The Language Situation in Nepal

Sonia Eagle
English Department, Kanda University of International Studies, 1-4-1 Wakaba, Mihama-ku, Chiba-shi, Chiba-ken, 261-0014, Japan This monograph describes the language situation in Nepal in its historical and social perspective as well as language planning and policy implemented by the national government over the last fifty years. Discussion is included on the local languages, multilingualism and lingua franca. Consideration is given to languages in specific domains such as national and private education, the military and the Gurkha regiments, literature, the media, tourism, trade, international affairs and daily life. The relationship between caste, class, ethnic groups and language is also outlined. Case studies are incorporated to illustrate certain language issues. Ecological variables affecting language use and register, language death and language revival are considered. Finally, recommendations are suggested in regard to the future of language planning in Nepal.

Nepal is an isolated and diverse nation, which presents a number of complex 1 factors related to language planning and policy. To understand the intricacies of the language problems and the multilingual and multicultural make-up of the nation, several background factors need to be considered. Geography and ecological variables, economic alternatives and limitations, migrations of people, religion, social stratification and the political history of the region are all factors that directly impinge upon language issues in Nepal, both historically and at present. In addition, recent changes related to the emergence of a modern democratic nation are having a significant impact on current language policies. For over one hundred years the borders of Nepal were effectively closed to all foreign residents and travellers. After the opening of the country in 1950, the government made efforts to modernise the political system, develop the economy and make education available to a larger number of the people. An important part of this modernisation involved what Kaplan (1989) has referred to as ‘top-down’ language planning. Since 1950, official government language planning and policy has emphasised the need to adopt one language, Nepali, as the national language. While top-down language planning, in the modern sense, began only after 1950, recorded information on languages dates back more than 2000 years. Most language matters in Nepal have not been planned; they have evolved in response to historical circumstances. However, official government involvement in language policy is not new and dates back several hundred years.

Background on Nepal
Nepal extends along the Himalayan mountain range in the north and the Ganges plains in the south. It is bordered on the south, east and west by India and on the north by the Tibetan region of The People’s Republic of China. Thus it lies
0143-4632/99/04 0272-56 $10.00/0 © 1999 S. Eagle JOURNAL OF MULTILINGUAL AND MULTICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT Vol. 20, Nos. 4&5, 1999


The Language Situation in Nepal


between two major civilisations which are culturally, linguistically and racially distinct. The impact of these two large cultural areas on Nepal is closely tied to the diverse linguistic and ethnic make-up of the country. The following summary of the background on Nepal has been greatly simplified to cover only those aspects of Nepalese culture that are particularly relevant to language issues. The environment The country covers an area of 147,181 square kilometres, extending about 880 kilometres in an east–west direction and less than 200 kilometres in a north–south direction (Sill & Kirkby, 1991: 35). Although Nepal is completely landlocked, it is remarkably diverse ecologically. There are three distinct geographic zones extending the length of the country in east–west directions. The Terai The southern part of Nepal, called the Terai, extends from the Indian border to the bottom of the foothills. The original inhabitants of the region spoke a variety of Indo-Aryan languages. The inner Terai was a swampy, tropical forest area until the mid 1950s when DDT was used to eradicate the malarial mosquitoes. The area was then opened up to extensive agricultural development and the subsequent migration of primarily Nepali speaking people from the hill and mountain regions. Due to the flat topography and an adequate supply of water, the Terai today includes the richest agricultural land in Nepal. For similar reasons, along with the relative ease of transportation to outside sources and markets, the area is also the primary industrial area of Nepal. The hills and fertile valleys Lying south of the high Himalayas, a number of fertile valleys and high hills make up the central region of Nepal. The altitude ranges between 900 and 2100 metres (3000 and 7000 feet) and the climate is temperate. The valleys below 1200 metres (4000 feet) were originally tree-covered, but intensive agriculture and deforestation have depleted much of the forested areas. The hills have been terraced intensively and both rainfall and irrigation farming are practised. These midlands have been the most populous regions of Nepal, although recent expansion into the Terai has altered the demographic pattern. The capital city, Kathmandu and Kathmandu Valley lie in the centre of the midlands. This region has been, and to some extent remains, the political, cultural and religious heart of the nation. The Himalayan ranges and high plateaux The Himalayas extend across the north of Nepal and include Mount Everest (Sagarmatha) and seven other peaks of over 8000 metres (26,000 feet). The mountain zone makes up about 25% of the landmass of Nepal and about 10% of the population, mostly Tibeto-Burman speakers, live in the area. Villages and footpaths wind up the mountains higher than 4600 metres (15,000 feet). There are no roads in the mountains. The high ranges are dissected by several north–south river systems, with villages strung along the river gorges. Animal trains, as well as human porters, traverse the stony footpaths travelling north–south throughout Nepal. These paths connect the Tibetan plateau with the Indian


Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development

subcontinent and are the major trade routes running through Nepal. These trade routes are very old, dating back possibly as far as 2000 years, and they have made multilingualism a necessary and inherent part of life in Nepal from earliest times. Small airports are scattered in a few mountain valleys allowing light aircraft (up to 16 seats) to take off and land; however, they are used primarily by tourists and a few wealthy Nepalis. Few goods are brought into the mountains by air, so that even today goods are transported over the mountains by pack animals or humans. Mountaineering and trekking contribute significantly to tourism in Nepal. The people of Nepal By 1995, the estimated population of Nepal was 21.3 million. Population density is high and the per capita income in 1995 was estimated at US $180. The infant mortality rate is high and life expectancy is low, averaging only 54 (Anonymous, 1995a: 47–48). Nepal ranks as one of the poorest, least developed and least industrialised nations in the world. This poverty and lack of development is a critical aspect of language planning and policy in Nepal. Despite the economic poverty of the nation, Nepal is a culturally complex and diverse country. Estimates of the number of different ethnic groups in Nepal vary greatly. Bista (1987) describes about 35 distinct ethnic groups. If language is a defining factor in determining ethnic identity, Malla (1989: 449) claims that there are about 70 mutually unintelligible languages spoken inside Nepal. Since Nepal sits at the crossroads between India, Tibet and Indochina, ethnic, racial and linguistic diversity is not surprising. The prehistoric period Both Buddhist and Hindu manuscripts, written in Sanskrit, date from well over 2000 years ago. They mention and include tales about the people of Nepal. Gautama Buddha was born in Lumbini in the Nepalese Terai in 563 BC and, according to legend, he or his earliest disciples were already spreading Buddhism in Nepal during the Buddha’s lifetime. These early religious writings indicate that Nepal was settled more than 2000 years ago. The Kirats and the Khas Over the last 2000 years, several groups of people moved into Nepal at different times and from various directions. It is not always clear whether ethnic differences are the result of independent immigrations or whether the linguistically related groups evolved in situ into distinct cultures, as a result of isolation and ecological adaptation. In some cases, people with very different languages and traditions have lived side-by-side or in close proximity for centuries while maintaining their separate identities. There is some evidence that Aryan cow herders ranged through the region as early as 2500 BC, but little else is known about the earliest settlers in Nepal. Over 2000 years ago, two major cultural groups, the Kirat and the Khas, migrated into the area. The Kirat (Kiratas in some sources) entered the area from the north and east. They were Mongoloid people speaking Tibeto-Burman languages. It is likely that all of the Tibeto-Burman language groups who settled in the hills and

