The Monpas are one of the major tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. The Monpas are Buddhists by religion and Tawang Monastary is the fountainhead of their spiritual lives. They are by and large agriculturists and they have their own distinctive way of clothing themselves, well adapted to the conditions of their environment.

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The languages spoken by the Monpa people are often referred to as the “Monpa languages”. This is not a genealogical term, and several quite different languages are subsumed under it. “Monpa languages” include Kho-Bwa, East Bodish, and Tshangla languages. According to Blench (2014), five groups may be distinguished:

  • The Sherdukpen, Lish, and Sartang languages shows no obvious relationship to other languages of the region and they comprise a small language isolate cluster. These three languages are related to Bugun, and form a “Kho-Bwa” group together with it.
  • The Tawang language is an East Bodish language, and is a variety of Dakpa.
  • The languages of the Zemithang, Mago and Thingbu villages are additional East Bodish varieties that are not mutually intelligible with Tawang.
  • The Tshangla language within Bodish comprises closely related dialects spoken in the villages of Senge; Nyukmadung and Lubrang and the Brokpa language spoken by nomads.
  • Other languages include Dirang (also known as “Central Monpa”), Murshing and Kalaktang (also known as “Southern Monpa”).



One of the most characteristic ethnonyms used in Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India is ‘Monpa’. It has been used to cover a wide range of languages, which have nothing much in common other than a putative Sino-Tibetan affiliation. There is a spectrum of local publications in Arunachal Pradesh referring to the Monpa, conflating both anthropological and linguistic data. Monpa is a generic term for non-Tibetan-speaking peoples south of Tibet proper, and applies to a number of highly diverse peoples, and so should not be used for classification purposes. This paper begins the process of sorting out the affiliations of the various Monpa groups in Arunachal Pradesh, their external links and place within the larger framework of Tibeto-Burman.

Gloss CTB* Tibetan Tibetan (Wylie) Tawang Dirang
One *g-t(y)ik གཅིག gcig tʰi tʰur
Two *g-ni-s གཉིས gnyis ney nitsiŋ
Three *g-sum གསུམ gsum sum sam
Four *b-ləy བཞི bzhi bli bʧi
Five *b-ŋa ལྔ lnga leŋeʰ ŋa
Six *d-ruk དྲུག drug gro kʰuŋ
Seven *s-nis བདུན bdun ɲis zum
Eight *b-r-gyat བརྒྱད brgyad get yen
Nine *d-gəw དགུ dgu du gu
Ten *gip བཅུ bcu ʧi se
Head *d-bu-s མགོ mgo got ʃaraŋ
Nose *na, *naar སྣ་ཁུག sna khug naʰ na uŋ
Eye *mik མིག mig meloŋ rniŋ
Mouth *mka kha kha nowaŋ
Ear *r-na ཨ་མཆོག a mchog nelǎp ney gaŋ
Tongue *s-l(y)a ལྕེ lce leʰ le
Tooth *swa སོ so waʰ ʃa
Arm *g-lak ལག་པ lag pa laʰ garaŋ
Leg *kaŋ རྐང་པ rkang pa lemi bi
Stomach *grwat གྲོད་ཁོག grod khog kepa pʰoloŋ
Bone *rus རུས་ཁོག rus khog roʃba kʰaŋ
Blood *s-hywey ཁྲག khrag kʰra ʒi
Sun *nəy ཉི་མ nyi ma plaŋ ŋam
Moon *s-la ཟླ་བ zla ba lei laɲi
Star *s-kar སྐར་མ skar ma karma karma
Man *r-min མི mi miʰ soŋa
Woman *mow སྐྱེས་དམན skyes dman amah, muibu ɲiza
Child *za/*tsa ཕུ་གུ, སྤུ་གུ phu gu, spu gu ono za, nunu
Old man *bəw རྙིང་པ rnying pa gatpu ata, gatpu
Dog *kwəy ཁྱི khyi kʰi kʰu
Pig *pwak ཕག་པ phag pa pʰa pʰa
Tiger *k-la སྟག stag ʧěn goŋtak
Water *ti(y) ཆུ chu ʧi ri
Fire *mey མེ me meḥ mi
Stone *r-luŋ རྡོ rdo gor luŋ
Tree *siŋ, *sik ཤིང་སྡོང shing sdong ʧyaŋ ʃiŋ
Leaf *r-pak   lo-ma palǎp ʃawa
Name *miŋ མིང ming meŋ  
Iron *syal ལྕགས lcags leʰ perr
Rice *ma(y) འབྲས ‘bras dep kʰu
Eat *dzya za sasuḥ za

*) Common Tibeto-Burman (reconstructed), as listed in Matisoff, James A. (2015), Sino-Tibetan Etymological Dictionary and Thesaurus,; cf. also STEDT Database (Beta):

For Tawang Monpa, the similarities to Tibetan, as evidenced in the above table, are fairly clear. Strikingly, Tawang often agrees with reconstructed CTB where other types of Monpa have divergent lexemes. (This evidence may be partly circular, since Tibetan is a key plank in the reconstruction.)

