Date of Award

Fall 2023

Document Type


Terms of Use

© 2023 Qiyou (Ark) Lu. This work is freely available courtesy of the author. It may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. For all other uses, please contact the copyright holder.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Linguistics Department

First Advisor

Amanda Payne


This thesis explores the evolving phonetics and phonology of Dzongkha, a Tibetic language spoken in Bhutan, a small landlocked country in the eastern Himalayas, with a particular focus on the transformation of its tonal system over the past three decades. The country has seen noticeable changes to its official language in recent decades due to language policies and migration. This research aims to provide an updated analysis of the language's sound system based on newly collected field data.

The study covers various aspects of Dzongkha’s sound system, including its vowel and consonant inventories, phonotactics and tones. In particular, the language is demonstrated to have a two-way phonation contrast for its onset stop, affricate, fricative series and some of its nasals and approximants. Compared to existing literature, this study shows that the language has been undergoing simplifications to its vowel and consonant inventories, as well as tonogenesis, where the previously redundant voicing contrast for its onset stop and affricate series have completely transphonologised as pitch in the following vowel. In addition, historical aspiration contrast for its voiced stop and affricate onsets have transphonologised as vowel phonation. Overall, the combinations of vowel pitch and phonation in relation to onset consonant aspiration can be categorised as tonal registers. However, at the same time, the language had lost tonal contour contrast, with previously minimal pairs being attested as allophones and the lexicon adjusting to avoid homophonic ambiguity.

By examining the phonological changes in Dzongkha, this thesis contributes to our understanding of language change and adaptation, especially in the context of contact with other languages. Additionally, it sheds light on the broader implications for linguistic research in the Eastern Himalayan region, where a rich diversity of languages coexist.

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