The Language Situation in Nepal


valleys (e.g. Newar, Magar and Gurung) are descended from the Kirats. Originally, these people practised Buddhism and shamanism. An Indo-Aryan people, the Khas, entered Nepal from the west. They spoke an Indo-Aryan language and had ties with west central Asia. In time, these Aryan Khas spread from the western hills across the valleys of Nepal. They practised a form of non-caste Shiva religion and Shamanism. In the 12th and 13th centuries, a second wave of Hindu migration spread into Nepal. High-caste Hindus, escaping the Muslim invasions, fled into the Terai and the hills. This new wave of immigrants consisted of traditional caste Hindus who spoke Indo-Aryan languages. Although their largest concentration was in the western part of Nepal, they spread throughout the country replacing, dominating, converting, or intermarrying with many of the other groups. About 500 years ago people with close racial and cultural ties to Tibet, such as the Sherpas, migrated into the high mountain regions. They herded sheep and cultivated high mountain crops. Like Tibetans, they spoke Tibeto-Burman languages and practised Buddhism and in some cases Bonpo, a type of pre-Buddhist Tibetan animism. In Nepal today, about 3% of the population are Muslim. They first arrived in Kathmandu around 1500. They came primarily from Kashmir and were traders in woollen goods and glass bangles. The largest group of Muslims migrated into Nepal after the Sepoy mutiny (1857–1859) in British India. In the western Terai, they are farmers and usually speak Urdu. Those who live in the towns and cities of Nepal, as traders and shop keepers, usually speak Nepali as their mother tongue. The language of religion is of course Arabic. As this discussion suggests, Nepal has been a multicultural and multilingual country for most of its history. Although the various Tibeto-Burman speaking groups have strong and viable local cultures and identities, for most of Nepal’s history the Indo-Aryan speaking people have dominated the broader political domains. Early kingdoms and city-states The early history of Nepal is strewn with an array of changing kings and kingdoms. Several states both in the midlands and the Terai arose, flourished and faded. Two of the most important were the Licchavi and Malla dynasties. The Licchavi period, often described as the golden age of Nepal, lasted from about AD 200 to 879. The Licchavis were apparently high-caste Hindus forced from their kingdom in northern India. After moving into Nepal, they united much of the area and established the Licchavi Kingdom. Literature flourished during the Licchavi period; most of the writings were in Sanskrit using Gupta script. Most of the Hindu Licchavi kings were tolerant of Buddhism and maintained the major Buddhist sites. The Mallas were another Indian Kshatriya (Chhetri in Nepali) warrior caste with a kingdom in India dating back before the time of the Buddha. They dominated Nepal from AD 1200 to 1768. This period is marked by a florescence of art, literature, construction and architecture. During this period books were written in Sanskrit and Newari, and according to Tharpa (1990: 45) some still exist in the government library. Sanskrit was used for religious texts and court poetry. Although the Mallas claimed Indo-Aryan ancestry, Yadav (1990: 175) states that


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the language of the Malla courts was Newari, the Tibeto-Burman language of the local residents of Kathmandu Valley. Perhaps the most significant contribution of the Mallas was the codification of new religious and social laws that restructured Nepalese society along a strict, orthodox Hindu configuration. At this time, even many of the Buddhist groups adopted at least an incipient caste system. Towards the end of the Malla period, feuds and instability fragmented the country again. Nepal was divided into a large number of feudal city-states and there was little unity in the region. One problem, which relates even to the present historical period, is determining the origins of the various ruling kings of Nepal. One theory, which has just been discussed, asserts that they were high-caste kings and warriors from India who conquered and ruled the local population. Another theory (Bista, 1994: 19) suggests that these early kings were indigenous Nepalese who justified their right to rule by adopting Hindu caste privilege. Bista refers to their ‘borrowed pedigrees’ and their ‘alleged’ Indian background. Both theories appear in the literature. This issue is relevant to the Licchavi and Malla dynasties as well as to the Shah/Rana rulers of modern Nepal.

Traditional Languages of Nepal
Statistics on the number of languages spoken in Nepal are inconsistent. Official government census data are also variable. The 1952/54 census recorded 36 separate languages, whereas the 1981 census listed only 18. These languages are divided into 11 or 12 major languages spoken by over 1% of the population and a large number of minority languages spoken by less than 1% of the people. The principal languages of Nepal (Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tamang, Abadhi, Tharu, Newari and other) by ecological zone for the 1952 and 1981 census data are listed in Figure 1. Other scholars claim that there are about 70 mutually unintelligible languages in Nepal. Table 1 lists what Malla (1989: 449) refers to as some of the better-known languages, together with government census data for those 2 languages that were recorded in the 1952/54, 1961, 1971 and 1981 censuses. Language families and race On the basis of Table 1, a number of generalisations may be made. Four language families can be found in Nepal: (1) (2) (3) (4) Dravidian; Austroasiatic; Sino-Tibetan (Tibeto-Burman branch); Indo Aryan.

Both of the first two language groups are small in number and, according to Bista (1987: 146/138 respectively), these groups migrated into the Terai region of Nepal from India in fairly recent times. With regard to the two predominant language families in Nepal, the number of Tibeto-Burman languages (36) is considerably larger than the number of Indo-European languages (14). In the 1981 census, however, there were slightly less than two million Tibeto-Burman speakers and over twelve million

1991: 97) .The Language Situation in Nepal 277 Figure 1 Map of principal languages of Nepali (1952 and 1981 census) by ecological zone (adapted from Sill & Kirkby.

Chantel 5. Routya 29.745 3.132 17.307 10.186 – – 157.511 273. Byansi 4.705 254. Surel 32. Bhujel 2. Meche 23. Kham 15.778 – – – – – – – 1. Kaike 14.240 – 233 1961 – 10. Bramu/Bhramu 3.628 – – 448. Magar* 21.979 – – 232.749 801 – 84.234 212. Tibetan 36.278 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development Table 1 Languages of Nepal and available census data Languages Dravidian Languages None Listed Austroasiatic Languages Santhal/Satar Sino-Tibetan Languages 1. Kusunda 17.675 – 938 377.333 – – 73.134 9. Lepcha/Rong 18.383 – – 454.049 1.786 – 14.380 – 555.416 – – – – . – – – – – – – – 174.193 – – – – – – – – 171. Raji 28. Dolpali 8. Lhomi 19.464 – – – – – – – – – 129.272 – 138. Vayu/Hayu 1952/54 – – – – 1.746 – – 221. Khambu 16.264 – – – 20.780 – 523 383.216 5.609 – – – – – – – – – 170.645 – – – – 9.247 8.671 – – 162.362 – 518. Gurung* 10.650 – 522.882 4. Dhimal 7. Pahari 26.056 – – – – 1981 – 5. Limbu* 20. Jangali 11.046 – – 1971 – 3.192 – – – – – – – – – 145.229 13.727 – 3. Jirel 12. Thakali 34. Newari* 24.514 – 70. Tamang* 33.299 – 494.589 10. Sunuwar 31.002 239.804. Kagate 13. Managba 22. Rai-Kirat* 27. Nishangba 25.184 – 864 236. Dura 9. Chepang 6. Sherpa 30. Thami 35.787 288.

Tamang and Sherpa remained relatively the same across the census periods.343 1. one can only speculate that since these are languages are closely related to Nepali.645 2.594 32. the original Tibeto-Burman language of the Kathmandu Valley. Bote 4. Pahari. while Avadhi speakers show a sharp decline.124 495. Tharu* 14. Speakers of Newari.181 300. Hindi 8.969. For other large language groups such as Hindi and Urdu. Chauraute 5.The Language Situation in Nepal 279 Table 1 (cont. which were not recorded in the last two censuses. Vayu/Hayu.668.408 1971 316.805 – – – – – 1. amounting to less than 10. but the other two languages are spoken primarily in the Terai region.716 4.543 359. today appear to be Mongoloid or .881 – 10.242 – – 6. Rai-Kirat. Bhojpuri and Maithili speakers significantly increased in number. Meche.060.263.686.045 1981 234.729 4.528 55. increased in number by 15%. the Buansi. Majhi and Marvari). they were included in the Nepali count. and the number of Nepali speakers more than doubled from about four million in the 1952/54 census to nearly nine million in the 1981 census. Darai 7.357 – – 11. making the Indo-Aryan language group the largest in Nepal. who were Indo-Aryan Nepali speakers. Tharu.480 – – – – – 1. Gurung. With regard to the other mountain dwelling people who speak Tibeto-Burman languages.g.361 59.355 649 – 9. their numbers in the first census were low.796.244 4.) Languages Indo-European Languages 1. Raji.013.803 406. Maithili* 9.142. this distinction is no longer clear cut.758 55.960 557. – indicates that the number of speakers of these languages was unrecorded. Dhimal. Several language groups that were recorded in the original first or second census went unrecorded in the later census. Rajvamsi 13.685 – 14.567 35.000.545 6.624 1. Majhi 10. Nepali has spread throughout Nepal.767. Another Indo-European language group from the Terai.768 5. Bote.084 80.230.854 6. Indo-European speakers. Bhojpuri* 3.364 1961 447. shows a modest increase in number. Table 1 also shows a dramatic increase in the number speakers of some Indo-European language groups. Thakali. Limbu has an erratic pattern and Magar and Sunuwar speakers have both declined in number. Avadhi* 2. Nepali* 12.383 545. The original Gorkha rulers. Marvari 11.271 *These languages are classified as the major languages of Nepal.130. Although originally there may have been a relationship between race and language families.138 3.950 806. In most cases (e.650 9.308 – – 8. Urdu Totals 1952/54 – 16.867 1.907 2. Lepcha/Rong. Danuwar 6.401 5.327.

