Study Tibetan with a Translator: Online Courses in Colloquial, Classical & Literary Tibetan

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CONTACT FOR MORE INFORMATION

Above: Erick Tsiknopoulos in Hong Kong, October 2014.

Contact the Trikāya Tibetan Linguistic Academy

WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram: +40 769 824 828

Email: TibetanTeaching@gmail.com

It is recommended to get in touch by using WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram (WhatsApp is mostly used).


Do you want to study Tibetan language online, but with an experienced professional translator and scholar — someone who can accurately and clearly explain Tibetan vocabulary and grammatical structures, in fluent English?

Do you have the aim of becoming literate in Classical Tibetan, but also want to know how to pronounce Classical Tibetan texts properly?

Do you aspire to learn how to speak contemporary, up-to-date colloquial Tibetan in an authentic manner, according to the most widely understood standard Central Tibetan dialect (Ü-Tsang), as spoken by the Tibetan communities in India and Nepal?

Do you need to study or review a particular Tibetan text or Tibetan-English translation in detail? Would like like to engage in a more thorough investigation and comprehensive overview of a specific Tibetan text, according to linguistic and doctrinal analysis?

Or perhaps you’d like to learn how to read your favorite Tibetan teachings and practices?

Deepen your Tibetan language studies and expand your linguistic horizons with Erick Tsiknopoulos, a seasoned Tibetan-English translator and scholar of Buddhist texts. Having studied Tibetan since 2004, translated Tibetan professionally since 2008, and lived in the Tibetan communities of the Himalayan region for 11 years (2008-2019), Erick Tsiknopoulos offers students a uniquely multifaceted learning experience.

Take advantage of this rare opportunity by signing up for an online course in Classical Literary Tibetan, Colloquial Spoken Tibetan or Modern Literary Tibetan.

Thönmi Sambhoṭa (c. early to late 7th century), traditionally held to be the inventor of the Tibetan script.

Erick Tsiknopoulos provides a powerfully effective online learning experience for Tibetan language students of all levels. As a professional Tibetan-English translator, practitioner and scholar of Buddhism who has been studying Tibetan language since 2004 and working as a translator and language teacher since 2008, as well as a native English speaker, he strives to help students of Tibetan attain their linguistic aims and learning goals.

How it’s done: Students study directly with Erick Tsiknopoulos in one-on-one, private sessions. Classes are held live with the teacher via audio and/or video call, using Google Duo, Zoom, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram or Skype. Group courses are also available.

Who the teacher is: Having spent 11 years in the Himalayan region studying Tibetan language, literature and Buddhist philosophy while living in the Tibetan communities of the Himalayan region from 2008 to 2019, Erick Tsiknopoulos offers Tibetan language students a rare insight into the subtle cultural, social, symbolic, mythical, historical and psychological dimensions of the language. This includes aspects which are often relatively overlooked outside the Tibetan communities themselves. Drawing upon these first-hand experiences, he utilizes a distinctive cross-cultural teaching approach which is bilingual in nature, and adapted for English-speaking students.

How the courses are taught: Aside from his extensive field research and various studies in India and Nepal, the primary areas of expertise which inform the Tibetan language teaching methodology of Erick Tsiknopoulos are his many years of translating Tibetan Buddhist texts since 2008 (totaling several hundred texts for various projects), his fluency in the Central Tibetan (Ü-Tsang) dialect of Colloquial Spoken Tibetan, and his ongoing Buddhist studies and practice since 1999; as well as his studies of both Eastern and Western religions, philosophy, history and languages.

What we study: Courses are flexible by design. Every Tibetan course is specifically designed to suit the student’s personal learning goals and individual study aims. For each course, students can choose to focus on Classical Literary Tibetan (Dharma language), Colloquial Spoken Tibetan, or Modern Literary Tibetan as their main subject of study. However, these three subjects are also often taught in combination.

 

Group courses are available upon request. Group classes of up to 20 students at a time have been held in the past. If you are interested in arranging a group course, please contact us with requests and details (subject of study, number of students, etc.). Discounts are offered for larger groups.

The Tibetan Translation Training Course (200 hours) is a specialized program which teaches aspiring translators how to translate Tibetan texts into English and other languages. The aim of this course is to authentically train a new generation of Tibetan translators.

