Tibetan Radios app. The Tibetan languages are a cluster of mutually-unintelligible Tibeto-Burman 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. The classical written form is a major regional literary language, particularly for its use in Buddhist literature.
For political reasons, the dialects of U-Tsang otherwise known as central Tibet (including Lhasa), Khams, and Amdo are considered dialects of a single Tibetan language, while Dzongkha, Sikkimese, Sherpa, and Ladakhi are generally considered to be separate languages, although their speakers may consider themselves to be ethnically Tibetan. However, this does not reflect linguistic reality: Dzongkha and Sherpa, for example, are closer to Lhasa Tibetan than Khams or Amdo are.
The Tibetan languages are spoken by approximately 6 million plus 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. Lhasa Tibetan is spoken by approximately 150,000 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 Qiangic peoples of Kham are classified by the People's Republic of China as ethnic Tibetans, Qiangic languages are not Tibetan, 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. (Amdo and Ladakhi/Balti are without tone.) Tibetan morphology can generally be described as agglutinative, although Classical Tibetan was largely analytic.
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.
According to Bradley, these languages cluster as follows:
Ladakhi ("Western Archaic Tibetan", including Balti and Purik) (non-tonal)
Central Tibetan (tonal)
Western Innovative Tibetan, primarily in Ladakh and the border areas
Dbus AKA Ü (alternate romanisations of [y˧˥˧ʔ]) (Central Tibetan proper), in Ngari, Ü-Tsang (including Lhasa), and northern Nepal border areas
Northern Tibetan: Nagchu and southern Qinghai
Southern Tibetan: Southern Ü-Tsang, Sikkim, and Bhutan, such as Dzongkha, Sherpa, Sikkimese
Khams Tibetan (tonal); spoken in Qinghai, Chamdo, Sichuan, Yunnan
Amdo Tibetan (non-tonal); spoken in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan
Varying classifications are found. Some group Khams and Amdo together as Eastern Tibetan (not to be confused with East Bodish, which is not ethnically Tibetan). Others break up Central Tibetan.
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