The principal language of Ladakh region (both Leh & Kargil districts) is Ladakhi more generally called Western Archaic Tibetan. According to 2001 Census, Ladakhi has 104,618 speakers approximately which is less than the ground reality and is one of the non-scheduled languages of India. The Jammu & Kashmir state has recognized Ladakhi as one of the state languages. Ladakhi is taught in schools upto 12th class. Ladakhi is different enough from Tibetan. Ladakhis and Tibetans often speak Hindi or English when they need to communicate. Educated Ladakhis usually know Hindi/Urdu and often English. Within Ladakh, there is a range of dialects. The language of the Chang-pa people may differ markedly from that of the Purig-pa in Kargil, or the Zangskaris, but they are all mutually intelligible. Due to its position on important trade routes, the racial composition as well as the language of Leh is enriched with foreign influences. Traditionally, Ladakhi had no written form distinct from classical Tibetan, but recently a number of Ladakhi writers have started using the Tibetan script to write the colloquial tongue. Dialect variations Ladakhi has several dialects but researchers differ in the number of dialects. For instance, G.A. Grierson mentions three sub-dialects in ‘Linguistic Survey of India’. His classification of sub-dialects seems to be based on the earlier work done by Mr. A.H. Francke who had written a grammar on Ladakhi.
1. The Sham dialect spoken from about Hanu in the west to a line midway between Saspol and Basgo in the east; 2. The Leh dialect, to the east of Sham, and stretching eastwards almost so far as Sheh; 3. The Rong dialect to the east of the Leh dialect. The Zanskar variety agrees with Rong, only the north-western districts show traces of the Sham dialect.

According to Sanyukta Koshal (1979), on the other hand, there are five regional varieties of Ladakhi: 1. Zangskar Ladakhi 2. Nubra Ladakhi 3. Upper Ladakhi or Stodpa 4. Lower Ladakhi or Shamma 5. Central Ladakhi (also known as Leh Ladakhi)
Upper Ladakhi is spoken in the higher altitude regions, i.e. in the east of Leh—Upshi, Sakti, Chushul etc. and its boundaries extend upto the Tibetan border. This variety shows a marked influence of Tibetan on its phonology. Lower Ladakhi is spoken in the north-west of Leh, in places like Khaltse, Skyurbucan, Tikmosgang etc. Nubra variety is spoken in the north of Leh, mostly in Nubra Tehsil. Nubra variety also attests differences between its upper sub-variety and lower sub-variety. The lower sub-variety is more akin to Shamma variety than to any other form of Ladakhi. The upper sub-variety is close to Leh variety. Zangskar variety is spoken in the west of Leh and is spread all over the Zangskar Tehsil. Upper Ladakhi and lower Ladakhi are much closer to the Leh variety than Zangskar and Nubra Varieties. The central Ladakhi is spoken in Leh and in neighboring areas is accepted as the standard form and is hence considered prestigious. Koshal has done her linguistic research on the standard form spoken in and around Leh. Script and Literary Tradition Ladakhi is written in Tibetan script invented by Thonmi Sambhota which is ultimately derived from Brahmi and made its way in Tibet in the 7th Century A.D. In Ladakh, this script is called yi-ge. Being a Brahni derivative it is syllabic in nature. It has thirty letters (twenty eight consonant symbols and two vowel symbols), which are called ka-na-sum-chu ‘from ka thirty’. Besides these symbols, there are four matras. The script marks the syllable boundary by a raised dot called ‘tsheg’ placed at the right side of the upper part of the closing letter. In Tibetan writing system, the syllables are written from left to right. The printed form of the script is called ‘Uchen’ (meaning ‘with a head’) while the hand-written cursive form used in everyday writing is called ‘Umed’ (meaning ‘headless’). Consider the following examples written in Tibetan script called ‘Uchen’.
The concept of Bhoti language
Although the term ‘Bhoti’ has several denotations (senses), a brief introduction is given here mainly in the context of the demand for inclusion in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution. The quest for recognition of Bhoti language in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution was started in 1975 and is grounded in the concern of a valued cultural language of the Himalayan belt, which is the repository of vast treasures of knowledge and wisdom and of great importance to its many Mahayana Buddhist users, falling in to disuse because of lack of government support. While Buddhist groups in the Trans-Himalayan belt stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh have rallied behind in support and in great show of solidarity to demand its inclusion in the eighth schedule but the government records are characterized by lack of clear cut information. One question that needs to be addressed with clarity-both of mind and of intention- revolves around the relationship between Tibetan and Bhoti. Etymology would suggest two different sources for these two alternate names of one language, but in current usage a difference is beginning to surface, with Bhoti being used as the more general term referring more to the High variety and affirming its Indian origin whereas Tibetan, like other related mother tongues, refers to one of the forms. For those who hold the two as synonymous, both Bhoti and Tibetan refer to the language per se, including the ancient as well as contemporary forms of speech transcending state boundaries. The English name Tibetan is from the Arabic word ‘Tibbat’, based perhaps on the Tibetan word Tubo, which makes it of uncertain origin; but the name Bhoti is, undoubtedly, of Indic origin for it contains two sounds-Bh (aspirated bilabial plosive) and T (retroflex) which are absent from all forms of Tibetan speech (past or present) and the suffix /-i/ is a typically Indo-Aryan way of naming communities and languages from names of regions. The root word Bhot was used in Sanskrit to refer to ‘Bhot desh’ which may be modern day Tibet. However, most advocates of Bhoti prefer the name also because they feel it is overtly linked to Thonmi Sambhot, the great 7th century Tibetan scholar who codified their script using his knowledge of Indian scripts. The choice of the term Bhoti over Tibetan is a conscious part of the strategy of the leaders of the movement belonging to diverse tribes to affirm their status as a part and parcel of the Indian Identity. They would not want their indigenous speech communities to be confused with their better known Tibetan refugee cousins, but remind instead how Bhoti has drawn the script and cultural context from the fertile and liberal soil of India with its great intellectual tradition. To sum, Bhoti is nothing but a root of a tree having number of branches with full of flowers blooming on them. It is the religious and cultural language of the people living in the Himalayan zone. Therefore, Bhoti refers to classical Tibetan.

Konchok Tashi

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