Special reading courses in Tibetan texts: As the main object of study during their courses, students may choose to study specific Tibetan texts, including advanced Dharma teachings, philosophical treatises, and modern literary works. If you would like to do a thorough, careful reading of a particular text in your classes, please state your interests. The most popular special reading courses are those focused on Tibetan texts which are relevant to the student’s personal studies, research, academic work or spiritual practice.

 

Kyeuchung Lotsāwa (c. early to late 8th century), one of Padmasambhava’s 25 main disciples. He became a translator at a very young age, hence his name, which means “boy translator.” He remained a householder his whole life, and had the ability to magnetize birds.

ALL OUR TIbetan COURSES ARE LIVE, ONLINE CLASSES

The Trikāya Tibetan Linguistic Academy maintains the professional standards of student-first education. What does it mean to be student-first?

Classes are scheduled to ensure convenient class times that work for every student, regardless of their time zone.

Individual consultations are conducted with every new or prospective student to learn about their personal language goals, and structure the course curriculum in order to help them accomplish their own study aims, free of charge.

Homework is only assigned that is specifically useful for achieving fluency and literacy in Tibetan as fast as possible, as supported by leading research on second-language acquisition. As the Buddha always reminds us, chos thams-cad mi-rtag-pa yin — “All phenomena are impermanent”. Serious students of Tibetan must therefore focus their efforts on the learning resources which are most efficient, not busywork.

Special attention is given to students whose native language is not English, and help with English translation from Tibetan is also provided in relevant cases.

Tibetan Course Details:
Course options, course descriptions, Course fees & More

 

Choosing a Tibetan Course:

What are the course options?

Courses of varying length are available, ranging from 20 to 200 hours total.

Below are two charts listing all the Tibetan courses currently offered. The Learning Track, number of classes and total class hours for each course are displayed in the first chart, and the proficiency levels and subject of study for each course are displayed in the second chart.

Course nameLearning TrackNumber of classesTotal class hours
Short Tibetan CourseConcise Study2020
Classical Tibetan Crash CourseTextual Reading4040
Colloquial Tibetan Crash CourseÜ-Tsang Dialect5050
Regular Tibetan CourseGeneral Proficiency6060
Extensive Tibetan CourseIntensive Comprehension100100
Tibetan Translation Training CourseTranslator’s Guidance200200
Learning Track, number of classes and number of hours for each course.

Course nameProficiency levelsSubject of study
Short Tibetan Course All — beginner, intermediate & advanced studentsAny — Classical Literary, Colloquial Spoken and/or Modern Literary Tibetan
Classical Tibetan Crash Course AllClassical Tibetan
Colloquial Tibetan Crash Course AllColloquial Tibetan
Regular Tibetan Course AllAny
Extensive Tibetan Course AllAny
Tibetan Translation Training CourseIntermediate & advanced studentsClassical Literary (60%), Colloquial Spoken (30%),
Modern Literary (10%)
Proficiency levels and subject of study for each course.

Tibetan Course Descriptions:

Which course is right for you?

Student favorite: Many students choose to study in the best-selling Regular Tibetan Course (60 hours). There are many reasons for choosing the Regular Tibetan Course (General Proficiency Learning Track). Some students want to study for a longer period of time, and thereby make more progress in their studies; others because they are working toward a specific learning goal — for example, improving their Tibetan for the sake of conducting research in a university program, living at a monastic institute, studying under Tibetan teachers, doing a spiritual retreat, and travel and pilgrimage in India, Nepal or Tibet. The Regular Tibetan Course is aimed at giving students a proper and workable basis in Tibetan language by way of establishing a general proficiency in the grammar and vocabulary of Tibetan, from which they can then proceed to further studies in a more in-depth and specialized context of their choosing. Another great feature of the Regular Tibetan Course is its ability to help the student build a strong foundation in both Classical and Colloquial Tibetan within the context of a single course, which is also done in a relatively short amount of time, due to the 60 hour time-frame of the course, which generally takes 4 to 6 months to complete.

Short Tibetan Course (Concise Study Learning Track): The minimum amount of study is 20 hours in the Short Tibetan Course. Some students may wish to do a shorter course designed to review a particular topic, conduct research on selected Tibetan texts in the context of specified readings or concentrated studies in Classical Literary, Colloquial Spoken or Modern Literary Tibetan, and this can often be done conveniently within the context of the Short Tibetan Course. This course generally requires 20-30 hours study time outside class.

