Discover the language

Tibetan, taught in the South Asia and Himalayas Department, belongs to the Tibetan group of the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan macrofamily. The Tibetan-speaking area covers a territory of around 2.5 million km² for 6 million speakers: the Tibetan language group is spoken in Tibet and also in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and with a small Tibetan-speaking area in Burma. According to linguist Nicolas Tourndare, the Tibetan family comprises fifty languages, which in turn can be broken down into around two hundred dialects, most of which are poorly understood. The Tibetan taught at Inalco, as elsewhere in the world, is the so-called "common" Tibetan (སྤྱི་སྐད་), spoken in the diaspora, which acts as lingua franca. A partnership with Bhutan was set up in 2014.

Despite its relatively small number of speakers, the Tibetan language has enjoyed an influence far beyond its borders since the creation of its alphabet in the VIIth century. For over thirteen centuries, it has been the sacred and liturgical language in which the ritual, philosophical, exegetical and hagiographic texts of so-called "Tibetan" Buddhism have been written, right up to the present day. Also known as "vajrayāna Buddhism", this late Buddhist trend is practiced not only in Tibet proper, but also in Bhutan, Nepal, northern India (Ladakh, Zanskar, Sikkim, Darjeeling), Mongolia and several republics of the Russian Federation (Buryatia and Kalmykia, among others). Numerous Tibetan Buddhist centers have also sprung up in the West since the 1980s. Tibetan civilization has also developed a great tradition of classical poetry, historiography, biography, medicine, epic literature and sung theater. Contemporary literature is also very much alive. At the same time, its predominantly rural population (farmers and pastor-breeders) is the holder of a wealth of oral literature that is as yet little known.

The tragedy that struck Tibet in the 1950s, with the annexation by the People's Republic of China, followed by the Cultural Revolution, dealt a severe blow to the country's literary, architectural, medical and artistic heritage, and led to the exile in 1959 of tens of thousands of Tibetans to India, where the Tibetan government-in-exile and the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama, settled. Since the late 2000s, this exile has continued in the West. The development of a strong interest in Tibetan culture and language has accompanied this diaspora and given the Tibetan world a high international profile. Tibetan language and civilization (mainly Buddhism) are now taught in dozens of universities around the world, even though they are threatened on their own territory, despite a remarkable cultural and linguistic resilience. Last but not least, the Tibetan language has successfully adapted to information and communication technologies, as witnessed by the existence of Tibetan Unicode and a large number of websites in Tibetan.

Training courses

For working people, a Evening Course in Tibetan at Inalco is provided by the Continuing Education Department. For further information, please contact the continuing education department.


Tibetan and/or Tibetan civilization are taught at many universities in Europe: London (SOAS), Oxford, Naples, Rome, Hamburg, Bonn, Berlin, Prague, Oslo, Copenhagen, Vienna, among others.

Partner universities

Inalco has established a partnership with the CLCS (Center for Language and Cultural Studies), in Trongsa, Bhutan. Students can follow a course of study in classical Tibetan, Dzongkha, Buddhism and Bhutanese arts (music, dance).

Student association

Tibetan Confluences: to foster the cultural and social integration of Tibetans recently arrived in France, support Tibetan culture in France and promote linguistic and cultural exchanges between French and Tibetans.

Scholarly society

Tibetan studies have a long history in France, with the teaching of Tibetan having begun in the mid-19th century at the Ecole des Jeunes des Langues, which was to become Langues O and then Inalco. In 2012, to federate and make visible research in Tibetology in France, the SFEMT (Société Française d'Etudes du Monde Tibétain) was created. Its mission is to present the ongoing research of its members, propose conferences and organize a biennial colloquium. Many SFEMT members teach undergraduate and graduate courses in Tibetan (see above, list of contract teachers). Each, in his or her field of specialization, shares his or her knowledge with the students of Inalco's Tibet section.