Tibetan is spoken in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, and in parts of northern India (including Sikkim). It is classified by linguists as a member of the Tibeto-Burman subgroup of the Sino-Tibetan languages.
Tibetan is written in a very conservative syllabary script based on the writing system of the ancient Sanskrit language of India. Used in its present form since the 9th century, it was developed as a means of translating sacred Buddhist texts that were being brought into Tibet from India. The writing system derived from the pronunciation of the language as it was in about the 7th century, and varies in many ways from colloquial Tibetan as it spoken today.
Beginning in the 8th century, Buddhist texts written in Sanskrit were carried over the Himalayas, and were carefully translated into Tibetan by meditator scholars who had studied the true meaning of the teachings with Indian masters. The flow of texts and teachings ended during the 11th century, when the Indian originals were mostly lost or destroyed in the Muslim suppression of Buddhism in India. Fortunately, by that time the transmission of Buddhist textual, artistic, meditative, and philosophical traditions into Tibet had been largely completed. Over the years Tibetan scholars added commentaries and further teachings to this body of literature.
In recent times the Chinese invasion of Tibet and their attempt to destroy the influence of the Buddhist monasteries led many very advanced meditation masters and scholars to escape to the West, bringing as many of their precious dharma texts and sacred art works as they could carry. These works are now preserved at many Tibetan Buddhist centers in various Western countries, and copies are also available for study in many major libraries. The language in which these texts are written is known as Classical Tibetan. Of the thousands of volumes of these texts, it is said that less than one percent have been translated into any Western languages.
The language as it is actually spoken today is called Colloquial Tibetan by Western scholars. There are four major dialects, and people from widely separated regions may have trouble understanding each other. The "standard" dialect is that of the region around the capital, Lhasa. Another form of the language, found in current writing, is called Modern Literary Tibetan.
This Web site offers links to resources on the Web, books, training aids and tools for translators, and software for working with Tibetan on personal computers. Also, we point out a good source of spoken colloquial Tibetan, the Tibetan language news broadcasts which are available via "Internet Radio."
These news broadcasts are also of interest to Tibetan refugees who have access to the Internet, and for them we have also included links to Indian and Nepali language broadcasts. Tape recordings of these broadcasts may be appreciated by Tibetans who don't have Internet access.