Classical Tibetan Crash Course (Textual Readings Learning Track): For those wishing to get a good foundation in Classical Literary Tibetan, the Classical Tibetan Crash Course (30 hours) is designed to provide students with all the necessary keys to unlocking the mysteries of Classical Tibetan. Being a crash course, the Classical Tibetan Crash Course generally requires 45-60 hours of study time outside class.

Colloquial Tibetan Crash Course (Lhasa Dialect Learning Track): For those wishing to get a food foundation in Colloquial Spoken Tibetan, the Colloquial Tibetan Crash Course (40 hours) is designed to provide students with all the necessary keys to unlocking the mysteries of Colloquial Tibetan. Being a crash course, the Colloquial Tibetan Crash Course generally requires 60-80 hours of study time outside class.

Regular Tibetan Course (General Proficiency Learning Track): For most beginning and intermediate level students, it is recommended (but not required) to sign up for at least a Regular Tibetan Course (60 hours) at minimum, in order to make more significant progress in one’s Tibetan studies, and so as to provide a firm foundation for more advanced study programs in the future. This course is preferred and recommended by many students because they find it to be more ideal and suitable for their immediate learning goals. The Regular Tibetan Course course generally requires 60-80 hours of study time outside class.

Extensive Tibetan Courses (Intensive Comprehension Learning Track): The Extensive Tibetan Course (100 hours) is designed for those who wish to go deeply into their Tibetan studies in a more intensive and thorough curriculum, and thereby reach a higher level of written or verbal comprehension. In this way, they can make swift and substantial progress in the language in a relatively short amount of time. After completing this course, students will have mastered most of the key fundamental elements of Tibetan, and will have gained strong faculties of reading and listening comprehension. Being a more intensive curriculum, the Extensive Tibetan Course generally requires 150-200 hours of study time outside class.

Tibetan Translation Training Course (Translator’s Guidance Learning Track): The Tibetan Translation Training Course (200 hours) is a specialized, concentrated program for training Tibetan-English translators, by the end of which students should be proficient in translation theory and technique, and well-equipped to translate confidently from Tibetan into English or other languages. In this course students will learn how to translate Tibetan texts under the direct guidance of a professional translator, and will accomplish several translation projects under the teacher’s supervision. After completing the Tibetan Translation Training Course, students will be knowledgeable in Tibetan language and literature, have a strong degree of literacy in Tibetan, and will have gained significant competence in Tibetan translation. Being a specialized program in Tibetan translation technique and practice, the Tibetan Translation Training Course course generally requires 300-400 hours of study time outside of class. A certificate of achievement will be awarded upon completion of the Tibetan Translation Training Course.

Note: Course length, or how long it takes to complete each course, is primarily determined by the number of classes per week. For example, if students do 4 classes per week they will complete a course much faster than if they do only 2 classes per week. Generally no fewer than 2 classes per week is recommended, and students may choose to do up to 5 classes per week.

Tibetan Course Fees:

How much do the courses cost?

Classes are currently offered at the flat rate of €25 Euros per hour.

Hence the fees for each Tibetan course are as follows, in the chart below:

Course nameLearning Track Total class hoursCourse fee
Short Tibetan Course Concise Study20EUR €500
Classical Tibetan Crash CourseLiterary Readings30EUR €750
Colloquial Tibetan Crash Course Lhasa Dialect40EUR €1000
Regular Tibetan Course General Proficiency 60EUR €1500
Extensive Tibetan Course Intensive Comprehension 100EUR €2500
Tibetan Translation Training Course Translator’s Guidance200EUR €5000
List of fees for each course.

Installment Payment Plans

(for Longer Courses)

For the longest courses – the Extensive Tibetan Course and the Tibetan Translation Training Course – installment plans for payment are offered, as follows:

1. For the Extensive Tibetan Course, 100 hours (2500 Euros), payment may be made in up to 3 installments.

2. For the Tibetan Translation Training Course, 200 hours (5000 Euros), payment may be made in up to 5 installments.

Please contact us for details about installment plans.

Sign up for a Tibetan language course today,
by messaging us on WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram:
+40 769 824 828
…or by emailing us at TibetanTeaching@gmail.com.

WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram are the preferred modes of communication regarding Tibetan courses (WhatsApp is mostly used).

