Himalayan Languages Project

Research Team

The Research Team Former Researchers
George van Driem Tim Bodt
Pascal Gerber Dörte Borchers
Selin Grollmann Manjil Hazarika
René Huysmans John Timothy King
Jiāng Jiànshè Ismael Lieberherr
Lín Líng Anton Lustig
Michael Mäder Yankee Modi
Kristin Meier Jean Robert Opgenort
Fuminobu Nishida Ross Adam Perlin
Mark Post Heleen Plaisier
Nicolas Schorer Vishnu Prasad Singh Rai
Suhnu Ram Sharma Roland Rutgers
Sahiinii Lemaina Veikho Gerard Tolsma
  Mark Turin
  Manuel Widmer
  Marius Zemp


In 1993, a decade after George van Driem had begun conducting linguistic research in the eastern Himalayas, the Dutch national research council funded the Himalayan Languages Project. Over the years, additional funding was provided by the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague, the European Science Foundation at Strasbourg and the Royal Government of Bhutan in Thimphu. In 2010, van Driem brought this research programme to Switzerland when he relinquished his chair at the University of Leiden and acceded to the chair of Historical Linguistics in Bern. Between 2010 and 2022, the Himalayan Languages Project benefitted from the generosity of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Grammars & Handbooks

Below are the books which have been produced on languages of the greater Himalayan region. A large subset of these books have appeared in the Brill series Languages of the Greater Himalayan Region (LGHR), edited by George van Driem. This series continues a series by the same name in which two volumes were first published by Leiden University Press, i.e. Dzongkha (the national language of Bhutan) and a grammar of Yamphu (a language of the upper Arun valley in eastern Nepal).


A Grammar of Bjokapakha by Selin Grollmann (2020)

A Grammar of Bjokapakha by Selin Grollmann constitutes the first description of Bjokapakha, an endangered language spoken in central Bhutan belonging to the Tshangla branch of Trans-Himalayan. This grammar comprises a description of the phonology, lexicon, nominal morphology, predicate structures and syntax. In addition to the descriptive parts, this book encompasses a historical-comparative account of Bjokapakha. The introductory chapter provides a comparison with the standard variety of Tshangla and corroborates the internal diversity of the Tshangla branch. The present-day structure of Bjokapakha verbal morphology is illuminated by means of an internal reconstruction. Moreover, this book contains a glossary and a text collection.


The Milang Language: Grammar and Texts by Yankee Modi

Milang is a member of the Tani branch of the Trans-Himalayan language family. The language is spoken by approximately 4,000 people in the central northern portion of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Modi conducted linguistic research on the language from 2008 until 2017. In September 2017, she defended a beautifully detailed 705-page doctoral dissertation in Bern. Modi provides a holistic account of the grammar, including an intriguing description of how egophoricity functions in the language. The book contains 239 pages of natural Milang text corpus that has been phonologically transcribed, morphologically analysed and translated into English. The grammar is slated for publication with Brill in the series Languages of the Greater Himalayan Region.


Grammar of Bulu Puroik by Ismael Lieberherr

Puroik is a member of the Kho-Bwa branch of the Trans-Himalayan language family. Bulu Puroik is the most critically endangered of several Puroik languages, a subgroup formerly collectively known by the name Sulung in the older literature. Lieberherr lived amongst the Puroik in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh from 2013 to 2017. In September 2017, he defended a doctoral dissertation, comprising a grammatical description of the language, including 150 pages of Bulu Puroik text corpus and an illustrated 189-page glossary. The book also features a fascinating ethnographical account of the subsistence strategies followed by these last sago cultivators in the Subcontinent.


