Nepali language

Nepali language
Nepali word in devanagri script.png
The word "Nepali" written in Devanagari script
Spoken in Nepal, India, Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma)
Region South Asia
Ethnicity Khas people (incl. Gurkha)
Native speakers 13.9 million[1]  (2001 census)
Language family
Writing system Devanagari script
Official status
Official language in  Nepal
 India (in Sikkim and Darjeeling district, West Bengal)
Regulated by Language Academy of Nepal
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ne
ISO 639-2 nep
ISO 639-3 nep
Nepali language status.png
World map with significant Nepali language speakers
Dark Blue: Main official language,
Light blue: One of the official languages,
Red: Places with significant population or greater than 20% but without official recognition.
Indic script
This page contains Indic text. Without rendering support you may see irregular vowel positioning and a lack of conjuncts. More...

Nepali or Nepalese (नेपाली) is a language in the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family.

It is the official language and de facto lingua franca of Nepal and is also spoken in Bhutan, parts of India and parts of Myanmar (Burma). In India, it is one of the country's 23 official languages: Nepali has official language status in the formerly independent state of Sikkim and in West Bengal's Darjeeling district. The influence of the Nepali language can also be seen in Bhutan and some parts of Burma. Nepali developed in proximity to a number of Tibeto-Burman languages, most notably Nepal Bhasa (Newari), and shows Tibeto-Burman influences.

Historically, the language was first called Khaskura (language of the khas 'rice farmers'), then Gorkhali or Gurkhali (language of the Gurkha) before the term Nepali was taken from Newari. Other names include Parbatiya ("mountain language", identified with the Parbatiya people of Nepal) and Lhotshammikha (the "southern language" of the Lhotshampa people of Bhutan). The name 'Nepali' is ambiguous, as it was originally a pronunciation of Newari, the Tibeto-Burman language of the capital Kathmandu.


Script and literature

Nepali is commonly written in the Devanagari script, as are Hindi and Sanskrit. There is some record of using Takri script in the history of Nepali, especially in western Nepal, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh. Bhujimol is an older script native to Nepal, while Ranjana script is another writing system historically used.

Nepali developed a significant literature within a short period of hundred years in the 19th century, fueled by Adhyatma Ramayana; Sundarananda Bara (1833); Birsikka, an anonymous collection of folk tales; and a version of the South Asian epic Ramayana by Bhanubhakta. The contribution of trio-laureates Poudyal, Devkota, and Sama took Nepali to the level of other world languages. The contribution of expatriate writers outside Nepal, especially in Darjeeling and Varanasi in India, is also notable. In the past decade, there are many contributions to Nepalese literature from Nepalese diaspora in Europe, America and other Asian countries.

Number of speakers

Almost one-third of the population of Nepal speak Nepali as a mother tongue. The Ethnologue website counts more than 17 million speakers worldwide, including 11 million within Nepal (from the 2001 census).[1]

Nepali is traditionally spoken in the Hill Region of Nepal (Pahad, पाहाड), especially in the western part of the country. It is also the lingua franca in the Kathmandu valley, although the historically dominant language in this valley was Nepal Bhasa (also known as Newari). Nepali is now used in government and as the everyday language of a growing portion of the local population. Nevertheless the exclusive use of Nepali in the courts and government of Nepal is being challenged. Recognition of other ethnic languages in Nepal was one of the objectives of the Maoist insurgency.[citation needed]

In Bhutan those who speak Nepali (known as Lhotshampa) are estimated at about 35 percent[2] of the population if all displaced Bhutanese refugees are counted (unofficial estimates of the ethnic Nepalese population ran as high as 30 to 40 percent, constituting a majority in the south[3]), or about 242,000 people. Since the late 1980s, over 100,000 Lhotshampas have been forced out of Bhutan, accused by the government of being illegal aliens.[2] A large fraction them were expelled in a mostly nonviolent "ethnic cleansing" campaign and presently live in refugee camps in eastern Nepal.

In India, there are a large number of Nepali-speaking people. There are an estimated 500,000 Nepali speakers in Sikkim. In Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts of West Bengal, there are about 1,400,000 Nepali speakers. In North-East India (states of Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh), there are several million Nepali speakers. A considerable number of Nepali-speaking people are also present in many Indian cities such as Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Visakhapatnam, Chennai, Mumbai and Hyderabad.

Combining the Ethnologue figures[1] with strong population growth in Nepal, the assumption of 20 million people with Nepali as their mother tongue is a reasonable estimate for 2006.

History of the language

Around 500 years ago, Khas from the Karnali-Bheri-Seti basin migrated eastward, bypassing inhospitable Kham highlands to settle in lower valleys of the Gandaki basin that were well suited to rice cultivation. One notable extended family settled in Gorkha, a small principality about halfway between Pokhara and Kathmandu. In 1559 AD a Lamjunge prince Dravya Shah established him in the throne of Gorkha with the help of local Khas and Magars. He raised an army of khas with the commandership of Bhagirath Panta. Later, in the late 18th century his heir Prithvi Narayan Shah raised and improvised an army of Khasa (Chhetri), Thakuri, Gurungs, and Magars and possibly other hill tribesmen and set out to conquer and consolidate dozens of small principalities in the Himalayan foothills. Since Gorkha had replaced the original Khas homeland as thary initiative, Khaskura was redubbed Gorkhali, i.e. language of the Gorkhas.[citation needed]

The most notable military achievement of Prithvi Narayan was conquest of the urbanized Kathmandu Valley, on the eastern rim of the Gandaki basin. This region was also called Nepal at the time. Kathmandu became Prithvi Narayan's new capital, from which he and his heirs extended their domain east across the Koshi basin, north to the Tibetan Plateau, south into the plains of northern India, and west across the Karnali/Bheri basin and beyond.[citation needed]

Expansion, particularly to the north, west, and south brought the growing state into conflict with the British and Chinese. This led to wars that trimmed back the territory to an area roughly corresponding to Nepal's present borders. Both China and Britain understood the value of a buffer state and did not attempt to reduce the territory of the new country further. Since the Kathmandu Valley or Nepal had become the new center of political initiative, this word gradually came to refer to the entire realm and not just the Kathmandu Valley. And so Gorkhali, language of Gorkha, again came to be known as Nepali.[citation needed]

Khaskura/Gorkhali/Nepali is spoken indigenously over most of Nepal west of the Kaligandaki River, then progressively less further to the east. This is shown graphically in detailed language maps of western [1] and eastern [2] Nepal as language number 73.

See also: Lhotshampa as Nepali is called in Bhutan.



See also


  1. ^ a b c Ethnologue Report for Nepali (Accessed 1 February 2009).
  2. ^ a b "Background Note: Bhutan". U.S. Department of State. 2010-02-02. Retrieved 2010-10-02. 
  3. ^ Worden, Robert L.; Savada, Andrea Matles (ed.) (1991). "Chapter 6: Bhutan - Ethnic Groups". Nepal and Bhutan: Country Studies (3rd ed.). Federal Research Division, United States Library of Congress. pp. 424. ISBN 0844407771. Retrieved 2010-10-02. 

Further reading

External links

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