Tibetan Course payment info:

How to pay for the courses

Courses are to be paid in the currency of Euros (EUR), or the equivalent in United States dollars (USD). For current exchange rates, please check xe.com.

PayPal is the preferred mode of payment. Message us for Paypal payment details.

Please make sure to cover all transfer fees. For PayPal payment, in order to avoid transfer fees, please select “For Friends and Family” before sending payment. Doing this generally eliminates transfer fees. If this is not possible, please include an extra 5 percent of the total bill in order to cover transfer fees.

Other methods of payment (non-Paypal), such as Transferwise or direct bank transfer, are also possible. As with PayPal, any transfer fees incurred must be fully reimbursed. Western Union and other cash payment methods are not feasible.

Courses are to be prepaid before starting classes. Please send payment at least 24 hours before the beginning of the first class for each course. For new students, 2-3 days in advance is more practical.

Refunds are not given after the second class session, but complete refunds are possible anytime before the second class session.

Tibetan Course Basics:

Guidelines & Practicalities

Connection methods for the classes are Zoom, Google Duo, Google Hangouts, Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal. These are the main apps used for class connection. Students may choose from any of these connection methods according to their needs and preference. The teacher will provide you with the relevant connection details.

The length of each class is generally 1 hour or 60 minutes in length. Classes often run overtime by 5-15 minutes. In general, extra time is recorded and counted toward the total course length.

Longer class times, such as one and half hours (90 minutes) or two hours (120 minutes) are available upon request. Fees for each class will be adjusted accordingly.

Classes are held 1 to 5 times per week, depending on the student’s preference and the schedules of both teacher and student. The minimum is 1 class per week and the maximum is 5 classes per week.

As a minimum, 2 to 3 classes per week is recommended for most students, in order to maintain more continuity and regularity in one’s study. Most students schedule 2 or 3 classes per week.

Class scheduling is arranged between the teacher and student. Class times are agreed upon by both parties. Time zone differences must be taken into consideration for class scheduling, and will be discussed prior to fixing the timetable.

English and Tibetan are the languages of instruction. Tibetan language medium is generally only for more advanced students already strongly familiar with colloquial Tibetan, or else those who would like to learn Colloquial Spoken Tibetan in a more immersive way. Erick Tsiknopoulos is able to teach in the Tibetan language itself, teaching classes in Colloquial Spoken Tibetan, if desired or applicable. However, the vast majority of students choose to study in the medium of English.

Proficiency levels in Tibetan language:

What’s your current level of Tibetan?

The Trikāya Tibetan Linguistic Academy instructs students at all levels of Tibetan language proficiency, from absolute beginners to long-time students who have been studying Tibetan for up to 15 years. Broadly speaking, all Tibetan language students fall into the following categories:

Beginner Level refers to students who are new or relatively new to the language, or who have only learned the fundamentals of reading, writing and speaking (0-100 hours of previous study). This includes most students who have taken only one semester or short course in Tibetan, or who have been studying Tibetan for one year or less. This initial level is usually finished after around 100 hours of study (75 to 125 hrs. depending on the student), and generally takes 6 months to 1 year to complete.

Intermediate Level refers to students who have taken some Tibetan classes before, have attempted a serious study on their own (with textbooks), and are able to read and understand Tibetan to some degree of comprehension (100-1000 hours of previous study). This is a rather broad category covering a fairly wide range of abilities — there is a stark contrast between someone who has put in 100 hours of study and someone who has done 1000. It also includes most students who have taken only two semesters or short courses in Tibetan. This could be further divided into Lower Intermediate Level (100-500 hours of previous study) and Upper Intermediate Level (500-1000 hours of previous study). This level generally takes 2 to 4 years of study for most people to complete.

Advanced Level refers to students who have the ability to read, write and speak Tibetan to a functional degree of literacy and fluency, but are still working on building vocabulary and mastering some parts of grammar (1000-5000 hours of previous study). At this stage, students are ready to enter into a more detailed and in-depth study of Tibetan language and literature; especially in the context of private classes with scholars and translators. This could be further divided into Lower Advanced Level (1000-2500 hours of previous study) and Upper Advanced Level (2500-5000 hours of previous study). This level generally takes 5 to 8 years of study for most people to complete.