Grammar of Duhumbi (Chugpa) by Timotheus Adrianus Bodt (2020)

Duhumbi or Chugpa is a member of the Kho-Bwa branch of the Trans-Himalayan language family. Bodt lived amongst the Duhumbi in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh from 2013 to 2017. In September 2017, he defended a 1047-page doctoral dissertation based on the fieldwork that he had conducted, providing the most detailed linguistic analysis and documentation of any Kho-Bwa language to date. All facets of the grammar are analysed and lucidly explained in exacting detail. The book is preceded by an ethnographical account of Duhumbi life and culture that could easily have been published separately as a substantive anthropological monograph in its own right.


Duhumbi Dictionary by Timotheus Adrianus Bodt (2020)


Duhumbi Storybook by Timotheus Adrianus Bodt (2018)


A Grammar of Trung by Ross Adam Perlin

Trung is a Trans-Himalayan language spoken by some 13,000 people in northwestern Yúnnán, north of Burma and east of Tibet, mainly in the Trung valley. Four regional varieties of the language have been distinguished. Perlin conducted linguistic research on the language from 2008 until 2017. In September 2017, he defended a doctoral dissertation in Bern, containing the most detailed account of the language to date, including a corpus of phonologically transcribed, morphologically analysed and translated native Trung texts as well as a 150-page Trung-English-Mandarin dictionary. The book appeared in 2019 in Himalayan Linguistics (Archive 8).


The Dura Language: Grammar and Phylogeny by Nicolas Schorer

Nicolas Schorer collected and studied all extant data sources on the Dura language in Bern before conducting field research in the Dura homeland in central Nepal. In sequel to his grammatical and lexicographical documentation of the Dura language, Schorer has adduced evidence which has subsumed Dura with the Magaric subgroup, thereby reducing the number of linguistic subgroups of the Trans-Himalayan language family from 42 to 41.


A descriptive grammar of Bunan by Manuel Widmer

Widmer began his research on the Bunan language, spoken by roughly four thousand people, in the Gahr valley in the Lahaul region in the western Indian Himalayas in 2010 and defended his doctoral dissertation in February 2015. This first ever comprehensive description of the Bunan language was published with De Gruyter in 2017.


Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman Linguistic Dispersals in Northeast India: An Archaeological Perspective by Manjil Hazarika মঞ্জিল হাজৰিকা (427 pages)

Manjil Hazarika মঞ্জিল হাজৰিকা commenced his research work on the archaeology and ethnolinguistic prehistory of Northeast India in 2008 and completed his dissertation in 2014. Because of his multidisciplinary approach, his research in the northeastern portion of the Indian subcontinent was conducted both under the auspices of the Bern Linguistics Institute and the Institute of Archaeological Sciences of the University of Bern. This interdisciplinary study was published in 2017 by Oxford University Press.


A Grammar of Guìqióng by Jiāng Lì 姜儷

In A Grammar of Guìqióng, Jiāng Lì describes the grammar of Guìqióng, a hitherto undocumented language spoken by alpine people in Kāngdìng county, China. Guìqióng has a lot to offer in its phonology, verbal and nominal morphology, syntax and glossary, distinguishing itself from the neighbouring Tibetan, Chinese, Qiangic and Loloish languages. The newly discovered features of Guìqióng include breathy vs. modal voice, indefinite number, ablative, ergative, instrumental, dative and genitive case markers, topic and emphatic markers, the diminutive suffixes, the pronominal and deictic systems, demonstratives and numerals, a rich store of differentiated copular verbs expressing equationality, inchoative, animacy vs. inanimacy, dependent existence and negation, verbal affixes indicating directions, present tense of experienced perceptions, gnomic tense, perfective vs. imperfective aspect, modality and evidentiality.


