Tibetan language, member of the Tibeto-Burman subfamily of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages (see Sino-Tibetan languages). It is spoken by 5 million people in the Tibet autonomous region and the Qinghai and Gansu provinces of China and in Bhutan, Nepal, the Indian state of Sikkim, and part of Kashmir. There are a number of dialects. Tibetan tends to be monosyllabic and to lack inflection. Word order is, therefore, very important. Tibetan is also tonal, having six tones in all: short high, long high, short low, long low, high falling, and low falling. A system of writing that is a syllabary was devised for Tibetan in the 7th cent. A.D. and is derived ultimately from the northern Gupta alphabet of India, which, in turn, is a descendant of a Semitic script. Tibetan is written from left to right.
See H. N. von Koerber, Morphology of the Tibetan Language (c.1935); S. C. Das, An Introduction to the Grammar of the Tibetan Language (repr. 1972); G. N. Roerich and L. P. Lhalungpa, Textbook of Colloquial Tibetan (2d rev. ed. 1973).
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