Brokpa is a Trans-Himalayan (Tibeto-Burman) language belonging to the Central Bodish (Tibetic) subgroup. Brokpa is spoken in Eastern Bhutan and in small parts of Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India. In Eastern Bhutan, the Brokpa language is spoken in the highlands of Merak and its nearby tiny villages of Gengo, Khashateng, and Khiliphu, and in Sakteng and its outlying villages of Thrakthri, Joenkhar, and Moorbi. In Northeast India, the Brokpa language is spoken in the small villages of Lubrung, Dirme, Sumrang, Nyokmadung, Undra and Sengedrong in the West Kameng District, and in Lagam, Mago, Thingbu, and Lakuthang in the Tawang District. The Brokpa villages in Bhutan as well as in India are widely scattered and are separated by high mountains, dense forests and fast-flowing rivers. Brokpa is spoken by approximately 5500 people. Brokpa is one of 19 native languages of Bhutan, and is spoken in direct contact with Dakpa and Tshangla.
The current project focuses on documenting the history, culture and the language of the Brokpa people, culminating in a comprehensive grammar and a number of journal articles. The grammar and the articles are expected to be of great benefit to the speakers of the language, as well as for cross-linguistic typological studies in Trans-Himalayan languages in particular and human languages in general.
This PhD research on the Brokpa language and culture began in July 2017. Pema Wangdi has conducted two short fieldwork stints in Brokpa in 2004 and 2014; he has also undertaken immersion fieldwork on Brokpa from January 2018 for seven months in Merak, Gengo, Sakteng and Joenkhar. Pema is a native speaker of Tshangla, which is geographically contiguous to Brokpa. In addition to the observation of Brokpa language use since his childhood, Pema has made a total of 39 recordings on different genres including oral narrative, history and procedural discourse involving speakers from different age groups in these four Brokpa villages. Pema has transcribed over 400 pages of texts from those recordings and collected over 500 pages of lexical entries by working in close collaboration with several native speakers.
Brokpa has 39 consonants and eight vowel phonemes. Five vowels contrast length in open syllables. There are four phonation types: unaspirated voiceless, aspirated voiceless, breathy-voiced, and voiced phonation. Brokpa has two register tones: high and low, which are lexically contrastive on syllables with certain onset series. The high register tone is typically associated with unaspirated voiceless and aspirated voiceless phonation types, and the low register tone is typically associated with the breathy-voiced and voiced phonation types.
Brokpa is predominantly an agglutinating language with some fusional tendency. Word-formation in this language commences with a lexical root to which optional derivational process apply including affixation, ablaut, suppletion, tone change, compounding, and reduplication. A derived stem receives obligatory inflections including case, grammatical number and definiteness.
Brokpa uses a system of case enclitics to mark core and peripheral arguments in a clause. Peripheral arguments are marked by case enclitics and/or postpositional relators (relator nouns). The case-marking system prototypically works in terms of an Absolutive/Ergative scheme. Intransitive subject (S) and transitive object (O) are marked in the same way by absolutive (zero marking) and transitive subject (A) differently by ergative marking, ceteris paribus.
The preferred constituency order is predicate-final. However, the order of constituents within a clause is not rigid since the core syntactic relations are marked by cases. On the contrary, the order of elements within an NP is fairly rigid: adjective and quantifier follow head noun, demonstrative and relative clause precede head noun, manner adverb and directional adverb precede verb.
In addition to their primary function of marking a relation between copula subject and copula complement, the copulas, including existential verbs, function as grammaticalized markers of egophoricity and evidentiality. Brokpa employs grammaticalized morphemes, lexical words, and juxtaposition to express temporal, clausal, and other relationships between clauses forming complex sentences.
Wangdi, Pema. Forthcoming-a. ‘Identifying who is who in Brokpa’. To appear in The Integration of language and society in typological perspectives, edited by Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, R. M. W. Dixon, and Nerida Jarkey. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wangdi, Pema. Under consideration. ‘What is a word in Brokpa?’ Submitted to Linguistics of the Tibeto- Burman Area.