A Historical Grammar of the Tibetan Dialect spoken in Kargil (Purik) by Marius Zemp (1084 pages)

Zemp commenced his research work on Purik in 2004 under the late Prof. Dr. Roland Bielmeier. In A Grammar of Purik Tibetan, Zemp offers a comprehensive description of the phonologically archaic Tibetan variety spoken in Kargil, the capital of a region called Purik, situated in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, India. This book contains the most thorough and insightful description of the verbal system of a Tibetic language yet written and will be particularly relevant for scholars studying evidentiality. It also includes highly valuable discussions of a syntactically and pragmatically well-defined class of ideophones which Zemp calls “dramatizers” and of prosody – topics which are too often neglected in language descriptions. Finally, this book goes beyond what others have done in that Purik data are used to elucidate our understanding of Classical Tibetan and its origins.


Parlons dzongkha par Georges van Driem et Karma Tshering de Gaselô, avec un avant-propos par Françoise Pommaret (2014)

Le Bhoutan est un petit royaume himalayen qui sort peu à peu de l’oubli et connaît un certain renom sur la scène internationale à cause de son tourisme et du concept du « Bonheur National Brut » (BNB). En fait un de ses titres de gloire est certainemnet la grande diversité de ses langues (19), sur un territoire plus petit que la Suisse et une population de 700 000 habitants. Ses langues font toutes partie de la famille linguistique tibéto-birmane, sauf le népalais qui appartient à la famille indo-européenne. Pour communiquer dans une telle diversité et créer une identité nationale, la langue nationale, adoptée dans les années 1960, est le dzongkha, « la langue des forteresses », langue de l’ouest du pays apparentée au tibétain et au dränjoke, la langue du Sikkim. Toutefois, malgré une proximité linguistique certaine et de nombreux emprunts de termes religieux bouddhiques au tibétain, ces langues sont mutuellement inintelligibles. Aujourd’hui, hormis au Bhoutan et à l’université de Berne, le dzongkha n’est enseigné par aucune institution académique dans le monde, malgré un intérêt croissant pour ce pays et sa langue nationale. Ce livre, qui présente le pays et une grammaire du dzongkha raisonnée, cherche à pallier le manque de documentation pour le public francophone.

Les fichiers audio qui accompagnent le livre «Parlons dzongkha» sont disponibles ici.


A Grammar of Chamling by Vishnu Prasad Singh Rai (2012)

This book is the most complete description of Chamling to date, a member of the Central subgroup within the Kiranti branch of the Transl-Himalayan linguistic phylum or Tibeto-Burman family. Chamling is spoken in eastern Nepal. The grammar documents the phonology, morphology and syntax as well as sample texts, verbal paradigms and a concise Chamling-English lexicon. The data presented here were collected by the author during his fieldwork in the Chamling speaking area. This book is available from the author, who can be contacted at Tribhuvan University in Kirtipur.


The New Lamp Clarifying the History, Peoples, Languages and Traditions of Eastern Bhutan and Eastern Mon by Tim Bodt (2012)

A Grammar of the Thangmi Language by Mark Turin (2011)

Thangmi is an endangered Tibeto-Burman language spoken in the districts of Dolakha and Sindhupalcok in central-eastern Nepal by upwards of 30,000 people belonging to an ethnic group of the same name. The Thangmi are one of Nepal’s least documented communities. These two volumes include a grammatical description of the Dolakha dialect of Thangmi, a collection of glossed oral texts and a comprehensive lexicon with relevant examples. In addition, the reader will find an extensive ethnolinguistic introduction to the speakers and their culture. For students and scholars of anthropology and linguistics, this study is a compelling illustration of the interweaving of these disciplines in the context of Himalayan studies.


A Grammar and Dictionary of Zaiwa by Anton Lustig (2010)

Dr. Anton Lustig’s Grammar and Dictionary of Zaiwa is a thorough and unique documentation of this main language of the Jingpo minority in southwest China. Volume I clarifies the precise meanings of numerous grammatical and lexical categories, in a holistic and all-encompassing but also vivid way, offering real insight into the conceptual universe of this typologically highly interesting tonal language, with suprasegmental traits. Volume II contains a dictionary, stories and songs. This work is also a historical monument for and tribute to this endangered language.


