Jiarongic, Rgyalrongic
Linguistic classificationSino-Tibetan

The Gyalrongic languages (also known as Rgyalrongic or Jiarongic) constitute a branch of the Qiangic languages of Sino-Tibetan,[1] but some propose that it may be part of a larger Rung languages group and do not consider it to be particularly closely related to Qiangic but suggest that similarities between Gyalrongic and Qiangic may be from areal influence.[2] However, other work suggests that Qiangic as a whole may in fact be paraphyletic, with the only commonalities of the supposed "branch" being shared archaisms and areal features that were encouraged by language contact.[3] Jacques & Michaud (2011) propose that Qiangic including Gyalrongic may belong to a larger Burmo-Qiangic group based on some lexical innovations.[4]

Geographical distribution

The Gyalrongic languages are spoken in Sichuan in China, mainly in the autonomous Tibetan and Qiang prefectures of Karmdzes and Rngaba. These languages are distinguished by their conservative morphology and their phonological archaisms, which make them valuable for historical linguistics.

The cluster of languages variously referred to as Stau, Ergong or Horpa in the literature are spoken over a large area from Ndzamthang county (in Chinese Rangtang 壤塘县) in Rngaba prefecture (Aba 阿坝州) to Rtau county (Dawu 道孚) in Dkarmdzes prefecture (Ganzi 甘孜州), in Sichuan province, China. At the moment of writing, it is still unclear how many unintelligible varieties belong to this group, but at least three must be distinguished: the language of Rtau county (referred as ‘Stau’ in this paper), the Dgebshes language (Geshizha 格什扎话) spoken in Rongbrag county (Danba 丹巴), and the Stodsde language (Shangzhai 上寨) in Ndzamthang.[5]

Gyalrongic languages are spoken predominantly in the four counties of Ma'erkang, Li, Xiaojin, and Jinchuan in Aba Prefecture, western Sichuan.[6] Other Gyalrongic lects are spoken in neighboring Heishui, Rangtang, Baoxing, Danba, and Daofu counties.


The Gyalrongic languages share several features, notably in verbal morphology. More recent classifications such as Lai et al. (2020) split Gyalrongic into West and East branches:[7]

The Gyalrong languages in turn constitute four mutually unintelligible varieties: Eastern Gyalrong or Situ, Japhug, Tshobdun, and Zbu.

Khroskyabs and Horpa are classified by Lin (1993) as a "western dialect" of Gyalrong, along with Eastern Gyalrong and the "northwestern dialect" (Japhug, Tshobdun, and Zbu). Otherwise, the scholarly consensus deems the distance between Khroskyabs, Horpa, and the Gyalrong cluster is greater than that between the Gyalrong languages. For example, Ethnologue reports 75% lexical similarity between Situ and Japhug, 60% between Japhug and Tshobdun, but only 13% between Situ and Horpa.

Huang (2007:180)[8] found that Horpa (Rta’u) and Gyalrong (Cogrtse) share only 15.2% cognacy, with 242 cognates out of a total of 1,592 words.

The Khalong Tibetan language has a Gyalrongic substratum.[9]

The Chamdo languages (consisting of Lamo, Larong, and Drag-yab, a group of three closely related Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in Chamdo, eastern Tibet) may or may not be Qiangic.[10][11][12]

Comparison with Tibetic

Gyalrongic languages are surrounded by Tibetic languages and have thus been in intense contact with them. However, there many major lexical and morphological differences between them. Gyalrongic tend to use prefixes such as *kə-, *tə-, etc., while Tibetic languages use suffixes such as -pa/-ba, -ma, -po/-bo, -mo, etc. Below is a table of comparing words in bTshanlha and Japhug that do not have cognates in Classical Tibetan.[13]

Gloss bTshanlha Japhug Classical Tibetan
year təpa lo
brain tərnok tɯ-moʁ klad pa
hail tərmok ser ba
milk təlu ’o ma
leg tame tɤmi rkang pa
fish tʃhəɣjo qa-ɟy nya
flower tapat me tog, men tog
tongue teʃme lce
red kəwərne kɯ-ɣɯmi dmar po
yellow kɯ-qarŋe ser (po)
sand kəwek bye ma
sheep kə-jo qa-ʑo lug
horse mboro mbro rta


  1. ^ Matisoff, James. 2004. "Brightening" and the place of Xixia (Tangut) in the Qiangic subgroup of Tibeto-Burman
  2. ^ LaPolla, Randy. 2003. "Overview of Sino-Tibetan Morphosyntax". In Graham Thurgood & Randy LaPolla (eds.), The Sino-Tibetan Languages., 30. London: Routledge.
  3. ^ Katia Chirkova (2012). "The Qiangic subgroup from an areal perspective: A case study of languages of Muli" (PDF). Language and Linguistics. 13 (1): 133–170.
  4. ^ Guillaume Jaques and Alexis Michaud (2011). "Approaching the historical phonology of three highly eroded Sino-Tibetan languages: Naxi, Na and Laze" (PDF). Diachronica. 28: 468–498. doi:10.1075/dia.28.4.02jac. S2CID 54013956.
  5. ^ Jacques, Guillaume, Anton Antonov, Yunfan Lai & Lobsang Nima. 2017. Stau (Ergong, Horpa). In Graham Thurgood & Randy LaPolla (eds.), The Sino-Tibetan Languages (2nd edition), 597–613. London: Routledge. [1]
  6. ^ Nagano, Yasuhiko and Marielle Prins. 2013. rGyalrongic languages database. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku).
  7. ^ a b Lai, Yunfan; Gong, Xun; Gates, Jesse P.; Jacques, Guillaume (2020-12-01). "Tangut as a West Gyalrongic language". Folia Linguistica. 54 (s41–s1). Walter de Gruyter GmbH: 171–203. doi:10.1515/flih-2020-0006. ISSN 1614-7308. S2CID 229165606.
  8. ^ Huang Bufan. 2007. Lawurongyu yanjiu (拉坞戎语研究) [A study of the Lavrung language]. Beijing: Minzu Press (民族出版社).
  9. ^ Tournadre, Nicolas (2005). "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes." Lalies, 2005, n°25, p. 7–56.
  10. ^ Suzuki, Hiroyuki and Tashi Nyima. 2018. Historical relationship among three non-Tibetic languages in Chamdo, TAR. Proceedings of the 51st International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics (2018). Kyoto: Kyoto University.
  11. ^ Zhao, Haoliang. 2018. A brief introduction to Zlarong, a newly recognized language in Mdzo sgang, TAR. Proceedings of the 51st International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics (2018). Kyoto: Kyoto University.
  12. ^ Jacques, Guillaumes. 2016. Les journées d'études sur les langues du Sichuan.
  13. ^ Tournadre, Nicolas; Suzuki, Hiroyuki (2023). The Tibetic Languages: an introduction to the family of languages derived from Old Tibetan. Paris: LACITO. pp. 660–1. ISBN 978-2-490768-08-0.