280 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development mixed race people. With a new emphasis on Nepali as the national language. both from the hills and from India. Census data reliability The census data in Table 1 suggest that there have been several rather surprising changes in language demography over the last 50 years. the very large jump in recorded Nepali speakers seems too great to be accounted for only by population growth or language shift. Such an omission seems unlikely unless the criteria for determining language classifications were altered in the later census questionnaires. was not a spoken language and its impact on the local population was limited to priestly rituals. The census.230. Malla (1989: 446) writes: With the arrival of the Licchavis around the early centuries AD. the large number of Hindi and Urdu speakers recorded in 1952–54 and 1961 went unrecorded in 1971 and 1981. The earliest form of Hinduism in Nepal is associated with Shiva (Pashupath in Nepal). and for many Nepalese people. even today. The 1962 constitution defined Nepal as an ‘independent.271 in 1981. indivisible and sovereign monarchical Hindu state’ (Burghart. People have migrated into the Terai. and various forms of writing were in Sanskrit in Gupta script. have existed in Nepal for well over 2000 years with each claiming precedence. Over the centuries. For example. 5% are Buddhist and 3% are Muslim. may also involve politically-motivated manipulation of the religious data. although they speak an Indo-Aryan language and their culture is Hindu-based. Sanskrit. In the Terai. Hinduism (Shiva sect) and Buddhism. the Nepalese king is still believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu (Sharma. an increase of 47%. Similarly. the two religions have mingled and a synthesised form has been practised by many Nepalese people. At the same time. today they include both Indo-Aryan and mixed race people. This golden-roofed temple complex is. The 1981 census claims that 89% of the people are Hindu. altering the demographic picture and the attendant language statistics.364 in 1952–54 to 14. The early Licchavi kings built the Temple of Pashupatinath next to Kathmandu. The population of the country has been increasing at a rapid rate. inscriptions. Two world religions. although the Newari speakers were originally Mongoloid. Malla (1989: 448) questions the scientific accuracy of the censuses and recommends that they be used with scepticism and caution. language loss may have occurred in some areas. Jains. as the language of the Hindu scriptures. as previously noted with regard to languages. 1994: 5).686. Early Hindu scriptures. and Yadav (1990: 41) suggests that there may have been some politically-motivated manipulation of the language data. No doubt there are valid reasons for some of these variations. and it is likely that the Buddhist percentage has been somewhat under-recorded. Sikhs and Christians make up the remaining 3%. The number of people tabulated went from 6. Sanskrit was encouraged and patronised as the language of epigraphy. Early Religions and Related Language in Nepal Religion is an integral part of the daily lives of most Nepalis. As against . a major pilgrimage site. the Tharu are classified as Mongoloid. However. 1989: 333).

Buddhist structures and monuments are found throughout Nepal. but by the time of the Malla kings. they were never literate. The very remoteness of this language from the speech of the common man presented itself as the voice of authority requiring the services of the initiated mediator (dutaka) for interpreting the edicts. Religious tolerance and diversity has a long history in Nepal. literacy became the preserved function of the priesthood and Sanskrit was the language of both religions in Nepal. Sanskrit. Each religion operates in a separate domain and there is little or no conflict between them. but it also changed the nature of familial relationships. The high mountain Tibeto-Burman people. various forms of Shamanism were and are practised throughout Nepal by all but the highest caste Hindus. The language of this change was not the language of religion. Shamanistic religious rituals are conducted in the local vernacular and the practitioners are usually non-literate. Despite this religious tolerance. particularly in regard to regulations of caste. and the economic structure’ (cited in Kaplan & Baldauf. marriage patterns. 1997: 228). they sanctified Sanskrit in all rituals and localised literacy as a priestly occupation. the Gorkhas effectively enforced on the local populations the Hindu belief in the divine origin of the caste system. use Tibetan script in Buddhist writings. affecting the economic system. Steadily. The Shamanistic practices exist side-by-side with both Buddhism and Hinduism. but Nepali (Gorkhali). including . The language of early Buddhism was Sanskrit. Buddhist manuscripts and inscriptions were also written in Newari. Ancient Nepalese manuscripts belonging to the 9th and 10th centuries are … [in] Sanskrit. and privilege. the Hinduisation of much of Nepal has had comparable ramifications. While the general populace was influenced by rituals in Sanskrit. such as the Sherpas. who have close cultural and linguistic ties to Tibet. In addition to these two major religions. As the priesthood built a stronghold in society in the first millennium AD. This is evident from the fact that all the extant ancient sacred texts of both Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism found in Nepal are in Sanskrit. Over a period of several hundred years. the social hierarchy. status. Buddhism spread to Nepal during or shortly after the lifetime of Gautama Buddha about 2500 years ago. Through military conquest and legislation. and native Shaman curers are often the only alternative for many rural Nepalese who may have no access to Western-trained medical doctors. and inheritance rights.The Language Situation in Nepal 281 the local vernaculars it was probably the symbol of the ruling and cultural elite. the family structure. while Shamanism associated with Hinduism is more allied with divination and fortune telling. Most of the Tibeto-Burman speakers practise a kind of ecstatic Shamanism. This limited the impact of the religious language on the common people. the general belief that Hinduism is the most prestigious and important religion of the area is widespread. Masagara’s (1991) study of the impact of French Christianity on Rwanda society concludes that religion ‘not only changed the language structure. Both forms involve faith healing and curing. as well as the social organisation tied to caste and privilege. the Indo-European vernacular language of the Gorkha king and his armies.

Animistic and Shamanistic religions and societies were egalitarian. Their impact on Nepal in terms of religion. occupying whatever land was available or could be claimed. a large number of high-caste Hindus fled from India into Nepal. while not exactly untouchables. these new immigrants emphasised caste rankings and actively spread their belief system throughout Nepal. during the late Malla period. This Hinduisation or Sanskritisation of Nepal remains a major political controversy in this newly emerging democracy today. According to Vir. Buddhism. Tibeto-Burman speakers) were ranked in the middle castes. Their identity was determined by their relatively uniform caste system. religion. rejected the concept of fixed castes. 1989: 46). requiring a high proficiency in Sanskrit. Tibeto-Burman speakers. After being driven out of Peking and Lhasa. originally only for the monks. and language appears to be minimal. The Indo-Aryan Hindu people first settled in western Nepal. tend to live in geographically circumscribed rural areas and constitute distinct. Vir states that while some missionaries translated Hindu manuscripts into English. Traditional Education in Early Nepal During the early years in Nepal. According to Vir (1988: 29). may have recognised and practised the Hindu caste system. they settled in Patan in the Kathmandu Valley (Kansakar. but gradually spread across the hill and valley regions. Ethnic or tribal people (most of them Mongoloid. It had few ramifications for the common people or the tribal groups in Nepal.282 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development the vertical and fatalistic social structure that it perpetuates. this hierarchical classification was accepted only by the elite in the ruling courts. tribal-like cultures. such as the Licchavis. In Nepal the occupation castes. After the Muslim invasions of India. these two distinct systems of education continued in Nepal until the end of the 12th century. two systems of education existed associated with the two major religions. The Shiva-worshipping and animistic Aryan Khas were also non-caste Hindus. Instruction in both traditions was generally classical and formal rather than practical. other missionaries from Italy destroyed thousands of Hindu manuscripts. In 1745. offending . when it followed the original teachings. A review of the caste system and social hierarchy in Nepal illustrates how this was brought about. rather than by a specific geographic location or a tribal identity. Caste. the first Christian Capuchin missionaries entered Nepal. and language. Social Hierarchy and Language in Early Nepal Caste distinctions were not a marked part of the early cultures of Nepal. Although the early kings. the Hindu influence on education became increasingly important. The Buddhist gompas or monasteries. The majority of them owned and cultivated land. education. The spread of this fixed system of caste relegated the Tibeto-Burman speakers to an inferior caste and effectively eliminated them from high-ranking positions. To establish their distinct identity and to defend their cultural traditions. were at the bottom of the caste system. The Sanskrit system of education was based mainly on Hindu classical scriptures. By the 13th century. even now. were later opened to all people. the Sanskrit schools were single-teacher schools and only the highest caste Hindus were educated.

