Ladakhi language

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La-dwags skad
Native toIndia, China
Native speakers
110,826 (2011 census)[1]
Most speakers counted under "Bhoti"[citation needed]
Tibetan script
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
lbj – Ladakhi
zau – Zangskari

The Ladakhi language is a Tibetic language spoken in Ladakh, a region administered by India as a union territory. It is the predominant language in the Buddhist-dominated district of Leh. Though a member of the Tibetic family, Ladakhi is not mutually intelligible with Standard Tibetan.

Ladakhi has approximately 30,000 speakers in India, and perhaps 20,000 speakers in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, mostly in the Qiangtang region. Ladakhi has several dialects: Lehskat after Leh, where it is spoken; Shamskat, spoken in the northwest of Leh; Stotskat, spoken in the Indus valley and which is tonal unlike the others; and Nubra, spoken in the north of Leh. It is a distinct language from the related Purigi and Balti spoken in the adjacent Kargil district.


The Ladakhi language (Tibetan: ལ་དྭགས་སྐད་, Wylie: La-dwags skad) is also called Bhoti or Bodhi.[2][3] However, since Bhoti and Bodhi sound like “Buddhist” and can alienate Ladakhi Muslims who speak the same language, most Ladakhis usually refer to their language as Ladakhi.[4]


Nicolas Tournadre considers Ladakhi, Balti, and Purgi to be distinct languages on the basis of mutual intelligibility (Zangskari is not as distinct). As a group they are termed Ladakhi–Balti or Western Archaic Tibetan.[5]

Zangskari is a dialect of Ladakhi spoken in Zanskar and also spoken by Buddhists in the upper reaches of Lahaul (Himachal Pradesh) and Paddar (Paldar).[citation needed] It has four subdialects, Stod, Zhung, Sham, and Lungna. It is written using the Tibetan script.[citation needed]



Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop voiceless p ʈ k
aspirated t̪ʰ ʈʰ
voiced b ɖ ɡ
Affricate voiceless t͡s t͡ʃ
aspirated t͡sʰ t͡ʃʰ
voiced d͡z d͡ʒ
Fricative voiceless s ʂ ʃ h
voiced z ʒ
Nasal m ɲ ŋ
Trill r
Lateral plain l
Approximant w j
  • /b d ɡ/ can fricative sounds [β ð ɣ] as allophones that occur within free variation.
  • /k/ has an allophone of a retracted velar stop [k̠].
  • /l r/ can have allophones [l̥ r̥] when occurring initially before a voiceless consonant.[6]


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e ə o
Vowels with allophones
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Mid [ɛ̝] ə [ɔ̝]
Open-mid [ɐ]
Open [a]
  • Allophones of /ə/ in word-final position are heard as [a ɐ].
  • Allophones of /e o/ are heard as [ɛ̝ ɔ̝].
  • Allophones occur in free variation.[6]


Ladakhi is usually written using Tibetan script with the pronunciation of Ladakhi being much closer to written Classical Tibetan than most other Tibetic languages. Ladakhis pronounce many of the prefix, suffix and head letters that are silent in many other Tibetic languages, such as Amdo, Khams, and Central Tibetan. This tendency is more pronounced to the west of Leh, and on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control, in Baltistan. For example, a Tibetan would pronounce sta 'axe' as [tá], but a Lehpa would say [sta], and a purgi would pronounce [stare]. While a Tibetan would pronounce འབྲས་ (’bras) 'rice' as [ɳʈɛ́ʔ], Lehpa say [ɖas], and the purgii pronounce it as [bras].

The question of whether to write colloquial Ladakhi in the Tibetan script or to write only a slightly Ladakhified version of Classical Tibetan is controversial in Ladakh.[7] Muslim Ladakhis speak Ladakhi but most do not read the Tibetan script and most Buddhist Ladakhis can sound out the Tibetan script but do not understand Classical Tibetan, but some Ladakhi Buddhist scholars insist that Ladakhi must be written only in a form of Classical Tibetan. A limited number of books and magazines have been published in colloquial Ladakhi.

Written Ladakhi is most often romanised using modified Wylie transliteration, with a th denoting an aspirated dental t, for example.


The medium of instruction in most schools in Ladakh is English, with either Hindi or Urdu as a compulsory second language, and a choice of Arabic or classical Tibetan as the compulsory third language. Government schools in Ladakh are under JK SBOSE, which calls the Tibetan subject Bodhi. Private schools under the CBSE and the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh call it Tibetan.

A section of Ladakhi society has been demanding inclusion of a newly named language, Bhoti, to be added to the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. They claim that Bhoti is spoken by Ladakhis, Baltis, Tibetans, and throughout the Himalayas from Baltistan to Arunachal Pradesh.[8][9] However, Bhoti may be one of the Lahuli–Spiti languages rather than Ladakhi. In the Indian census, most Ladakhi speakers registered their mother tongue under "Bhoti."[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Statement 1: Abstract of speakers' strength of languages and mother tongues – 2011". Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  2. ^ Ladakhi language, The Himalayan Initiatives, retrieved 23 January 2021.
  3. ^ Namgial, Eshay (Spring–Summer 2018), "Ladakhi: An off Shoot of Classical Tibetan Language", The Tibet Journal, 43 (1): 35–47, JSTOR 26634904
  4. ^ "Ladakhi Language & Phrasebook".
  5. ^ Tournadre, Nicolas (2005). "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes" (PDF). Lalies. pp. 7–56.
  6. ^ a b Koshal, Sanyukta (1979). Ladakhi Grammar. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  7. ^ van Beek, Martijn (2008). "Imaginaries of Ladakhi Modernity". In Barnett, Robert; Schwartz, Ronald David (eds.). Tibetan Modernities: Notes from the Field on Cultural and Social Change. Brill. pp. 178–179.
  8. ^ Tsewang Rigzin (13 September 2013). "National Seminar on 'Bhoti Language' held at Leh". Reach Ladakh. Archived from the original on 24 September 2013.
  9. ^ "Ladakh council adopts new emblem replacing J-K logo". Hindustan Times. Press Trust of India. 27 February 2011. Archived from the original on 1 March 2011. Retrieved 27 February 2011.

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