Advanced Level proceeds until 5000 hours of previous study are reached, after which one achieves Mastery Level (5000-10,000 hours of previous study). At this point one has a keen understanding of Tibetan, a high degree of proficiency in reading (and ideally also speaking and writing), and quite possibly has gained good translation skills as well. This could be further divided into Lower Mastery Level (5000-7500 hours of previous study) and Upper Mastery Level (7500-10,000 hours of previous study). This level generally takes 9 to 12 years of study for most people to complete.

Following that is Expertise Level, reached at 10,000 hours of study. At this point the student, though still a “student”, has not only internalized the vast majority of linguistic aspects in Tibetan, but is also essentially an expert on the subject of Tibetan language, generally speaking. At this level one should be able to confidently teach others Tibetan language as a language instructor (if required or desired), and will also probably have the ability to produce high quality and accurate translations from Tibetan in the highest professional capacity.

In addition, for those who wish to reach the Mastery or Expertise Levels of proficiency in Tibetan, and in particular for those who wish to become professional translators, it is highly recommended to spend at least 2 to 3 years total in the Tibetan communities of South Asia (India and Nepal) or Tibet in an immersive environment, at some point in their study. This can be done all at once, in one longer stay of 2 to 3 years straight, or over a period of several years, for example, by spending 3 months per year in India, Nepal or Tibet over the course of 8 years (for 2 years total) or 12 years (for 3 years total).

This is not necessarily required, especially with the modern tools of online education (such as the courses offered here). Nonetheless, most students find studying Tibetan for at least 2-3 years in India, Nepal or Tibet to be extremely helpful, especially for learning how to speak the language fluently and how to translate from Tibetan. Indeed, generally speaking, the longer one spends in an immersive environment, the better for one’s language studies. However, it should be noted that most people find it difficult to live in India and Nepal for very long periods of time (more than 5 years), for various reasons, including health, financial and family issues, and the general living conditions — which most people from the West and first world countries cannot truly understand unless they’ve experienced it for a while; it’s a much bigger health risk than most people realize. Most people eventually end up feeling “burnt out” or energetically depleted after 6-7 years of living in India or Nepal (at least if they are living there long-term or on a permanent basis), and will eventually move on and leave South Asia at some point, usually before 10 years have gone by. So this needs to be taken into consideration. There are numerous understandable reasons why the vast majority of foreigners who come to live in South Asia eventually leave, although many also prefer to visit every year for a few months (usually 1-4). In any case, between 2 and 12 years is the range of time that most people choose to spend in India, Nepal and/or Tibet for serious Tibetan study. The ideal may be somewhere between 3 to 6 years, in most cases, depending on the individual’s goals and circumstances.

Considering the tools of modern online education, it is recommended that students who plan on going to India, Nepal or Tibet to study Tibetan take at least 6 months to 1 year of online Tibetan classes beforehand (50 to 100 classes), in order to give themselves a head-start in the language before they arrive. This was not the case in 2008 when Erick Tsiknopoulos first came to India (at that time, online Tibetan classes were still practically non-existent), but it is now, and so it would be wise for those planning on studying Tibetan in India or Nepal to prepare themselves linguistically as much as possible before they go.


the instructor of the TRIKĀYA Tibetan Linguistic Academy:

Erick Tsiknopoulos

Erick Tsiknopoulos feeding the pigeons in front of the Great Stūpa of Jarungkhashor in Boudhanath, Nepal (February 2014).

Erick Tsiknopoulos, a fluent Tibetan speaker and native English speaker, has worked as a professional Tibetan-English translator, interpreter and Tibetan language teacher since 2008, and as an online Tibetan language teacher since 2011. He has a highly literate (near-native) level in both Classical and Modern Literary Tibetan, and has a very advanced degree of fluency in Colloquial Spoken Tibetan (rarely seen even among translators).

He lived for 11 years in the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal among the Tibetan community from 2008 to 2019, where he studied Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy intensively in an immersive environment. In India he studied Tibetan language and Buddhism at the Manjushree Center for Tibetan Culture, Thosam Ling Institute, Dzongsar Shedra, Tibetan Library of Works and Archives and Esukhia, as well as in various private and public classes held with Tibetan Buddhist teachers such as geshes and khenpos in Darjeeling, Sidhpur-Norbulingka, Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj.