the Malla kingdom of Kathmandu Valley had fragmented into several kingdom states. by 1789 annexing land as far as Sikkim. They made an agreement with the government to recruit Nepalese soldiers to help maintain and extend British rule in India. and Nepal maintained unity over this expansive nation until the Anglo-Nepal War in 1814. languages. They were expelled from Nepal by the Gorkhas and the nation was closed to all foreigners from that time until 1951. including the British-Gurkha regiments. Prithvi Narayan. and religions in Nepal has been a critical factor influencing the nationalisation and modernisation of this developing nation. and Gurung soldiers. Most of them spoke a Tibeto-Burman language. The capital was established in Kathmandu from which the Gorkha kings ruled the nation. The impact of British India on Nepal Although Nepal always remained an independent nation. In the early 18th century. united the disparate western kingdoms and created a powerful army that included Khas. The Gorkha armies proceeded eastward. The great diversity of people. The army marched east and. the British declared war on Nepal and the Nepalese army was defeated. not Nepali. but they were never able to subdue the whole of Nepal. the Gurkhas entered into the Kathmandu Valley and expelled them from Nepal with their converts. The modern era in Nepal began in 1768 when the invading Gorkha army conquered the Malla kings in Kathmandu Valley. were suspected of covertly supporting the British. other kingdoms and empires had existed concurrently with the Mallas. Magar. Gorkha and Nepal. The Gorkha Era (1869–1951) The end of the medieval period in Nepal By the 18th century. Kansakar (1989: 46) states that ‘before they could make any great progress in conversion. At the same time. Even the . the Shah-king of the Khas state of Gorkha. 1989: 101). it was nonetheless strongly influenced by the British Raj in the 18th and 19th centuries. who had entered and established missions in Nepal under the Malla kings. but Nepali became the lingua franca of the whole Nepalese army. Gorkhali. defeated the remaining states of the Malla kingdom (Stiller. The two countries. in the western part of Nepal. now called Nepali. mostly Newars’. The language of the Gorkha kings was the Indo-Aryan language. The Roman Catholic missionaries. as a first language.The Language Situation in Nepal 283 the Hindu kings (Vir 1988: 31). were thus united creating the present-day nation of Nepal. from the earliest times until the present. In 1814. Most of the Gurkha regiments. they were not from the high-caste ruling elite. Generally. the British soldiers were impressed by the extraordinary bravery of the Nepalese soldiers. cultures. came from the hill and mountain regions of Nepal and were Mongoloid or mixed-race people. Although Nepal lost the battle. Thus the famous Gurkha regiments in the British and Indian army were begun with the first recruitment organised in 1815. One factor credited to the Gorkhas was that they were able to create a united and secure Nepal in the face of the continuing encroachment of the British into the area. The British claimed the Terai and parts of eastern Nepal. in 1769.

In 1950. Later. by definition. Teachers were brought from England or India and classes were taught in English. and the country remained a feudal state controlled by the Ranas. primarily for graduates of Durbar High School. during the Rana era. Jung Bahadur Rana set up a school in the palace for the children of close family members. being classified as low-caste or untouchable. English and a Western-style education were not only a privilege of the elite.284 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development British officers in the Gurkha regiments were required to learn Nepali (Farwell. as well as maintain his position as ruler of Nepal. but a factor in reinforcing their despotic rule. it … was kept under the worst form of isolation. From this time. the school was moved to present-day Durbar High School in Kathmandu. Prime Minister Rana took an unprecedented trip to England in 1850. As a reward. a Western-style education was. (Bista. education was primarily the domain of the religious leaders. was set up in Kathmandu. intrigues. Trichandra College. were not allowed to attend any Nepali schools. and by the 1940s Muslims were allowed to attend secondary schools and later college. Although Nepal did not have a colonial background. In 1885. Jung Bahadur Rana took over the government as the Prime Minister of Nepal. Bista adds that towards the end of the Rana period. an education in English. Higher education was pursued in India. Few people other than the priests and royalty were literate. Education for the elite Before the Rana regime. Their only interest was the collection of revenue and the maintenance of law and order. a series of palace plots. Western curriculum college. the Gurkha regiments helped the British suppress the Sepoy mutiny in India. at the end of the Rana regime. and · teach English and provide a Western-style education to his children and close family members. usually at the English-medium convent schools. the Terai was returned to Nepal and the current borders of the nation were established. Muslims.500 students enrolled in primary schools (less than 1% of the population) and there were 332 . schools teaching in Hindi existed in the Terai and a school in Nepali was established to train high-ranking males in clerical skills to meet the needs of the Rana government. the government opened a Muslim primary school. In 1918. Thus. an English-medium. 1987: 152). Skinner and Holland (1996: 276) state that at this time there were 8. After visiting England. although some traditional Urdu schools existed (Bista. 1994: 28) Realising the inevitable fact that he must in some way deal with the British. and a massacre resulted in a successful coup d’état in which the royal family was overthrown. the literacy rate in Nepal was 2%. 1985: 118). but education was still the prerogative of the affluent and the ruling elite. In 1857. On his return he set up two specific goals: · remodel the Nepalese army along British lines. backwardness and economic exploitation. The Rana oligarchy In 1847.

Other journals were published in Nepali in Banares and Darjeeling. Nepali had been the language of trade and the military. Also. and in 1931 A Comparative and Etymological Dictionary of the Nepalese Language was published by Ralph Turner. after enlistment. 1989: 429). Most of the schools they attended were English-medium schools and colleges. and the Prime Minister declared that documents written in languages other than Nepali were not legal in the courts. 1920 and 1949. This. Because British officers in the Gurkha regiments had to learn Nepali. the Gorkha Language Publication Committee was established in Nepal and made responsible for the publication of books in Nepali.The Language Situation in Nepal 285 primary and secondary schools in the country. Fluency in English was a requirement for any Gurkha officer. Writing and publishing during the Gorkha period Prior to the Gorkha period most writing was in Sanskrit. . In 1913. the cities. An English-Nepali version of the Concise Oxford Dictionary was printed in 1936 and the first monolingual Nepali dictionary was published as late as 1951. With the spread of Nepali as the lingua franca. in the 18th century. some poets wrote poems describing individuals. Nepali was made the official language of law and government. Thus some standardisation of Nepali. The earliest publications in Nepali were printed by Nepali students studying in Banares (Subedi. A. and the heroism of the soldiers. By 1896. a press was set up in Kathmandu and the first Nepali magazine and newspaper were published. India. The Gurkhas and their children were thus the first commoners to speak English in Nepal. The students in the Rana era schools were almost exclusively high-caste males and education for the masses was discouraged or even forbidden by the Ranas as being potentially subversive. by the British in both Nepali and English. Ayton published the first grammar of Nepali. In 1920. The earliest poems and writings extolled the virtues of the king. Malla (1989: 458) lists several publications on the Nepali language. Some choose to live abroad or to set up residences and businesses in the Kathmandu Valley. Dictionaries written by Nepali scholars were published in 1912. In this century this has included eight weeks of English language education. Children of the soldiers were often educated abroad in places such as England. by both British and Nepalese scholars. The Gurkha soldiers and education The Gurkha regiments were educated. poets and writers began to write in the Nepali language. Many of them became headmen or opened schools for the local children in their native villages. along with a degree of relative affluence based on their retirement pensions. has elevated the social rank of returning soldiers and their families. the first dictionaries in Nepali and the earliest linguistic studies of Nepali were written by British scholars. Prior to this time. the expansion of the Gorkha kingdom. Their modest pensions make possible the purchase of land and housing. The Sanskrit epics were also popularised in Nepali and a travelogue of Jung Bahadur Rana’s trip to England was written anonymously. had begun before the end of the Rana era. and the lives of the common people.J. or Hong Kong. In 1905. Their unique 3 position has been a factor in affecting the status of English in Nepal.

