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Tibetan is a language spoken by six million people throughout the Tibetan plateau of Central Asia, bordering on South Asia, an area equivalent to the size of Western Europe. This includes areas currently governed by China, the traditional regions of Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang as well as Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan; Ladakh and the Baltistan area of Northern Pakistan and India; Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan. There are 150,000 exile speakers around the world. Tibetan belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language group, a sub-family of the Sino-Tibetan family.

Spoken Tibetan comprises a very large number of dialects. The principle ones in Tibet are Kham, Amdo, and U-Tsang or Lhasa dialects. The dialect of Tibet’s capital city, Lhasa, now also known as Central or Standard Tibetan, serves as a lingua franca, and also forms the basis for the exile dialect. A standardised version of the language is gradually evolving. The boundaries between dialects classed as Tibetan and those not included are not always clear. For example Dzongkha (a dialect of Bhutan), Sikkimese, Sherpa and Ladhakhi, are considered to be separate. Not all dialects included in the class of Tibetan are mutually intelligible. However the written form is the same everywhere.

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