Khams Tibetan
Khams skad, Khamké
RegionKhams (Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan in China)
Native speakers
2 million (2022)[1]
Tibetan script
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
khg – Khams
kbg – Khamba
tsk – Tseku
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Khams Tibetan (Tibetan: ཁམས་སྐད, Wylie: Khams skad, THL: Khamké) is the Tibetic language used by the majority of the people in Kham. Khams is one of the three branches of the traditional classification of Tibetic languages (the other two being Amdo Tibetan and Ü-Tsang).[2] In terms of mutual intelligibility, Khams could communicate at a basic level with the Ü-Tsang branch (including Lhasa Tibetan).[2]

Both Khams Tibetan and Lhasa Tibetan evolve to not preserve the word-initial consonant clusters,[3] which makes them very far from Classical Tibetan, especially when compared to the more conservative Amdo Tibetan.[4][5] Also, Kham and Lhasa Tibetan evolved to be tonal, which Classical Tibetan was not.[3] Khams Tibetan has 80% lexical similarity with Central Tibetan.[6]


Kham Tibetan is spoken in Kham, which is now divided between the eastern part of Tibet Autonomous Region, the southern part of Qinghai, the western part of Sichuan, and the northwestern part of Yunnan, China.

Khampa Tibetan is also spoken by about 1,000 people in two enclaves in eastern Bhutan, the descendants of pastoral yak-herding communities.[7]


There are five dialects of Khams Tibetan proper:

These have relatively low mutual intelligibility, but are close enough that they are usually considered a single language. Khamba[8] and Tseku are more divergent, but classified with Khams by Tournadre.[9][full citation needed]

Several other languages are spoken by Tibetans in the Khams region: Dongwang Tibetan language and the Rgyalrong languages.[10]

The phonologies and vocabularies of the Bodgrong, Dartsendo, dGudzong, Khyungpo (Khromtshang), Lhagang Rangakha, Sangdam, Sogpho, sKobsteng, sPomtserag, Tsharethong, and Yangthang dialects of Kham Tibetan have been documented by Hiroyuki Suzuki.[11]

Other Khams Tibetan varieties include:[12]

Deng (2020) documents 1,707 words in the following three Khams Tibetan dialects:[16]



Labial Alveolar Retroflex (Alveolo-)
Velar Glottal
Nasal voiceless ɲ̊ ŋ̊
voiced m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless ts
aspirated tsʰ tʂʰ tɕʰ
voiced dz
Fricative voiceless s ʂ ɕ x h
aspirated ɕʰ
voiced z ʑ ɣ
Approximant w ɹ j
Lateral fricative ɬ
approximant l


Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e ø o
Open-mid ɛ
Open a ɑ

See also


  1. ^ Khams at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Khamba at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Tseku at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b Gelek, Konchok (2017). "Variation, contact, and change in language: Varieties in Yul shul (northern Khams)". International Journal of the Sociology of Language (245): 91-92.
  3. ^ a b Haller, Felix (1999). "A bref comparison of register tone in central tibetan and kham tibetan" (PDF). Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 22 (2). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-06-16.
  4. ^ Makley, Charlene; Dede, Keith; Hua, Kan; Wang, Qingshan (1999). "The Amdo Dialect of Labrang" (PDF). Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 22 (1): 101. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-05.
  5. ^ Reynolds, Jermay J. (2012). Language variation and change in an Amdo Tibetan village: Gender, education and resistance (PDF) (PhD thesis). Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of Georgetown University. p. 19-21. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-08-12.
  6. ^ "China". Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Nineteenth Edition. 2016. Archived from the original on 2016-09-09. Retrieved 2023-04-10.
  7. ^ van Driem, George L. (1993). "Language Policy in Bhutan". London: SOAS. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-11-01. Retrieved 2011-01-18.
  8. ^ George van Driem, Languages of the Himalayas, p 892
  9. ^ (2013)
  10. ^ N. Tournadre (2005) "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes." Lalies, 2005, n°25, p. 7–56 [1]
  11. ^ Asian and African Languages and Linguistics
  12. ^ Suzuki, Hiroyuki; Wangmo, Sonam; Samdrup, Tsering (2021-03-30). "A Contrastive Approach to the Evidential System in Tibetic Languages: Examining Five Varieties from Khams and Amdo". Gengo Kenkyu (Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan). 159: 69–101. doi:10.11435/gengo.159.0_69. ISSN 0024-3914. Retrieved 2023-03-21.
  13. ^ Suzuki, Hiroyuki & Sonam Wangmo (2017). Language evolution and vitality of Lhagang Tibetan: a Tibetic language as a minority in Minyag Rabgang. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 245: 63–90. doi:10.1515/ijsl-2017-0003
  14. ^ Suzuki, Hiroyuki (2018b). Litangxian ji qi zhoubian Zangzu yuyan xianzhuang diaocha yu fenxi [Current situation of Tibetans’ languages in Lithang County and its surroundings: Research and analysis]. Minzu Xuekan 2: 35-44+106-109. doi:10.3969/j.issn.1674-9391.2018.02.05
  15. ^ Suzuki, Hiroyuki (2018a). Xianggelila-si hokubu no Kamutibettogo syohoogen no hoogen tokutyoo to sono keisei [Dialectal characteristics of Khams Tibetan dialects spoken in the north of Shangri-La Municipality and their formation]. Journal of Asian and African Studies 95: 5–63. doi:10.15026/92458
  16. ^ Deng, Ge 邓戈 (2020). Zangyu Kang fangyan cihuiji 藏语康方言词汇集. Lhasa: Tibet Ethnic Publishing House 西藏民族出版社. ISBN 978-7-223-06515-3.
  17. ^ Suzuki, Hiroyuki (2011). Phonetic Analysis of dGudzong Tibetan: The Vernacular of Khams Tibetan spoken in the rGyalrong Area. Bulletin of the National Museum of Ethnology.
  18. ^ Olson, Robert F. (1974). Central Khams Tibetan: A phonemic survey. Kailash.
  19. ^ Sun, Hongkai (1991). Zang Mian yu yu yin he ci hui [藏缅语语音和词汇]. Chinese Social Sciences Press. pp. 156–159.

Further reading