After assuming absolute power. and the ensuing panic led to the take-over of the government by the king. (1994: 8) attribute illiteracy and lack of political awareness of the masses to the increasing consolidation of power in the royal family. as well as soldiers returning from Europe after the First World War. the Nepali Congress won a majority. locked up thousands of party workers in jails and suspended the fundamental rights of the people’ (Borre et al. Subedi (1989: 430) states that young people being educated abroad. arrested the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues.. Burma. leaving many people landless. After King Tribhuvan died in 1954. 1994: 10). became increasingly more powerful. After the elections were finally held in 1959. Nepali also spread beyond the national boundaries. there was a significant movement towards decolonisation and independence throughout the Third World. the figurehead king regained power. their language. With the help of government officials. and Nepal was affected by these world events. Nepal entered a period of political instability and unrest. Bhutan. leader of the Nepali Congress Party. Educated Nepalese living in India organised anti-Rana political parties and B. imposed a ban on political parties. the King ‘dissolved parliament. and the landed aristocracy. five different cabinets were formed and political instability continued. Borre et al. P. they played an important role in establishing and working on the newly developing tea plantations. China had become a communist country. a compromise government was established creating a coalition between the Rana family. and the leaders of the Nepali Congress Party. The King . Koirala. In the British hill areas of Darjeeling. In this way. wrote in Nepali about change. reactionary forces opposed the reforms of the elected government. representative government. and by 1949. King Mahendra stated that the parliamentary system was not suitable for Nepal and was not effective in bringing about the necessary modernisation and nationalisation of the country.286 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development By the early 1900s. the Shah-king. European influences on Nepali writing increased. Education and Language Planning Following the reforms of 1950. they increased their holdings by forcing farmers off the land. Many of the dispossessed fled to Assam. Rivals of the Ranas within the family were banished to the provinces with land grants and governorships. The end of the Rana regime Repression continued to be the hallmark of the Rana regime. a major revolution was averted. and the adoption of new policies in education and language planning. Within five years. In 1951. the increasing power of the landowners increased the poverty and exploitation inside Nepal. civil rights. who supported the Rana rulers in the kingdom. and Darjeeling. After World War II. However. The Modern Period: Politics. Thus Nepal began its first steps towards democracy. the political power of the Ranas was reduced. As they migrated out of Nepal. led an armed revolution in Nepal in 1950. However. and even revolution. innovations. In 1947. India gained its independence. and the people were allowed some measure of political participation. his son King Mahendra agreed to hold parliamentary elections.

were concerned about the possibility of a Chinese communist takeover of Nepal. In the Nepalese case. developing a sense of nationhood and national unity became a priority for the central government. it also implemented a number of changes relevant to education and language planning. associated with efforts to consolidate national unity. a nationalisation policy was stressed by the central government of Nepal with the support of a number of countries. The slogan of this policy was ‘one nation. in France. Educational policies and changes. the tribal groups which traditionally make up the army. is consistent with this belief. the concept of Nepal as a nation was not universal. education and literacy were given a high priority. The idea or myth that a national language was essential to national unity has pervaded language planning activities everywhere during much of the post-World War II period.The Language Situation in Nepal 287 then implemented the concept of a partyless Panchayet democracy. the designation of Nepali as the only official national language. With respect to designating one language as a national language. the people living in and around the capital city. They did not consider themselves to be a part of that political entity. This policy was supported by India. 1950–1990 Educational reforms introduced after 1954 included the creation of a Ministry of Education and the appointment of a Secretary of Education and a Chief Inspector of Schools. Also. primarily in the 18th century. such as the United States. the present King of Nepal. the United States offered technical advice to the government of Nepal. particularly in educational development. the group with the highest level of education. as the nations gradually emerged (Fishman. While the government from 1950 to 1990 was marked by corruption and abuse of civil rights. and the Philippines. which was continued after King Mahendra’s death in 1971 by his son King Birendra. was enforced. along with the Ministry of Education. Kaplan and Baldauf state that the language selected is sometimes assumed to be the one spoken by a majority of people in the nation. As a part of this policy. and chose to maintain and strengthen an identity separate from India. but in reality ‘it is more likely to be a language associated with a power group – e. since India regarded Nepal as a buffer zone between India and China. The ‘one-nation/one-language’ idea originated in Europe. situated between India and China. Many people living outside the central valley defined Nepal as Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Valley (formerly called the Nepal Valley). Emerging nationalism in Nepal Although Nepal was effectively united under the Gorkha kings. As a result. Nepal also feared India.g. one language’. Given the precarious and strategically important position of Nepal. Other countries. the United States. The Nepalese single-language policy. Malla (1989: 456) states that the 1959 and the 1962 Constitutions of Nepal granted the status of national language to Nepali. essential for uniting the country and educating the masses. especially after its annexation of the country of Sikkim. or the group which controls the greatest part of the wealth’ (1997: 16). organised a National Education Planning Commission (NEPC) to report on the educational needs of . for example. At the same time. all of these criteria are relevant. 1972). The American advisors.

it is considerably higher. In 1969. In 1956. only 6. courses in mathematics. The first college of education was founded.000 entered the science colleges and technical schools. Sill and Kirkby (1991: 147) discuss the serious issue of the attrition rate of students in the Nepalese school system. in the remaining private English-medium schools. At this time. at the secondary level. By 1989. 3578 lower secondary schools. while 18. Polytechnical schools were set up. Education was standardised and a national curriculum as well as textbooks in Nepali were designed. The policy was prescribed and enforced. The central government rationale for this decision. making Nepali the language of education in the elementary and high schools.288 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development the country. English was the sole medium of instruction beyond high school.000 in 1971 to 37. 1996: 276). the United States advisers helped organise the first university in Nepal. to a large extent. The National Educational System was implemented from 1971 to 1976. At least half of those who left school did so in the first grade. there were over a million students enrolled in grades one through five (Skinner & Holland. and continues to be. there were 150 university campuses in Nepal with 80. By 1990. Sill and Kirkby add that although the number of graduates who have completed college has increased significantly from about 10. the National Education System Plan was set up by the government with the goal of further expanding education in Nepal for the masses. By 1985. and 1321 secondary schools (Jha. Entrance to the university required high school graduation and passing grades on the School Leaving Examination (SLE).869 primary schools.3 million.000 students being admitted to the universities. the national literacy rate in Nepali was estimated variously at between 29 and 36%. 1989: 78). In major urban centres. While Nepali was the preferred language of instruction at the university level. they still represent only a small fraction of the total school population of 2. The choice of Nepali as the sole national language of Nepal and the sole language to be used in the school system was.8% of the enrolled students successfully completed the secondary school leaving certificate. Tribhuvan University. Schools were nationalised and Nepali was designated as the sole preferred medium of instruction in all of the national schools. highly controversial. and teacher training and Normal Schools were begun. the government began to institute its language planning policy. the number of schools had increased to 11. technology. science. to include local schools in towns and villages. strongly supported by the King and the ruling elite. and the social sciences continued to be taught in English. English was designated as an International Language and was added to the curriculum in the fourth grade. 1994: 123). The United States advisers also stressed the need for the establishment of technical training institutions in Nepal (Bista. only 30% completed grade 5. In 1969. Several Nepalese scholars have tied this high attrition rate to the government language policy that requires the use of Nepali throughout most of the school system. the school system was expanded to some extent. In 1981.330 in 1981. such as Kathmandu. Entrance examinations and the semester calendar were incorporated into the school system and the educational budget was increased. By the late 1980s. They state that of the children enrolled in grade 1 between 1973 and 1979. was based on the fact that Nepali had been the . During the 1950s and 1960s. including a women’s technical school.

