, former Guge kingdom)

Ü-Tsang or Tsang-Ü is one of the four traditional provinces of Tibet, the others being Amdo in the north-east, Kham in the east and Ngari in the north-west. Geographically Ü-Tsang covered the south-central of the Tibetan cultural area, including the Brahmaputra River watershed. The western districts surrounding and extending past Mount Kailash are included in Ngari, and much of the vast Changtang plateau to the north. The Himalayas defined Ü-Tsang's southern border. The present Tibet Autonomous Region corresponds approximately to what was ancient Ü-Tsang and western Kham.

Khams Tibetan 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.

Standard Tibetan Tibeto-Birman language

Standard Tibetan is a widely spoken form of the Tibetic languages that has many commonalities with the speech of Lhasa, an Ü-Tsang dialect. For this reason, Standard Tibetan is often called Lhasa Tibetan. Tibetan is an official language of the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China. The written language is based on Classical Tibetan and is highly conservative.

This is a list of topics related to Tibet.

Languages of Bhutan languages of a geographic region

There are two dozen languages of Bhutan, all members of the Tibeto-Burman language family except for Nepali, which is an Indo-Aryan language, and Bhutanese Sign Language. Dzongkha, the national language, is the only language with a native literary tradition in Bhutan, though Lepcha and Nepali are literary languages in other countries. Other non-Bhutanese minority languages are also spoken along Bhutan's borders and among the primarily Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa community in South and East Bhutan.

Baima 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.

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.

The Amdo Tibetan is the Tibetic language spoken by the majority of Amdowa, mainly in Qinghai and some parts of Sichuan and Gansu.

Nicolas Tournadre French linguist

Nicolas Tournadre is a professor at the University of Provence specializing in morphosyntax and typology. He is a member of the LACITO lab of the CNRS.

Central Tibetan, also known as Dbus, Ü or Ü-Tsang, is the most widely spoken Tibetic language and the basis of Standard Tibetan.

The Lahuli–Spiti 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.

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.

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.

Gserpa is an eastern Tibetic language of Sichuan. It is spoken by a few hundred or thousand people in Sêrba District, Sêrtar County, Sichuan, China and is different from the Amdo Tibetan language, the dominant Tibetan language in the surrounding region.

References

  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Early Old Tibetan". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Tournadre, Nicolas (2014). "The Tibetic languages and their classification". In Owen-Smith, Thomas; Hill, Nathan W. (eds.). Trans-Himalayan Linguistics: Historical and Descriptive Linguistics of the Himalayan Area. De Gruyter. pp. 103–129. ISBN   978-3-11-031074-0. (preprint)
  3. 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
  4. Katia Chirkova, 2008, "On the position of Báimǎ within Tibetan", in Lubotsky et al (eds), Evidence and Counter-Evidence, vol. 2.
  5. Zemp, Marius. 2018. On the origins of Tibetan. Proceedings of the 51st International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics (2018). Kyoto: Kyoto University.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Tournadre, Nicolas. 2014. "The Tibetic languages and their classification." In Trans-Himalayan linguistics, historical and descriptive linguistics of the Himalayan area. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  7. N. Tournadre (2005) "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes." Lalies, 2005, n°25, p. 7–56
  8. Bradley (1997)

Further reading