A Grammar of Tshangla by Erik E. Andvik (2010)

A Grammar of Tshangla is the first major linguistic description of Tshangla, a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in Bhutan, northeast India, and southwest China. Written from a functional-typological perspective, it contains a wealth of illustrative examples both from elicited data and from spontaneously generated texts. It is a truly comprehensive description, including sections on phonology, lexicon, morphophonemics, morphosyntactic structure, clause-concatenating constructions, as well as discourse-pragmatic features. The volume will be of interest to language students, and to linguists and ethnographic scholars seeking to understand the Bhutanese and South Asian linguistic situation. The large amount of raw language data presented here make this Grammar of Tshangla an indispensable tool for students of Tibeto-Burman comparative linguistics and morphosyntactic theory in general.


A Grammar of Anong by Hongkai Sun and Guangkun Liu (2009)

A work that will be of interest to those interested in typology, language history, and contact induced change, this book documents the radical restructuring of Anong over the last 40 years under intense contact with Lisu. In the almost fifty years, Sun Hongkai has been documenting the Anong language of Yunnan China, it has undergone radical, contact-induced changes. The language of the less than forty remaining speakers is quite different than the Anong of forty years ago. Under intense contact with Lisu, major change has occurred in the language, much of it documented in this work of Sun's. The English edition is a reworking of the original Chinese version, providing annotation, an expanded lexicon, and an appendix that contains an instrumental study of the language.


A Grammar of Dhimal by John T. King (2009)

The present work, a grammar of Dhimal, fills an important void in the documentation of the vast and ramified Tibeto-Burman language family. Dhimal, a little known and endangered tongue spoken in the lowlands of southeastern Nepal by about 20,000 individuals, is detailed in this work. With data gathered in the village of Āṭhiyābārī, the author crafts a readable description of the western dialect, using over 1000 examples to illustrate usage. Included in this reference work are seventeen texts, riddles, songs and a Dhimal-English glossary. Joining the ground-breaking work by researchers of the Himalayan Languages Project, this grammar of Dhimal will have lasting scientific value and aid the Dhimal community in preserving their language.


A Grammar of Sunwar by Dörte Borchers (2008)

This description of Sunwar, an endangered Tibeto-Burman language spoken in eastern Nepal, is based on extensive field work by the author and contains a chapter with background information on the Sunwar language, its speakers and their culture, followed by sections on the phonology, the indigenous writing system and the morphology of Sunwar. Verb paradigms, glossed texts, a Sunwar-English glossary and bibliographical references are also presented. Contact between the Sunwar and Nepali languages resulted in language change, most visible in the verbal system, where the older biactantial agreement system typical for Kiranti languages disappeared and suffix conjugations emerged. This book will interest those interested in descriptive linguistics, language change and languages of South Asia.


Nepali-Thami-English Dictionary by Mark Turin and Bir Bahadur Thami (2004)

This Thangmi dictionary was prepared by Mark Turin with the assistance of Bir Bahadur Thami, as Turin was completing his doctoral dissertation in the research programme Himalayan Languages Project. This dissertation was published as the two-volume Grammar of Thangmi by Brill in 2011. The Thangmi refer to their own language as Thangmi, but in Nepali their language is referred to as Thami, which explains the form used in the title of this dictionary, which is geared to serve readers in Nepal.


Collection of Lepcha Manuscripts in the van Manen Collection by Heleen Plaisier (2003)

This catalogue by Heleen Plaisier offers a detailed description of the 182 Lepcha manuscripts in the van Manen Collection, presently kept in the library of the Kern Institute of Leiden University. This collection of manuscripts written in the Lepcha language is the largest collection of its kind in the world. The Lepcha language is spoken in Sikkim and the Darjeeling district in West Bengal of India, the Ilam district of Nepal, and in southwestern Bhutan. The Lepcha literary tradition dates back to the 18th century.


