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The Different Monpa Languages of Arunachal Pradesh

Gwendolyn Hyslop
University of Oregon and
The Aienla Projec

Northeast India is well-known for its incredible linguistic and cultural diversity.
In the state of Arunachal Pradesh alone, 26 tribes are identified by the Indian government.
But the actual number of languages spoken in Arunachal Pradesh is much grater. One of
the cultural groups in Tawang and West Kameng in Arunachal Pradesh identifies itself as
In 2007 I traveled through West Kameng and Tawang district in Arunachal
Pradesh and studied a little bit of some of the different ‘Monpa’ languages. The Monpa
language of Bomdila is also called Tshangla by foreign linguists (e.g. Andvik 1999). In
addition to being spoken in Bomdila, Tshangla is spoken by approximately 138,000
people in eastern Bhutan (van Driem 1998).

Bomdila in February 2007


Lobsang, Koncho, Tashi and Thupten in Bomdila, who helped me learn some

The Monpa language of Tawang is quite different from Tshangla. Linguists refer
to Tawang Monpa as Dakpa and state that it belongs to the East Bodish (Shafer 1954)
family of Tibeto-Burman, as opposed to Tshangla, which is a Bodic branch in and of
itself within Tibeto-Burman (e.g. Bradley 1997). Dakpa is also spoken in Bhutan and

Me, Thupten Norbu and Tawang Language Officer Ngawang Lamsang in Lhou village,


Karma Tshering putting a microphone on storyteller Pema Gombu


In the Sumo en route to Tawang


The Monpa language of Dirang is again reported to be a distinct language. George
van Driem (2001) identifies Dirang Monpa as Lishpa. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the
opportunity to meet anyone who spoke Lishpa. Perhaps in my next trip to Arunachal
Pradesh I shall be so lucky!
To help illustrate the differences between Tshangla (Bomdila or ‘Central’ Monpa)
and Dakpa (Tawang, or ‘Northern’ Monpa), I have compiled a small table comparing
some words from both languages based on what I learned in my 2007 trip. The Tshangla
and Dakpa data are written using characters from the International Phonetic Alphabet
(IPA). Even if one does not know the IPA the point that the languages are different
should be quite clear.

Andvik, Erik.1999. Tshangla grammar. Eugene, Oregon: University of Oregon PhD
Bradley, David. 1997. Tibeto-Burman Languages and Classification. In David Bradley,
ed., Papers in Southeast Asian Linguistics No 14: Tibeto-Burman Languages of
the Himalayas. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
van Driem, George. 1998. Dzongkha. Leiden: Research School CNWS.
Shafer, Robert. 1954. The Linguistic Position of Dwags. Oriens, Zeitschrift der
Internationalen Gesellschraft für Orientforschung 7: 348-356