Sikkimese language

From Bharatpedia, an open encyclopedia

'bras ljongs skad
RegionSikkim, Nepal (Mechi Zone), Bhutan
Native speakers
70,000 (2001)[1]
Tibetan script
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3sip
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The Sikkimese language, also called Sikkimese Tibetan, Bhutia, or Drenjongké (Tibetan: འབྲས་ལྗོངས་སྐད་, Wylie: 'bras ljongs skad, "Rice Valley language"),[2] Dranjoke, Denjongka, Denzongpeke and Denzongke, belongs to the Southern Tibetic languages. It is spoken by the Bhutia in Sikkim, India and in parts of Mechi Zone, Nepal. The Sikkimese people refer to their own language as Drendzongké and their homeland as Drendzong (Tibetan: འབྲས་ལྗོངས་, Wylie: 'bras-ljongs, "Rice Valley").[3]


Sikkimese is written using Tibetan script, which it inherited from Classical Tibetan. Sikkimese phonology and lexicon differ markedly from Classical Tibetan, however. SIL International thus describes the Sikkimese writing system as "Bodhi style". According to SIL, 68% of Sikkimese Bhutia were literate in the Tibetan script in 2001.[3][4][5]

Sikkim and its neighbours[edit]

Speakers of Sikkimese can understand some Dzongkha, with a lexical similarity of 65% between the two languages. By comparison, Standard Tibetan, however, is only 42% lexically similar. Sikkimese has also been influenced to some degree by the neighbouring Yolmowa and Tamang languages.[3][4]

Due to more than a century of close contact with speakers of Nepali and Tibetan proper, many Sikkimese speakers also use these languages in daily life.[3]



Below is a chart of Sikkimese consonants, largely following Yliniemi (2005) and van Driem (1992).[5]

Labial Dental/
Retroflex (Alveolo-)
Velar Glottal
Nasal voiceless n⟩ ŋ̥ ng⟩
voiced m m⟩ n n⟩ n~ɲ ny⟩ ŋ ng⟩
Plosive voiceless
p p⟩ t t⟩ ʈཏྲ tr⟩ k k⟩ ʔ ʔ⟩
ph⟩ th⟩ ʈʰཐྲ thr⟩ kh⟩
voiced b b⟩ d d⟩ ɖདྲ dr⟩ ɡ g⟩
devoiced p̀ʱ~b̀ɦ p'⟩ t̀ʱ~d̀ɦ t'⟩ ʈ̀ʱ~ɖ̀ɦདྲ tr'⟩ k̀ʱ~g̀ɦ k'⟩
Affricate voiceless
ts ts⟩ c⟩
tsʰ tsh⟩ tɕʰ ch⟩
voiced dz dz⟩ j⟩
devoiced tɕ̀ʱ~dʑ̀ɦ c'⟩
Fricative voiceless s s⟩ ɕ sh⟩ h h⟩
voiced z z⟩ ʑ zh⟩
Liquid voiceless l⟩ r⟩
voiced l l⟩ r~ɹ~ɾ r⟩
Approximant w w⟩ j y⟩ w w⟩

Devoiced consonants are pronounced with a slight breathy voice, aspiration, and low pitch. They are remnants of voiced consonants in Classical Tibetan that became devoiced. Likewise, the historical Tibetan phoneme /ny/ is realised as an allophone of /n/ and /ng/, which themselves have mostly lost contrast among speakers.[5]


Below is a chart of Sikkimese vowels, also largely following Yliniemi (2005).[5]

Front Middle Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close /i/ i⟩ /y/ u⟩ /u/ u⟩
Mid /e/ e⟩ /ø/ o⟩ /o/ o⟩
Open [ɛ] e⟩ /ɐ/a⟩
  • [ɛ] is an allophone of [e], confined to appearing after [] /j/ in closed syllables

In the Tibetan script, an abugida, the inherent vowel /a/ is unmarked.

See also[edit]


  1. Sikkimese at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. "Lost Syllables and Tone Contour in Dzongkha (Bhutan)" in David Bradley, Eguénie J.A. Henderson and Martine Mazaudon, eds, Prosodic analysis and Asian linguistics: to honour R. K. Sprigg, 115-136; Pacific Linguistics, C-104, 1988
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Lewis, M. Paul, ed. (2009). "Sikkimese". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (16 ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Norboo, S. (1995). "The Sikkimese Bhutia" (PDF). Bulletin of Tibetology. Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. pp. 114–115.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Yliniemi, Juha (2005). Preliminary Phonological Analysis of Denjongka of Sikkim (PDF) (Masters, General Linguistics thesis). University of Helsinki. Retrieved 17 April 2011.

Further reading[edit]

Template:Languages of Bhutan Template:Languages of Nepal

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