A Grammar of Lepcha by Heleen Plaisier (2006)

The Lepcha language has been shrouded in a veil of tantalising mystique ever since Colonel George Mainwaring in the 1870s disseminated the myth that Lepcha was the most perfect of tongues and represented the primordial language of men and fairies. The present book is the first ever comprehensive reference grammar of this language, spoken by the indigenous tribal people of Darjeeling, Sikkim and Kalimpong. Some popular lore about Lepcha has a firm basis in fact, however. Lepcha represents a branch unto itself within the Tibeto-Burman languages. Lepcha is written in its own unique script. This highly readable grammar explains the structure of the language, its sound system and salient features, and includes a lexicon and cultural history.

Click here to order.


A Grammar of Kulung by Gerard Tolsma (2006)

This book is the most complete description of Kulung to date. Kulung is a Kiranti language spoken in eastern Nepal. These languages used to be called “complex-pronominalising” languages because the verb exhibits biactantial agreement for person and number. The book contains the phonology, morphology and syntax as well as sample texts, verbal paradigms and a Kulung-English lexicon. The data presented here were collected during four field trips which the author undertook to Nepal between 1992 and 1995. This grammar of Kulung provides a valuable resource for all those interested in the language and represents the starting point for researchers who might wish to undertake a more in-depth study of the language.


Rabha by U.V. Joseph (2006)

The Rabha’s inhabit the plains on both sides of the Brahmaputra river in Assam, in the North East of India. Their language is Rabha, a member of the Tibeto-Burman language family. This is the first ever comprehensive grammar of the Róngdani dialect of Rabha, as spoken in, a.o., the Rabha heartlands. Based on extensive field work by the author, this work is yet another significant step in the meticulous task of piecing together the jigsaw of Himalayan languages as undertaken by George van Driem and his team. Given the steady decline of the Rabha language in favour of Assamese, all those interested in the language and history of the Himalayas and Northern India will welcome this volume. With a Rabha dictionary/vocabulary, and a series of key Rabha texts shedding light on its people’s customs.


A Grammar of Jero by Jean Robert Opgenort (2005)

This description of the phonology, morphology and syntax of the endangered (Tibeto-Burman) Jero language as spoken in eastern Nepal, appears in sequel to the author's 2004 Grammar of Wambule, the language most closely related to Jero. It pictures the complex-pronominalising language of the Jero Rai, one of the Kiranti tribes of eastern Nepal. With a historical comparative study of the Kiranti languages, the branch of the Tibeto-Burman language family to which both Jero and Wambule belong. An exhaustive and model reference work for Tibeto-Burman linguistics, language typology and linguistic theory.


A Grammar of Wambule by Jean Robert Opgenort (2004)

This book is more than the first comprehensive description of the fascinating and complex (endangered) language of the Wambule Rai, one of the Kiranti tribes of eastern Nepal; it is a true model for a holistic approach on language documentation, where the phonetics, phonology, morphophonology, morphology, morphosyntax, syntax and pragmatics are interwoven into one organic, living whole. An exhaustive reference work for Tibeto-Burman linguistics, language typology, linguistic theory and Wambule society and culture, and as such indispensable for any linguistic and anthropological library.


Languages of the Himalayas (2 vols.) by George van Driem (2001)

The survey work Languages of the Himalayas provides a bird's eye view of Himalayan languages and language communities. It also constitutes a primary source for much new, hitherto unpublished data on several languages. The demographic mosaic of the Himalayas today is viewed in a historical and comparative linguistic perspective. The reader will find an outline of the historical and prehistorical developments that have determined the modern ethnolinguistic composition of the Himalayan region, involving various independent linguistics stocks or language families. Maps illustrate the distribution of language communities and trace the routes of ancient migrations. There is an illuminating discussion of grammatical features found in Himalayan languages.