the law courts. particularly since there is no Chantyal writing system. all of these Chantyals. The Chantyal people are a small ethnic group living in a relatively inaccessible mountain area of central Nepal. by law. not ethnic identity. Chantyal language speakers use their ethnic language within their family and the village context. goldsmiths. In short. It was the local language that was most spoken. Nepali was already established as the language of the government. Case studies related to the use of Nepali (1) In his study of the Chantyal people of Nepal who traditionally spoke a Tibeto-Burman language. Kaike. and only 20% are Tibeto-Burman. speak Nepali and are bilingual.g. and the police. is in Nepali. Since this situation is likely to continue. Since only a quarter of this ethnic group speak Chantyal. with only a quarter continuing to speak their ethnic language. illustrates both the multilingual abilities of the people of Nepal. The Tarangur. and teachers. For about 50% of the population. Some case studies. particularly of traditional Tibeto-Burman speaking culture groups. then. Also. In conclusion. the more formal the speech. as well as the increasing hegemony of Nepali and the implicit threat to indigenous languages. and financially feasible language to be used as a link language and as the language of wider communication within multilingual Nepal. live in three remote mountain . he predicts the death of the language in the near future. Noonan states that ‘… it is hard to see how the language can survive’ (1996: 135). it is the first language. who live in the mountain region of north-west Nepal. the Chantyal come in daily contact with Nepali speakers such as the blacksmith caste. Ethnic languages in Nepal. even children. the military. have involved a considerable amount of lexical borrowing and his analyses show that 74% of the words are of Nepali origin. 4% of English origin. He states that despite the remoteness of their location. Noonan states that ‘[o]ne’s identity as a Chantyal is not. All writing in the community is necessarily in Nepali. These people are always addressed in Nepali. do seem to suggest that at least some level of fluency in Nepali is widespread.The Language Situation in Nepal 289 lingua franca of the country for at least 150 years. written and used by the 4 people. Changes in the Chantyal language. The government policy stressed the importance of adopting a native Nepalese language (as opposed to Indian Hindi or English) to unify the nation and to establish a strong national identity. Noonan (1996: 121) states that at present all Chantyals speak Nepali. as it is spoken today. police. education is likely to increase this trend. Magar farmers. who speak an unwritten Tibeto-Burman language. Since all schooling. peddlers. in any way related to one’s ability to speak the language’ (1996: 127). trade. Since it is closely related to several other Indo-Aryan languages of Nepal (e. (2) James Fisher’s (1987) study of the Magars of Tarangur. Hindi and Maithili) the government claimed that it was easy for people to learn. and another 20 to 30% of the people are said to be bilingual in Nepali. practical. traders. it appeared to be the most logical. health workers. he adds. Economic success in the national context requires Nepali and English. the more Nepalised it becomes. are in general spoken by the poor and are signs of backwardness and poverty. The decision to speak Nepali is tied to economics and status. However.

and grain from south to north and salt from north to south. He studied the impact of the educational reforms of the central government. the Nepali brought home from the army has been notorious for its simplicity and lacks sophistication. while it may have been comprehensible to students in the Kathmandu Valley. For example. The third grade test. 11. transporting market goods. To be accepted in the regiments. in addition to Kaike. where he did his research. Ragsdale stressed that language was a significant factor in student failure. Thus. strongly Hinduised and still partly tribal’ (1987: 189). speaking only Nepali. and wealth and that the key to these pursuits lies in the hands of the Nepali Hindus and the central government. in what he calls ‘impression management’. often required an abstract understanding of Nepali.290 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development villages situated between the northern Tibetan-speaking. student failure had particular ramifications for the military Gurung. 1987: 21). they are able to adjust their behaviour. Many Gurung men were recruited into the Gurkha regiments in India and Britain. He concludes that the motivating factors of Tarangpur life are power.620 or 70% are Gurung. of the Gurkha veterans who collect their pensions in the town of Pokara. and even names to operate successfully in these two cultural traditions. He states that there is no comparable pull from the north or from the Bhotia culture. According to Collett (1994: 100). along with the national exams. In his study. most of the Gurkha recruits now are educated to Grade 9 and 10. status. Thus. (4) Another study of the Gurung by Ragsdale (1989) presents a somewhat different picture. Ragsdale (1989) attributed the failure to Nepal’s elitist system of education. Fisher adds that the Tarangpurians not only speak these two languages but. a large community of Tibeto-Burman speaking mountain people scattered through much of the central hill region of Nepal. they speak Gurung as well as Nepali. religion. … Further. failed the new third grade examination administered in 1974. The Tarangur are farmers and middlemen traders between these two distinct groups. which showed little regard for its suitability to the country’s needs. As middlemen. Fisher has described in detail ‘the present cultural heterogeneity of Tarangpur – a society which is nominally Buddhist. was sometimes outside the experience and vocabulary of the Gurung students. Regmi adds that the contemporary Gurung language has no script and no literature. Nepali spoken . Outside the classroom it dominates the play-ground. (3) In a study of the Gurungs. … Gurung remains the language of kinship and home life. Regmi (1990: 61) states that all native Gurung are bilinguals. commodities. all adults speak two other languages – Nepali and Tibetan (Fisher. centrally prepared by high-caste Hindus and Newars. on Gurung students. The culture content of the test. All the children in Lamasa village. he predicts the further Nepalisation of Tarangpur. He writes: Gurungs have proved highly adaptable in learning to speak Nepali and through the auspices of the army have achieved a relatively high rate of literacy in the national language. But all eastern Gurungs of Ramjatar are monolinguals. Buddhist Bhotia and the Nepali-speaking Hindus to the south. literacy and a pass in the primary level exams was essential.

those who were in the most educated category. Summary of Nepali bilingualism Malla (1989) points out that there are no sound and reliable studies on the incidence of bilingualism in Nepal. The level of fluency is highly variable and may often best be defined as partial bilingualism. Magar. 1989: 149) He goes on to say that the proctor who explained the examination procedures spoke in a highly Sanskritised fashion which the Gurung children had trouble understanding. Nepali is used in specific domains and for specific purposes. while it refers to the Nepali understood and spoken by the Gurung. Malla (1989: 452) writes that: According to the 1952/54 Census Report. In conclusion.9% did so in the Eastern and Western Terai. is no doubt representative of other Tibeto-Burman speakers. Since many bilingual people are not literate. Nepali is used as a second language by 13. given the high degree of competition for civil servant and academic jobs in Nepal. Only 12% of the population surveyed. in part. and needs of the ethnic minorities. he wrote. (Ragsdale. even if this was done unconsciously. ‘those who are uneducated and illiterate are nowhere near as proficient in Nepali as those who are educated and literate’ (1994: 45). Ragsdale suggests that. His study included participants from different ethnic groups including Gurung. different speakers have varying abilities to speak and understand Nepali depending on factors such as education. The later census reports do not give any figures relating to bilingualism. amount of travel. their children are not able to compete with native Nepali speakers in educated Nepali. The results of his survey call into question the popularly held belief in Nepal that everyone speaks Nepali.3% of the total population of Nepal. for the recent increase in attendance at English-medium boarding schools. Some 19% of the population in the Hills and the Inner Terai used Nepali as a second language. it is possible that the tests were designed to benefit urban Newar and Indo-Nepalese students. . He pointed out that while there is some level of Nepali proficiency in every village in Nepal. This example. whereas only 2. village location. and Ghale/Bhotia. Gurung parents were angry about the test results and this may account. many of whom are illiterate and use only spoken Nepali. experience. … The Gurung students in 1974 did not completely understand the instructions of the proctors or of the test itself. were proficient enough in Nepali to handle complex language material.The Language Situation in Nepal 291 in Gurung villages lacks the infusion of Sanskrit terms or complex constructions that mark educated speech. (5) Webster (1994) conducted a study/survey on Nepali proficiency in rural Nepal using the Nepali Sentence Repetition Test. Thakali. and gender. It illustrates how the nationally prescribed curriculum and examination system favours native Nepali speakers and the urban elite and does not take into account the cultures.

