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Ladakhi language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

ལ་དྭགས་སྐད , لداخی زبان
La-dwags skad
Native toIndia,
Native speakers
14,952 (2011 Census)[1]
Tibetan script (official, in India and China), Perso-Arabic script (by Muslims, in Pakistan)
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
lbj – Ladakhi
zau – Zangskari
Ladakhi is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

The Ladakhi language is a Tibetic language spoken in the Indian union territory of Ladakh. It is the predominant language in the Buddhist-dominated district of Leh, and a minority language in the district of Kargil. Though after a member of the Tibetic family, Ladakhi is not mutually intelligible with Standard Tibetan. Ladakhis and Tibetans usually communicate with each other in Hindi or English as they do not understand each other's languages clearly.

Ladakhi has several dialects: Lehskat, named after Leh where it is spoken, Shamskat, spoken northwest of Leh, Stotskat, spoken in the Indus valley and which unlike the others is tonal, Nubra, spoken north of Leh, the Changthang language, spoken in the Changtang region by the Changpa people, and the Zangskari language, spoken in the Zanskar region of Ladakh.


The Ladakhi language (Tibetan: ལ་དྭགས་སྐད་, Wylie: La-dwags skad) is also referred to as Bhoti or Bodhi.[2][3] The classification of Bhoti or Bodhi has connotations with Tibetan Buddhism, a major religion in the area. However, many Ladakhi people contest this classification as there are also Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh speakers of 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 by Buddhists and the Arabic script by Muslim and Christian Ladakhis.[6]



Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m ɲ ŋ
voiceless p t͡s ʈ t͡ʃ k
aspirated t̪ʰ t͡sʰ ʈʰ t͡ʃʰ
voiced b d͡z ɖ d͡ʒ ɡ
Fricative voiceless s ʂ ʃ h
voiced z ʒ
Trill r
Lateral plain l
Semivowel w j
  • /b d ɡ/ can fricative sounds 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.[7]


Ladakhi has a regular five vowel system, but with [a] being replaced with [ə], making it unusual, as most languages have [a].[7]

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 [ä]
  • Allophones of /ə/ in word-final position are heard as ɐ].
  • Allophones of /e o/ are heard as [ɛ̝ ɔ̝].
  • Allophones occur in free variation.[7]


Ladakhi is usually written using Tibetan script, and the pronunciation of Ladakhi is much closer to written Classical Tibetan than that of most other Tibetic languages. Ladakhis pronounce many of the prefix, suffix and head letters that are silent in many other Tibetic languages, in particular the Central Tibetan.[8] 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 Purgi pronounce it as [bras].[citation needed]

The question of whether to write colloquial Ladakhi in the Tibetan script or to write an only slightly Ladakhified version of Classical Tibetan is controversial in Ladakh.[9] 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.

In Ladakhi language, it is customary to add the suffix 'le' at the end of sentences as a sign of respect towards the individual being spoken to.[10] This linguistic convention is a way to express politeness and honor towards the listener, emphasizing the cultural values of respect and courtesy.

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


A section of Ladakhi society has demanded inclusion of a newly named language, Bhoti, to the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. They say that Bhoti is spoken by Ladakhis, Baltis, Tibetans, and throughout the Himalayas from Baltistan to Arunachal Pradesh.[11][12]


  1. ^ "ABSTRACT OF SPEAKERS' STRENGTH OF LANGUAGES AND MOTHER TONGUES - 2011" (PDF). Archived from the original (pdf) on 19 April 2022. Retrieved 25 February 2023.
  2. ^ Omniglot Ladakhi Language Introduction, 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. ^ Wahid, Siddiq (13 May 2022). "Is Bhoti A Language, Religious Affiliation, Sanskrit Diminutive Or Political Tool?". Outlook. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  5. ^ Tournadre, Nicolas (2005). "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes" (PDF). Lalies. pp. 7–56.
  6. ^ Shakspo, Nawang Tsering (2005). "Tibetan (Bhoti)—An Endangered Script in Trans-Himalaya". The Tibet Journal. 30 (1): 61–64. JSTOR 43301113.
  7. ^ a b c Koshal, Sanyukta (1979). Ladakhi Grammar. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  8. ^ Bielmeier, Roland. 1985. 'A Survey of the Development of Western and South-western Tibetan dialects', in Barbara Nimri Aziz and Matthew Kapstein (eds.), Soundings in Tibetan Civilisation.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Yangdol, Dechen. "Ladakhi Language".
  11. ^ Tsewang Rigzin (13 September 2013). "National Seminar on 'Bhoti Language' held at Leh". Reach Ladakh. Archived from the original on 24 September 2013.
  12. ^ "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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