He has been working professionally as an Tibetan-English translator since 2008, and since then has produced English translations of several hundred Tibetan texts. Many of his translations have been published in electronic and printed book form, some of them are available for purchase on Amazon.com, and most of them are scheduled for release in future publications. His works have been cited in numerous academic papers and publications. He is a regular contributor to the Rangjung Yeshe Dharma Dictionary (rywiki.tsadra.org), where he currently has over 1570 entries for Tibetan terms.

Being familiar with most topics in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, scriptural doctrines and traditions, he is able to teach Tibetan spiritual texts by way of linguistic analysis which ascertains their literary meaning, with reference to their specific doctrinal context. His teaching methodology is based on both modern Western academic and traditional Tibetan scholastic models of pedagogy and textual exegesis. This includes hermeneutic analysis and philosophical, linguistic, historical and cultural commentary within the broader spectrum of Buddhist and Asian Studies.

From a young age (since around age 16), Erick Tsiknopoulos has always been fascinated by languages, and has therefore studied many languages to varying degrees. These include, primarily, Tibetan, Japanese, Pāḷi, Sanskrit, Hindi (Hindustani), Romanian (Daco-Romanian), Spanish, Esperanto and Modern Greek; but also, to a lesser extent, Latin, Ancient Greek, Russian, Nepali (Gorkhali), Mandarin Chinese, Thai, Bulgarian, Dzongkha (Bhutanese), Indonesian (Malay) and Hebrew; and others, including several ancient languages such as Anglo-Saxon (Old English), Old Norse and Tocharian. He utilizes his knowledge of these languages in his Tibetan classes in order to supplement the overall linguistic frame of reference, relate Tibetan to other languages, and clarify certain points of grammar or pronunciation.

His Amazon author profile: amazon.com/author/ericktsiknopoulos


If you have any questions about our Tibetan language courses, feel free to shoot us a message on WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram at +40 769 824 828, or send an email to send us an email at TibetanTeaching@gmail.com.

You can also reach us by filling out the contact form below.


Some Notes on the Linguistic Relationship of Tibetan to Other Languages

by Erick Tsiknopoulos

Tibetan is a member of the larger Sino-Tibetan language family, a broad grouping which includes its distant cousins Mandarin, Cantonese and most of the languages in China, and more specifically, represents one of the primary components of the Tibeto-Burman subfamily. The Tibeto-Burman family of languages is spoken in Western China, Burma, Northern India (mainly in the Himalayan regions), Nepal and Bhutan.

Therefore the closest relatives of Tibetan are the various languages of Bhutan and Burma (including Dzongkha and Burmese, the national languages of Bhutan and Myanmar respectively), as well as hundreds of other minor languages spoken in Northeast India, Nepal and Southwest China.

In terms of its relationship to other branches of the Sino-Tibetan family, Tibetan could be considered to be 1st cousins with the Himalayish and other Bodic languages (Tibetan is a Bodic language), 2nd cousins with the Newaric and Kiranti (Rai) languages, 3rd cousins with the Lolo-Burmese languages, and 4th cousins with the Sinitic (Chinese) and Karenic languages.

Tibetan is also distantly related to the Kra-Dai or Tai-Kadai group of languages in Thailand, Laos and Southwest China (including Thai and Lao). Although sometimes this group is not included in the Sino-Tibetan family (mostly due to political reasons), generally it is considered to be a distinct branch of Sino-Tibetan. For example, there are some similar words in Tibetan and Thai (a point rarely mentioned). These languages are probably also equivalent to 4th cousins to Tibetan.

Roughly speaking, major linguistic divergence of Tibetan from its first cousins (Bodish-Himalayish) probably began, depending on the language, between 1000 to 2000 years ago, with its second cousins (Newaric and Kiranti) between 2000 to 3000 years ago, with its third cousins (Lolo-Burmese) 3000 to 4000 years ago, and with its fourth cousins (the Chinese languages) between 4000 to 5000 years ago. For example, Ancient Chinese (c. 1050 BC) actually had a great deal more in common with Tibetan than any modern form of Chinese (esp. Mandarin), 3070 years ago; and one can imagine that two thousand years prior to that, around 3050 BC, “Tibetan” and “Chinese” may have been almost mutually intelligible. By the same token, 1000 years ago, Tamang, the Bhutanese languages and the Bodic languages of India and Nepal were much more similar to Tibetan than they are today.