However. others such as the Sherpa and the Limbus have a rich oral and literate tradition. As such it was defined as subversive to the goals of nationalism and the national government. has a weaker hold on the people there. Standardisation for purposes of science and technology involves a classic language planning dilemma. industrialising. In terms of science and technology. and the national language were seen as particularly critical in this part of the country. Even literature. national identity. With regard to the Tibeto-Burman speakers. The ties between India and the people of the Terai are close. But the resettlement and land distribution policies of His Majesty’s government have both encouraged hill settlers in these areas. Consequently. Although once in a while a few cultural patriots among these speech communities have published sundry items on their cultures and language. Some people fear that the national language policy is not so much a means to promote national unity as a tool of cultural dominance for the ruling elite. This tendency is most pronounced in the western hills among the Gurungs. Students are forced to learn in a language that is inadequate to meet the needs of a modernising. After the eradication of the malarial mosquito. internationally-oriented nation. . Bhojpuri. For these reasons. situated comparatively far away in Kathmandu. who had no say in the decision. Consequently. Nepali has not been adequately standardised or modernised. he concludes that: … their links with their traditions and past have become weaker day by day. oppressive. and the central government. academic texts. Requiring Nepali throughout the system of education accounts in part for the high attrition rate of children whose first language is not Nepali. Malla points out that while many of them have no writing or literacy tradition. Opposition to Nepali Those who oppose Nepali as the sole medium of instruction and the only national language stress that it is the language of a long-time repressive government. Also. Awadhi and Tharu-speaking areas in the past. and resource materials in Nepali are severely limited. standardisation is an expensive. so it was discouraged. the Terai has become the most important agricultural area of Nepal as well as the major industrial region of the country. it re-enforces a stifling. Since it is the language of the ruling castes. the usual tendency among them is to adopt Nepali and become bilinguals. the strengthening of Nepalese nationalism. a number of minority languages in Nepal. Nepali was imposed on minority people. and fatalistic caste system. The problems of standardisation and elaboration of languages has been considered in detail by Haugen (1983: 275). As Kaplan and Baldauf (1997: 31–33) point out. particularly those spoken by less than 1% of the population. (1989: 453) Malla also suggests that any attempt at language loyalty or revival was often interpreted as communalism or tribalism. there has been a greater incidence of bilingualism and weakening of linguistic homogeneity of these regions. may be said to be dying.292 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development The lowland Terai had been the Maithili. This last point is significant since in the past the medium of education in the Terai was Hindi. the Magars and the Thakalis.

‘Save Hindi’ committees were formed in several towns proposing a more liberal policy towards languages. literature and languages through the Royal Nepal Academy and other government sponsored corporations. A conference held by the last group approved: a ten point resolution demanding equal ‘constitutional status’. parliamentary government in 1990. and the State should not interfere in order to promote any single language. Movements for First Language Education and Revitalisation The political turmoil of the 1980sin Nepal included a demand for the language rights of non-Nepali speakers. (3) A contact language will emerge on its own. In particular. information and publicity. it should not be elevated to the position of sole national language. a language movement was begun in the Terai that opposed the government language planning policy. not unity. cultures. has had to fill this gap. the Maithili Sahitya Parisad. When a government is unwilling or unable to undertake such a process. politicians. Protests and strikes against making Nepali the compulsory medium of instruction were held. The demand for first language education was a part of the people’s demands during the riots and protests of the late 1980s. which led to the end of the Panchayat government and to the beginning of a multi-party. it compels one indigenous language to serve the purpose of national unity at the expense of modernisation and development. (2) No language should be given the privileged status of national language at the cost of other languages. especially at the tertiary level. Organised groups in support of first language policies include the Mother Tongue Council. the national government issued a ban on all . the leftist writers. non-discrimination of non-Nepali language. imposing an additional language burden on the students. MAs for public service. democratic. and the Nepalabhasa Manka Khala. (Malla. right to educate in mother tongue. Several organisations and journals were founded to express this opinion and to state the resentment of these people towards the national government’s language policy. the All Nationalities Forum for Equal Rights. By the 1980s and 1990s. representation of all languages in the media. the Tamang Service Trust. intellectuals. Malla (1989: 462) says that three main ideas have emerged from this movement: (1) All languages are equal. the Nepal Langbali Family. by necessity. The new left-wing political parties emphasised that equality. English. Other scholars have suggested that while Nepali may be designated as a contact language. Nepali and central government language planning policies became highly political and controversial issues. and resource-intensive process. 1989: 463) In reference to early language movements in the Terai region.The Language Situation in Nepal 293 time-consuming. In Nepal. However. and the protection of all scripts. was the most important value to be considered. and journalists argued for equal language rights. Yadav (1990) states that in the 1950s.

while the school curriculum. This marginalisation has been a motivating factor behind the push for L1 education. He states that this has grave implications for non-Nepali speaking children in Nepal who are able to communicate and understand only the restricted code. 5 and culture of a speech community in Nepal. 36 of them subsidised by N. They cannot express themselves adequately in it. and that one Newari school is on the outskirts of the city and has apart from nursery classes. there has been an increase in pressure. textbooks. and instruction make extensive use of the elaborate code. from a small elitist group. 1990 The constitution of Nepal in 1990 guaranteed the fundamental right of the individual to receive primary education in his/her first language. Yadav describes the case of the Tharus. most Newars who can afford it send their children to English-medium schools. It also guaranteed the fundamental right to preserve and foster the growth of language. a noted Newar linguist told me in an interview that he was doubtful that this Newari experiment would succeed. Although these new policies may have resulted in a new awareness and appreciation of local languages and cultures. This opinion agrees with the findings of Ragsdale (1989) in reference to the Gurung. It has 123 pupils in total. fully dedicated to the ideal of education in the first language. only two primary school classes. They hardly understand anything taught in Nepali. one Magar school in Pokhara and one Newari school in Kathmandu. 1994: 46) They add that the Newari school has an impressive executive committee. (1992: 180) Following distinctions made by Robins and Uhlenbeck (1991). Shrestha and van den Hoek (1994: 46) state that in 1994 only two L1 medium schools existed in Nepal. Japanese foster parents! (Shrestha & van den Hoek. They add: Only one Newari school for the whole valley. . Yadav goes on to distinguish between ‘elaborate’ and ‘restricted’ codes. The compulsion of learning through Nepali retards their educational growth. according to Toba (1992) nothing has been done to implement these policies. Yadav concludes that the people of the Terai feel discriminated against and have been deprived of a role in the mainstream of national life. The new language policy. Nepali as the medium of instruction obstructs learning. In fact. Following this constitutional change. He quotes a report by the Research Centre for Educational Innovation and Development (CERID) which concludes that: … the greatest problem faced by [Tharu] children in their school is the problem of communication.294 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development forms of protest and the movement died out.B. script. As an example of the need for first language education. which is flourishing with so-called English Boarding Schools? Yes. who are defined as educationally disadvantaged. However. the National Education Commission Report in 1992 recognised the need for clear-cut policy and planning to influence primary education through the medium of the first language. Instead. to make Sanskrit a compulsory subject in the school curriculum. a large group of Indo-Aryan speakers in the Terai.

Toba (1992) lists 6 70 languages (see Table 2). This group accounted for 5. it is dictated by the expediences of census operations. 1987: 67) In an effort to account for all the languages spoken in Nepal.The Language Situation in Nepal 295 Another study by CERID (Yadav. Table 2 Languages of Nepal (Toba. with accompanying census statistics. The study concluded that the use of Nepali as the medium of instruction for non-Nepali speakers is one of the major contributing factors to the high drop-out rate. 50% of the students drop out. He uses the following abbreviations to indicate the language family to which each language belongs: AA – Austro-Asiatic IA – Indo-Aryan D – Dravidian ST – Sino-Tibetan (generally referred to as Tibeto-Burman in this study). Neither the instruments of data collection. included 36 of the better-known languages.09% of the population’.802 persons in the category of “other/unstated”. while only 35% complete the five years of primary school. The language disadvantages of non-Nepali speakers limit their educational potential and assure that they will be kept at the bottom of the socio-economic scale. 1992: 6) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Athpariya Awadhi Bahing Bantawa Belhariya Bhojpuri Bhujeli Bote Byangsi Chamling Chantel Chepang Danuwar Darai Darmiya Dhangar Dhimal Dolpo Dumi ST IA ST ST ST IA ST IA ST ST ST ST IA IA ST D ST ST ST . nor the collectors of data are irreproachable. (Census Bureau Statistics. The list in Table 1 by Malla (1989: 449). 1992: 179) deals with the wastage in primary education in Nepal. … No wonder that nearly 18 mutually unintelligible East Himalayish languages are lumped together as ‘Rai-Kirat’ in the language census of Nepal! … The 1981 Census provided tabulations on 18 languages ‘leaving a residue of 764. However Malla (1989: 448) points out that: Nepal’s language demography is not inspired by a spirit of scientific accuracy. The question of how many known languages there are in Nepal remains unresolved. In the first grade.

