Treatment of Sikkim’s languages by Grierson and others

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Based on Linguistic Survey of India report on Sikkim

In the Linguistic Survey of India by Sir George Abraham Grierson and the languages dispersed in the state of Sikkim are mainly classified as belonging to the Tibeto-Burman sub-family of ‘Tibeto-Chinese’ language family. The sub – family ‘Tibeto-Burman’ is named after the fact that the Tibetan is the northern representative of Indo-Himalayan speeches and Burmese is the southern representative of the Indo-Himalayan speeches. Between the Tibetan and Burmese along the Indo-Himalayan range all the Tibeto-Burman languages exist.

The two extremes that is Tibetan and Burmese are connected along with two distinct linguistic chains. While the eastern chain consisting of the Kachin and Lolo forms of speech which connect Tibetan directly with Burmese. The Western chain is at first a pair of chains each beginning in a different locality.

The joint chain then goes on and ends again in Burmese. And keeping the picture of these two distinct linguistic chains in view the Tibeto-Burman sub- family is divided into three branches namely—Tibeto-Himalayan branch, North-Assam Branch and Assam Burmese branch in Grierson’s LSI.
According to the classification of Sir Grierson (1909) in Linguistic Survey of India the Bhotia (Tibetan) group of languages and Himalayan group of languages comprise the Tibeto-Himalayan branch of the Tibeto – Burman languages of the great Tibeto-Chinese family. Bhotia is the general name of the group of dialects of which Bhotia of Sikkim or Dan-jong-ka, Bhotia of Tibet or Tibetan, and Sherpa Bhotia are the variants alongwith the combination of other forms like Bhotia of Baltistan or Balti Bhotia of Purik Bhotia of Ladakh or Ladakhi Bhotia of Lahul or Lahauli Bhotia of Spiti Bhotia of upper Kanawar or Nyamki Bhotia of Tehri Garhwal or Jad Bhotia of Sikkim or Da-jong-ka Bhotia of Bhutan or Lhoke Kagate Bhotia of Khams and other dialects.

The Himalayan group is divided into two sub-groups, namely ,

1. Pronominalised Himalayan group represented by Limbu and Rai in Sikkim and

2. Non-Pronominalised group being represented by Lepcha or Rong, Tamang
or Murmi, Gurung, Mangari, Newari, Sunwar.

These languages of Tibetan and Himalayan group are the subject matter of the present Volume. Leaving aside these mentioned names, other several important languages also are there under Tibetan and Himalayan groups. They have not been covered in the volume since these languages are not significantly concentrated in Sikkim. However, Toto (a non-pronominalised Himalayan Language) has been covered under LSI-West Bengal volume, which will be available to the readers/users after its publication.

Grierson's LSI

Treatment of the Sikkim's languages revealed in Grierson’s Linguistic Survey of India

Subsequent to Grierson’s study the Tibeto Burman languages of India as well as of Sikkim have been studied by other scholars also like Robert Shafer (1966-1974), Paul Benedict (1972), Bradley (1997) etc. According to the study of Robert Shafer the languages of the family are classified into 6 divisions, namely,

1. Sinitic
2. Daic
3. Bodic
4. Burmic
5. Baric
6. Karenic

Among the 6 divisions the languages of Sikkim are mainly covered by Bodic division.

The classification of Paul Benedict (1972) puts the Tibeto Burman languages into 7 main branches, namely

1. Tibetan-Kanauri
2. Bahing-Vayu
3. Abor-Miri-Dafla
4. Kachin
5. Burmese-Lolo
6. Boro-Garo and
7. Kuki-Naga.

The Tibetan-Kanauri, which is relevant for the classification of Tibeto-Burman languages of Sikkim, is further subdivided into groups like

a. Bodish

The Tibetan, Bhotia, Lepcha, Mangari etc. of Sikkim are covered under Himalayish group whereas Kinnauri is covered under Bodish group.

A newer classification by Bradley has added further information towards the classification of Tibeto-Burman languages. According to Bradley the Tibeto-Burman languages are covered under 6 branches, namely,

1. Bodic (which includes Bodish and Himalayan) and the languages mainly Tibetan, Gurung, Tamang etc. [Studied for the present volume.]

2. North-East India (which includes Bodo-Garo group)

3. Kuki-Chin (which includes Kuki, Chin etc.)

4. Central (which includes Lepcha, Abor-Miri-Dafla etc.) [Lepcha studied for the present volume.]

5. North-Eastern

6. South-Eastern (which includes Burmese-Lolo, Karen group etc.)

Taking the above classifications into account this can be summed up that
the Tibeto-Himalayan group of languages under Tibeto-Chinese family of Grierson’s classification are referred as the languages of Bodish and Himalayish group under Bodic branch of later classification, being represented by the studied Bhotia along with Tibetan, Sherpa, Limbu, Rai, Lepcha, Tamang, Gurung, Sunwar, Mangari and Newari languages of the present volume.

Related Story

Bilingualism in Sikkim
Treatment of Sikkim’s language in current LSI
Sikkim and its languages-I
Exploring the Languages of Sikkim



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