Source: Blench, Roger (2014), Sorting out Monpa: The relationships of the Monpa languages of Arunachal Pradesh.


Ethnic distributions in the Tawang རྟ་དབང་། and West Kameng ནུབ་ཀ་མེང་། districts in the state of Arunachal Pradesh:

The boundary between the Dirang Monpa རྡི་རང་མོན་པ། and Tawang Monpa རྟ་དབང་མོན་པ། , including Mago-Thingbupa དམག་སྒོ་ཐིང་བུ་པ། , basically corresponds with the district border. This categorization is based on geography.

Linguistically, the categorization would be Dakpa དགས་པ། speakers in Tawang, Tshangla ཚངས་ལ། speakers in the Dirang and Kalaktang regions, and Drokpa འབྲོག་པ། speakers in the Mago-Thimbu and Senge Dzong-Nyukmadung regions.

The Dirang Monpa and Kalaktang Monpa refer to themselves as Tshangla ཚང་ལ། . They are called Sharchokpa ཤར་ཕྱོགས་པ། , meaning “People of the East,” by the Tawang Monpa. The Monpa in the Dirang area and those in the Kalaktang area are also called Drangnangpa སྦྲང་ནང་པ། and Rongnangpa རོང་ནང་པ། , respectively. The Dirang Monpa and Kalaktang Monpa refer to the Tawang Monpa as Brami བྲག་མི། . Brami means “people of the mountains”; brag means “rock” or “mountain” and mi means “people.”

Although the Tawang and Dirang areas are geographically adjacent to each other, they are divided by wall-like mountain ranges. The only traffic route connecting them is the Sela Pass. The mountain ranges affect the languages and cultures of the Dirang Monpa and Tawang Monpa. The Dirang Monpa are distributed to the south of the mountain ranges, and the Tawang Monpa to the north. That division is also the borderline between the Tawang and West Kameng districts.

Source: Kazuharu Mizuno & Lobsang Tenpa (2015), Himalayan Nature and Tibetan Buddhist Culture in Arunachal Pradesh, India: A Study of Monpa.


Linguists place the Monpa language in the Bodic group of the Tibeto-Burman languages. Linguistically, Tawang district shows four marked divisions, viz., the Mago-Thingbu-Keth, the Pangchen-Keth, the Shyoepa-Loh and the Tawang Mon-Keth. Mago-Thingbu-Keth is the dialect spoken by the inhabitants of Mago, Thingbu and Luguthang villages. It bears resemblance with that of the inhabitants of Lubrang, Dirme, Sumrang, Nyukmadung and Senge-Dzong villages of the West Kameng district. Their dialect displays many elements of the Tibetan language. Pangchen-Keth is the dialect spoken by the people of Pangchen Dhingduk (Zimithang). It is not easily understood by other people of Tawang, though it has many Tawang Monpa words. Shyoepa-Loh is spoken by the people of Shyoe village and is similar to the Tibetan language. Tawang Mon-Keth is the dialect of the majority of people of Tawang, though tone and phonetics vary from village to village. It is, in fact, the lingua franca of the district. Mon-Keth is distinct from Tibetan although it has many Tibetan words. The people of Mago, Thingbu, Zimithang and Shyoe villages can also understand and speak it fluently.

The Bhoti (Tibetan) language has also seen a resurgence in the district of late. Initially, only the lamas, nuns and a selected few residents of Tawang knew the Bhoti script and language, as religious training was imparted through it. It was, however, realised that, without knowledge of Bhoti, the people were unable to grasp the essence of their culture and history, as all earlier documents and records were in Bhoti. Thus, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh via the Department of Karmik and Adhayatmik (Chos-Rig) Affairs has introduced it as the third language of instruction in the schools of Buddhist dominated Tawang and West Kameng districts along with the Mechuka sub-division of West Siang district, for classes I to VIII.


See also:

Abhishek Dev & Tsewang Norbu (2015), Enchanting Tawang. Published by Zorba Books Pvt Ltd., Gurgaon – 122009, India. Copyright © The District Administration Tawang, Directorate of Research and the Department of Tourism, Government of Arunachal Pradesh.


More: Tibetan and Monpa (Menba)