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Tshangla: An areal distribution
Population total all countries 145,000.
138,000 in Bhutan
Alternate names
Sino-Tibetan, Tibeto-Burman, Himalayish, Tibeto-Kanauri, Tibetic, Bodish, Tshangla

Tshangla, the name of an ethnic group who speak Sharchokpa-lo, has become more like a name of the language than ethnicity in modern linguistics with many scholars (van Driem 1998, Andvik 1993, 2003, DeLancy 2003, Robins 2003) calling the language that people in Eastern Bhutan speak as Tshangla without having to attach lo 'language' with it.


Older speakers of Tshangla claim that they are called Tshangla because they are believed to be the descendants of Lha Tshangpa "God Brahma". Most of the young native speakers are not aware of this native term and identify themselves as Sharchokpa 'easterners' and the language they speak as Sharchokpa-lo 'language of the easterners'. The old term is more retained by Bhutanese people who live outside Bhutan in places like Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kathmandu, etc. than people living within Bhutan.

The language is spoken in some other areas outside Bhutan and is known by different names. In Tibet, people call it Tshona Monpa, but in linguistics, it has come to be known as Cangluo Monpa and Motuo Monba depending on the place where it is spoken. It is spoken in areas like Beibeng, Motuo, Bangxing and Dexing, which are collectively called Pemakot (Padma-Kod). It is believed that the Tshangla of Tibet have originated from Eastern Bhutan and not vice versa. The difference between Tshangla spoken in Tibet and the one spoken in Bhutan is that the former is tonal whereas the latter is not.

Tshangla is also spoken in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh in India. Specifically, it is spoken in Dirang and Khalagtang areas. Speakers of Tshangla in Tawang call themselves Sharpas and their language "Sharpa-lo". Tshanglas of Eastern Bhutan, especially from Radhi, Phongmey, Bartsham and Bidung in Trashigang, also call them Sharpa and their language Sharpa-lo.

In linguistics, the Tawang dialect has been called Central Monpa. Although these two languages are supposed to be mutually intelligible, they are sometimes confusing and present some problems in communication.

For example, food, in Bhutan dialect is known as to (with stress on the vowel) and the drink (local wine) that accompanies food as tochang. But in the Tawang dialect, tochang is the 'food' and not the wine that is served with food. Likewise, khungme means 'to guard' in Bhutan dialect but it means, "to arrive" in Tawang dialect which is expressed by another verb shegpe in Bhutan dialect, or by the honorific counterpart jonme. Another difference is that Tshangla in Tawang is said to have developed a two-way (high vs low) tone system.

There is also a language called Takpa, which is referred to as Northern Monpa in linguistics, in the western tip of Arunachal Pradesh. Although this language is more like Tshangla, scholars (Robins etal) say it resemblesBumthangkha 'language of Bumthang' in Central Bhutan and is closer to Tibetan than Tshangla.

Sherdukpen and Lishpa, the two languages spoken in the same Northeastern Arunachal Pradesh, share only a few similarities with Tshangla despite their proximity in geographical location. Both Sherdukpen and Takpas are Buddhists like the Tshangla and the rest of the language speakers in Bhutan.

It is quite surprising that some languages of Himachal Pradesh also share great resemblances with the Bhutanese dialects. A language called Tod, spoken in the upper valley of the river Bhaga, is more like Dzongkha than Tshangla. For example the word for man in Tod is mi, for fire is me, for brother is acho, for louse is shi, for flesh is sha, for four is zhi, for book is pecha, and lu for song, chu for water and many others which are all as same as in Dzongkha. This is not to say that it doesn't have any similarities with Tshangla. Besides the commonality in some of the above terms, Tod has other similar terms with Tshangla such as meme 'grandfather', maan 'medicine', bu 'insect/worm', etc., which are different in Dzongkha.

Another language called Spitian 'the dialect of Spiti' (locally pronounced as Piti), which is spoken in some parts of district Lahul and Spiti in the same state of Himachal Pradesh, is equally similar to Dzongkha and Tshangla like Tod. The following data from Sharma (1989) supports this argument: kha 'mouth', che 'tongue', kho 'he', yuel 'village', da 'arrow', dong 'face', tu 'private part of a lady', len 'reply', and many others which are not mentioned here for reasons of space. These terms are exactly the same in Dzongkha. And with Tshangla, the similar terms are: apa 'father', bu 'insect', cho 'grandson' (the word for grandson in Tshangla is tsho, the difference being only in initial 'cha' and 'tsha' sounds), pu 'hair on the body', phu 'cave/blow from the mouth', and many others.

Similarly, other languages like Nyamkad, spoken in Pooh subdivision of the district Kinnaur, Chhitkuli, spoken in two villages Chhitkul and Rakchham, Kanashi or Malani, spoken in the Kullu district, all in Himachal Pradesh, resemble Tshangla and Dzongkha both in vocabulary items and the grammatical structure in many ways.

So, it may be said that these languages are a mixture of Dzongkha and Tshangla, which indicate that Dzongkha and Tshangla belong to the same sub-group or language family.

Contributed by Pema Wangdi Australian National University


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