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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the language of the Tibetans; spoken in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and certain other areas of the People’s Republic of China, as well as in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. The number of Tibetan-speaking people is approximately 4.5 million (1974, estimate). The language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman group of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages.

Tibetan dialects differ mainly in their phonetics, for example, the presence or absence of a system of tones. They are classified as archaic, such as A-mdo and the Dege dialect, and nonarchaic, for example, the dialect of Lhasa (the basis of the standard language) and that of Shigatse. The phonological system includes 16 vowel phonemes, distinguished by three tone levels and three degrees of labialization, and 36 consonant phonemes. The tones are phonemically distinctive. Tibetan is an isolating language with an agglutinative, inflectional morphology. It is polysyllabic, with a correspondence between syllables and morphemes. Nouns and pronouns have the category of number, and verbs have person, mood, aspect, and tense. Word formation is by agglutinative affixation, compounding, and reduplication. A peculiarity of the Tibetan language is its use of honorifics in vocabulary and grammar. The first written texts date from the seventh through tenth centuries. The alphabet is based on the Indian Devanagari script.


Rerikh, Iu. N. Tibetskii iazyk. Moscow, 1961.
Parfionovich, Iu. M. Tibetskii pis’mennyi iazyk. Moscow, 1970.
Kratkii tibetsko-russkii slovar ’. Moscow, 1963.
Richter, E. Grundlagen der Phonetik der Lhasa Dialektes. Berlin, 1964.
Sedláček, K. Tibetan Newspaper Reader, vols. 1–2. Leipzig, 1972.
Buck, S. H. Tibetan-English Dictionary With Supplement. Washington, D.C., 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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