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Taal en Taalwetenschap by George van Driem (2001)

Zolang de voorraad strekt, kan dit boek gratis besteld worden door een brief met volledig adres te richten aan

Prof. em. Dr. George van Driem
Institut für Sprachwissenschaft
Universität Bern
Länggassstrasse 49
3012 Bern


Dzongkha [+ 3 audio CDs] by George van Driem & Karma Tshering (1998)

This Dzongkha textbook by George van Driem provides a practical introduction to the national language of Bhutan for both linguist and layman. The script, phonology and grammar of Dzongkha are explained at length in eight chapters. The phonological romanization officially known as Roman Dzongkha, employed throughout the book, makes the course suitable both for learners who wish to master the Bhutanese script as well as for those who wish to acquire only a spoken command of the language. The Dzongkha textbook comes with a set of audio compact disks in a multibox, containing a digital soundtrack narrated by a native speaker of the prestige dialect of Dzongkha from western Bhutan.


Yamphu: Grammar, Texts and Lexicon by Roland Rutgers (1998)

The Yamphu Rai are a Kiranti tribe of the Himalayas of Eastern Nepal. The Yamphu language belongs to a group of complex- pronominalising languages of the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. This grammar consists of a description of the Yamphu dialect of Hedangna, a collection of oral texts and a lexicon. The majority of grammatical categories in Yamphu is expressed by means of suffixes. Nominal morphology includes number and case markers, postpositions and nominalising suffixes. Verbal morphology distinguishes auxiliary verbs, tense and agreement markers, mood suffixes and postpositions expressing inter- clausal relations. Information structure, too, is mainly expressed by means of suffixes. The texts included in this grammar represent various styles of speech, such as formulaic, mythological and conversational styles.


Grammaticale verkenning van het Bumthang by George van Driem (1995)

De eerste helft van dit boek is een grammaticale beschrijving van het Bumthang, met zo'n 30.000 sprekers een belangrijke regionale taal van het Himalaya-koninkrijk Bhutan. Het Bumthang behoort tot de archaïsche Oost-Bodische tak van de Tibeto-Birmaanse taalfamilie. Deze verkenning beschrijft de meest in het oog springende grammaticale bijzonderheden in de vier hoofddialecten van de taal, waarbij de nadruk is gelegd op de klank- en vormleer. Ook zijn er een bescheiden woordenlijst en een beschrijving van de verwantschapsterminologie toegevoegd. De tweede helft van het boek biedt een overzicht van de inheemse talen van Bhutan die George van Driem eveneens in opdracht van de Bhutanese overheid in kaart heeft gebracht. De hier geboden taalkundige informatie over Bhutan en zijn inwoners wordt met het verschijnen van het boek voor het eerst in het Westen toegankelijk gemaakt.

Zolang de voorraad strekt, kan dit boek gratis besteld worden door een brief met volledig adres te richten aan

Prof. em. Dr. George van Driem
Institut für Sprachwissenschaft
Universität Bern
Länggassstrasse 49
3012 Bern


A Grammar of Dumi by George van Driem (1993)

This grammar of Dumi contains a description of the phonology, morphology and syntax, as well as tables of regular and irregular verbal conjugations, a Dumi-English dictionary and a corpus of morphologically analysed Limbu texts with English translation. These texts include oral traditions and myths as well as transcriptions of actual conversations. An account is given of Dumi shamanism, the pantheon and belief system regarding the supernatural, Dumi rituals, eschatology and the kinship system. The most closely related languages to Dumi are Khaling and Kohi.


A Grammar of Limbu by George van Driem (1989)

This grammar of the conservative Phedappe dialect of Limbu contains a description of the phonology, morphology and syntax, as well as tables of regular and irregular verbal conjugations, a Limbu-English dictionary and a corpus of morphologically analysed Limbu texts with English translation. These texts include oral traditions and myths as well as transcriptions of actual conversations. An account of the Limbu literary tradition is given along with an exposition of the Kiranti script, which was devised in the early 18th century.