The Tibetan language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman subgroup of the Sino-Tibetan languages. It is spoken mainly in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, and in parts of northern India, including Sikkim.
There are approximately 6 million Tibetan speakers and about 150,000 exile speakers who have migrated to India and other countries from Tibet. The language is also spoken by some Tibetan ethnic minorities in Tibet who have been in close proximity with the Tibetans for centuries, but maintain their own languages and cultures.
Spoken Tibetan consists of a large number of dialects, the important ones being Kham, Amdo and Lhasa. Lhasa, which is the dialect of Tibet’s capital and also the standardized dialect of central Tibetan, is now the lingua franca and the origin of the exile dialect.
Some masters and scholars fled to the west with their precious literary works as a result of the Chinese incursion and their attempts to eliminate the influence of Buddhist monasteries. Many Tibetan Buddhist centers have preserved these works written in classical Tibetan.
Tibetan is written in a traditional syllabary script and was primarily used for translating holy Buddhist texts brought from Tibet to India. As a result, the Tibetan language expanded and grew along with the Buddhist literature and originated in the 7th century, which today illustrates one of the most noteworthy cultural achievements in world history.
The Tibetan phonetic system was formed based on the prehistoric Sanskrit writing system. The regular and the cursive, which were the two major written scripts, gave rise to the wide use of the Tibetan language in almost all areas populated by the Tibetans. The Tibetan language got a further boost when a King from Southern Tibet got married in the Tang dynasty. Thereafter, the Tibetan culture saw a dramatic development from the 10th to the 16th century.
The Tibetan spoken today is called ‘Colloquial Tibetan’ by some western intellectuals.
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