Sikkimese language

Region Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan
Ethnicity Bhutia
Native speakers
70,000 (2001)[1]
Tibetan alphabet
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3 sip
Glottolog sikk1242[2]

The Sikkimese language, also called "Sikkimese Tibetan", "Bhutia", "Drenjongké" (Tibetan: འབྲས་ལྗོངས་སྐད་, Wylie: 'bras ljongs skad "Rice Valley language"[3]), Dranjoke, Denjongka, Denzongpeke, and Denzongke, belongs to the Southern Tibetic languages. It is spoken by the Bhutia in Sikkim and northeast Nepal. The Sikkimese people refer to their own language as Drendzongké and their homeland as Drendzong (Tibetan: འབྲས་ལྗོངས་, Wylie: 'bras-ljongs ; "Rice Valley").[4]


Main article: Tibetan alphabet

Sikkimese is written using Tibetan alphabet, 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.[4][5][6]

Sikkimese and its neighbours

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.[4][5]

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.[4]



Below is a chart of Sikkimese consonants, largely following Yliniemi (2005) and van Driem (1992).[6]

Labial Dental/
Retroflex Alveolo-palatal/
Velar Glottal
Nasal voiceless ན /n/ ŋ̥ ང /ng/
voiced m མ /m/ n ན /n/ n~ŋ ཉ /ny/ ŋ ང /ng/
Plosive voiceless
p པ /p/ t ཏ /t/ ʈ ཏྲ /tr/ k ཀ /k/ ʔ འ /ʔ/
ཕ /ph/ ཐ /th/ ʈʰ ཐྲ /thr/ ཁ /kh/
voiced b བ /b/ d ད /d/ ɖ དྲ /dr/ ɡ ག /g/
devoiced p̀ʱ བ /p'/ t̀ʱ ད /t'/ ʈ̀ʱ དྲ /tr'/ k̀ʱ ག /k'/
Affricate voiceless
ts ཙ /ts/ ཅ /c/
tsʰ ཚ /tsh/ tɕʰ ཆ /ch/
voiced dz ཛ /dz/ ཇ /j/
devoiced tɕ̀ʱ ཇ /c'/
Fricative voiceless s ས /s/ ɕ ཤ /sh/ h ཧ /h/
voiced z ཟ /z/ ʑ ཞ /zh/
Liquid voiceless ལ /l/ ར /r/
voiced l ལ /l/ r~ɹ~ɾ ར /r/
Approximant w ཝ /w/ j ཡ /y/ w ཝ /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.[6]


Below is a chart of Sikkimese vowels, also largely following Yliniemi (2005).[6]

Front Middle Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i  ི /i/ ɹ  ུ /u/ u  ུ /u/
Mid e  ེ /e/ ø  ོ /o/ o  ོ /o/
Open ɛ  ེ /e/ ɐ /a/

In the Tibetan script, an abugida, the inherent vowel /a/ is unmarked. In the above table, italicised [ɛ] /e/ is an allophone of [e] /e/, confined to appearing after [dʑ] /j/ in closed syllables.[6]

See also


  1. Sikkimese at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Sikkimese". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. "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
  4. 1 2 3 4 Lewis, M. Paul, ed. (2009). "Sikkimese". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (16 ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
  5. 1 2 Norboo, S. (1995). "The Sikkimese Bhutia" (PDF). Bulletin of Tibetology. Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. pp. 114–115.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Yliniemi, Juha (2005). Preliminary Phonological Analysis of Denjongka of Sikkim (PDF) (Masters, General Linguistics thesis). University of Helsinki. Retrieved 17 April 2011.

Further reading

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