The internal diversity of the Tshangla languages: Insights from Bjokapakha

Grollmann, Selin (10 January 2019). The internal diversity of the Tshangla languages: Insights from Bjokapakha. In: Inaugural Conference of the International Society for Bhutan Study (ISBS). University of Oxford: University of Oxford

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Tshangla is a Trans-Himalayan (Tibeto-Burman) language spoken in Bhutan, northeastern
India and Tibet. Tshangla has traditionally been represented as a homogeneous language,
forming a dialect continuum which exhibits only minor dialectal differences. Standard Tshangla
or the lingua franca variety, spoken in eastern Bhutan, has been described by Wangdi (2004),
Andvik (2010) and Bodt (2012), whereas most minor varieties of Tshangla remain undescribed.
Most of these varieties are in danger of extinction. Urban migration amongst the younger
generation leads to a separation from the original home villages and to a gap in the
intergenerational transmission of the language. Speakers of non-standard varieties tend to
assimilate their language to the lingua franca variety of Tshangla and to hide their often rural
origins. The pressure to assimilate to powerful supra-regional languages, such as English, Hindi
or Nepali, additionally increases the degree of endangerment of the diverse linguistic landscape
of Bhutan.

Recently, research has been conducted on the Bjokapakha variety which is located at the
periphery of the Tshangla dialect continuum in the Bjoka geok in Zhemgang district. Bjokapakha
is the only Tshangla language spoken in Zhemgang district and is surrounded by speakers of the
East Bodish language Khengkha. To the northeast, Bjoka verges on the Gongduk speaking
region. The Gongduk are one of the oldest ethnolinguistic groups in Bhutan, and their language
is linguistically highly distinct from the other languages in Bhutan, e.g. exhibiting biactantial
verb agreement. To the southeast, Bjokapakha is geographically adjacent to the Dungsam
varieties with which it shares several linguistic features. Bjokapakha is spoken by roughly 1,500

Based on my grammar of Bjokapakha (Grollmann, in press, Brill), I shall present
Bjokapakha phonetic, phonological and grammatical features of Bjokapakha which diverge from
the lingua franca variety, many of these traits representing conservative retentions. My account
will enable a more comprehensive understanding of the Tshangla group as a whole, both in
diachronic and comparative terms as well as from a typological and descriptive perspective. Both
Dirang Tshangla and Bjokapkha, when contrasted with the lingua franca variety, vividly
highlight the internal linguistic diversity of Tshangla as a Trans-Himalayan subgroup in its own

This newly more comprehensive understanding of the internal diversity of Tshangla (1)
will help us to explain apparent irregularities, (2) provide a better insight into the diachronic
history of Tshangla and the linguistic contact situations to which the Tshangla language
communities have been historically exposed, and (3) yield new descriptive and areal-typological
findings. The internal diversity of Tshangla has major ramifications for our understanding of
Bhutan's linguistic landscape and compels us to revise our understanding of the role which
languages of this Trans-Himalayan subgroup have played in the eastern Himalayan region.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of Linguistics
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of Linguistics > Comparative Linguistics

UniBE Contributor:

Grollmann, Selin


400 Language > 410 Linguistics
400 Language > 490 Other languages


University of Oxford




Selin Grollmann

Date Deposited:

10 Aug 2020 10:48

Last Modified:

10 Aug 2020 10:48




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