The tendency of all languages for at least the last 5000 years has been toward diversity and proliferation; a trend which has continued until recently. As a testament to this, a new dialect of Tibetan exists in India and Nepal, Exile Tibetan or Refugee Tibetan, based mainly on the Central Tibetan dialect but very much distinct unto itself. This language could not have existed even in the most rudimentary forms before 1960, and probably started to take on a life of its own sometime in the 1980s. By the early 2000s at the latest, it was a bona fide separate dialect of Tibetan.

Tibetan is not related to Mongolian (a Mongolic and possibly Altaic language), nor to Sanskrit (an Indo-European and specifically Indo-Aryan language), although its classical grammar was influenced by that of Sanskrit.

Nor is Tibetan directly related to Korean and Japanese, although they do share many similar root-words, mostly due the powerful influence of (medieval) Chinese on these languages. However, although some have proposed distant historical, genetic and linguistic connections between Tibet, Korea and Japan (and genetically there is evidence for this), because Korean and Japanese are considered languages isolates with unclear origins (or rather, too ancient origins), this is widely disputed and debated. In the opinion of the author, it is possible that Korean and Japanese represent some historical fusion of the Sino-Tibetan, Ural-Altaic and Austronesian language families, which probably occurred roughly 2500-3000 years ago. Most linguists agree that both Japanese and Korean have linguistic elements of Altaic, Austronesian and Sino-Tibetan — specifically, Tibeto-Burman. This could be due to the confluence of different cultures and tribes meeting in the same location and mixing over time.

There are many Tibeto-Burman languages with over 1 million speakers. Among them are Burmese (43-46 million native and secondary learners in Myanmar and neighboring countries), Tibetan (8 million in Tibet, India and Nepal), Karen-Karenic (7 million), Arakanese-Rakhine (2 million in Myanmar), Hani (1.8 million), Meitei (1.7 million in Manipur, Northeast India), Tamang-Tamangic (1.4 million in Nepal, Sikkim and Darjeeling District, India), Bai (1.3 million in Yunnan, Southwest China), Newari (1.2 million in Nepal), Jingpo (about 1 million in Kachin, Myanmar and Yunnan, Southwest China), Nuoso (2 million) and Nasu (1 million).

The Loloish group of languages (a branch of Lolo-Burmese), comprising some 95+ different languages, is spoken by over 9 million people in Myanmar and Southwest China. The most widely spoken among these are Nuoso (2 million), Nasu (1 million) and Lisu (940,000).

Other famous Tibeto-Burman languages include Dzongkha, spoken in Bhutan (640,000 speakers), Sherpa, spoken in Nepal (170,000 speakers), Ladakhi, spoken in Ladakh, India (111,000 speakers) and Sikkimese, spoken in Sikkim, India (70,000 speakers), all of which are closely related to Tibetan.

Other languages in the Bodish and Himalayish branches of Tibeto-Burman include Tsangla, which has 170,000 speakers in Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh, India, the Kinnauri language, composed of a dialect cluster spoken by 84,000 people in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, India, which is related to Ladakhi, and Gurung is another notable language in the Tibeto-Burman family, with up to 360,000 speakers in Nepal and the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, India, as is Lepcha, spoken by 66,000 people in Sikkim and Darjeeling district, India, and some parts of Nepal and Bhutan.

Also of note in the Tibeto-Burman family are the Kiranti (or Rai) group of languages, comprised of about 27 different languages, including Khambu, Limbu, Sunuwar, Yakkha, Chamling, Kulung, Khaling, Thulung, Bantawa, Bahing, Varyu, Dungmali and Lohorung, which are spoken in Nepal, Sikkim and Darjeeling district, India by approximately over 1.2 million people. Most of these languages are not well documented.

Historically and culturally, the Newari language of Nepal is one of the most significant Tibeto-Burman languages, because Newari served as Nepal’s official administrative language during the medieval period from the 14th century until 1779 under the Malla dynasty; and it remained an important Nepalese literary language until 1847. Newari was also a major language for Buddhist literature, and many Buddhist texts are preserved in Newari.

Currently, the most prominent Tibeto-Burman languages in terms of culture, modern communications and publications, and influential in a political, economic and religious sense, are Burmese, Tibetan and Dzongkha, and to a lesser extent Tamang, Newari, Meitei, Ladakhi and Sikkimese.

 

An interesting video which gives a fairly comprehensive list of the Tibeto-Burman languages.