Khams Tibetan
Khams skad, Khamké
RegionKhams (Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan in China)
Native speakers
(1.4 million cited 1994)[2]
Tibetan script
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
khg – Khams
kbg – Khamba[1]
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).[3] In terms of mutual intelligibility, Khams could communicate at a basic level with the Ü-Tsang branch (including Lhasa Tibetan).[3]

Both Khams Tibetan and Lhasa Tibetan evolve to not preserve the word-initial consonant clusters,[4][5] which makes them very far from Classical Tibetan, especially when compared to the more conservative Amdo Tibetan.[6][7] Also, Kham and Lhasa Tibetan evolved to be tonal, which Classical Tibetan was not.[5]


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.[8]


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 and Tseku are more divergent, but classified with Khams by Tournadre (2013).

Several other languages are spoken by Tibetans in the Khams region: Dongwang Tibetan language and the Rgyalrong languages.[9]

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.[10]



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. ^ George van Driem, Languages of the Himalayas, p 892
  2. ^ Khams at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Khamba[1] at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Tseku at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ A Grammar of Kham, David E. Watters, Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ van Driem, George L. (1993). "Language Policy in Bhutan". London: SOAS. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-11-01. Retrieved 2011-01-18.
  9. ^ N. Tournadre (2005) "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes." Lalies, 2005, n°25, p. 7–56 [1]
  10. ^ Asian and African Languages and Linguistics
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Olson, Robert F. (1974). Central Khams Tibetan: A phonemic survey. Kailash.
  13. ^ 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