Sanskrit. and Urdu ST ST ST ST ST ST ST ST ST ST ST ST ST ST ST ST extinct. unclassified ST ST ST ST ST ST IA ST ST ST IA ST ST ST IA ST ST ST ST AA ST ST ST ST ST IA ST ST ST ST ST ST ST IA .296 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development Dungmali Dura Ghale Gurung Helambu Sherpa Hayu Humla Bhotia Jerung Jirel Kag Kagate Kaike Khaling Kham Koi Kuling Kusunda Lepcha Lhomi Limbu Lohorong Lopa Ma gar Maithili Meche Mewahang Nachering Nepali Newari Ny i-shang Puma Rajbangi Raji Rangkas Raute Sangpang Satar Sherpa Sunwar Tamang Thakali Thami Tharu Thulung Tibetan Tichurong Tilung Umbule Yakha Yanphu Other languages such as Hindi.

implementation.85 % Tamang 4. might be added at a later time. comprising 83% of Nepal’s land mass. Maithili.14 % Urdu 1. particularly in terms of scientific and technical terminology. folk and other literatures.30 % Gurung 1. dictionaries. Yadav suggests that Nepali.03 % He then determines criteria by which languages might be selected for first language programmes: · the linguistic demography or the number and percentages of speakers of the language. This is a simplistic solution to a very complex problem. Yadav (1992) points out that 12 languages are spoken by more than 1% of the population in Nepal. they would all require considerable standardisation and elaboration. the expense and magnitude of implementing first language education programmes in all of these languages would be prohibitive. and Newari might prove to be good candidates for initial first language programmes.72 % Limbu 1.83 % Bhojpuri 6.44 % Magar 2.60 % Tharu 4. nine are Indo-Aryan and the remaining 58 are Sino-Tibetan. codification. Taking into consideration Haugen’s (1983: 275) language planning model. and other criteria might have been considered. · the literary status of the language in terms of a writing system and the availability of printed texts. on this basis. Other widely spoken languages. which includes the need for language selection.24 % 7 Rai-Kirati 1. and elaboration. This would indicate that such a survey is badly needed (see also Subba. even if some funds were forthcoming. Given the large number of first languages spoken in Nepal. Malla (1989: 449) suggests that the difficulties of mountain terrain. grammars. All four are spoken by more than 1% of the population and have an established written tradition. Many of these languages are as yet unrecorded and many have no script or literature.21 % Maithili 11. one is extinct. Limbu. 1976). Of these 70 languages. .94 % Abadhi (Awabhi)1. However. It is the Sino-Tibetan languages that are most neglected in the official census count.66 % Newari 3. the skilled manpower needed to carry out such a process would not be available in Nepal. one is Austro-Asiatic. These languages are: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) Nepali 53. one is Dravidian. Nevertheless. he suggests. In an attempt to respond to the problems of first language education. in part accounts for some of the discrepancies.The Language Situation in Nepal 297 Toba states at the end that the list is tentative since no comprehensive survey of languages has been carried out in Nepal.

is caste structured. and about 2000 book titles have been printed. Critics of first language education Until the present time. was adopted. Newars are to be found scattered throughout Nepal in urban areas. during the period from the 1920s through the 1940s. While this has standardised the scripts of written languages in Nepal. to implement first language education. 20% of Nepal’s urban population spoke Newari. tortured and jailed and had their property confiscated for writing or publishing in Newari’ (1989: 462). and they are poorly represented in the national power structure. particularly for the purposes of printing and publication. However. first language education is seen as an added financial burden. and ‘several of them were fined. Nepali was enforced as the language of instruction. At present. In 1909. the old Newari script was abandoned and the Devanagari script. and it has made no effort. urban. 25 journals and magazines have been published – mostly by campus-based literary groups. ruling. district headquarters. and literary conferences. where they made up 55% of the population in 1954 and constitute about 33% today. one daily and two weekly newspapers are available in Newari. and trade centres. In 1981. Music and films in Newari have also been sponsored by Newari speakers. the government of Nepal has not provided adequate funds for the study and preservation of the minority languages in Nepal. also used for Nepali. at the national level. and high-caste Newars are a part of the wealthy. Given the poverty of Nepal and the need to enact land reforms. Yadav (1992: 182) points out that those who object to the first language as a medium of instruction argue that ‘the nation is “just not . the people are dispersed throughout the often inaccessible mountain areas. Yadav (1990: 165) refers to the government policy towards minority languages as ‘benign neglect’. there are approximately 110 Newari literary-cultural groups in Nepal. Malla states that since the 1920s. enforce forest conservation.298 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development Newari language and revitalisation Perhaps the most effective case for language rights and revitalisation has been made for Newari. According to Shrestha and van den Hoek (1994: 46). a Tibeto-Burman language that has had a writing tradition for hundreds of years. revitalisation of other Tibeto-Burman languages is likely to be difficult. poetry recitals. and develop health care services. Newari poets and writers opposed the Rana regime. both Hindu and Buddhist. publishing in Newari has been permitted. it has led to the loss of the traditional Newari script which very few people can now read. and academic elite. leading to the suppression of Newari in education and literature. After 1972. the Newari literary elite have been struggling to revive their language. If Newari cannot be revived and maintained successfully. Since 1946. Also. The Newars are the original inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley. In addition. build roads and irrigation systems. provide safe drinking water. mostly financed and sponsored by writers and organisations within the speech community. Newari was taught in every school in the valley until 1972. they wield considerably more power than most other ethnic minorities. Many of these lesser-used languages have no written tradition. Traditionally centred in and around the capital city. According to Malla. Newar culture. and staged plays in Newari have been held by these groups.

as illustrated by Noonan’s (1996) Chantyal example. minority languages are under an increasing threat of extinction (Kaplan & Baldauf. it is possible that they are already extinct. First language education. Nepalese Linguistics. and it was impossible to classify the language family to which Kusunda belonged. Dead and dying languages Mühlhäusler (1995: 4). efforts to tape and record his speech were unsuccessful. and Spanish. and Kusunda. Japanese. German. referring to the seriousness of the loss of languages says: There is now a considerable body of evidence suggesting that the diversity of human languages is decreasing at a rate many times faster than at most if not all previous periods in the history of human languages. seems inevitable without the intervention of some type of planning and research. while a valid ideal. Kumbale. and is continued as a compulsory subject from that point on throughout the school curriculum. Critics of first language education suggest that it is an academic and political issue rather than a felt need by most of the rural farmers and villagers of Nepal. It is now regarded as unclassified and extinct. However. Since these four languages were not included in Toba’s 1992 list of seventy languages in Nepal. English is added to the national school curriculum in the fourth year of primary school. Consequently. As majority languages (such as Nepali) capture larger numbers of registers. as an international language. Languages taught in Nepal For over two decades. Urdu. The Campus of International Languages at Tribhuvan University offers language courses in Chinese. Yadav (1992: 181) adds that a major objection to the use of the first language is that it is perceived as a threat to national unity and is unsuited to promote the national interests. Thus. states that while one man admitted to still speaking the language. According to the Course of Study (1992) in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Tribhuvan University. Dahal (1976: 155) states that many Nepalese languages are in the process of extinction. Newari. Nepali has been used as the medium of instruction in all national schools in Nepal. and Compulsory English are required courses for the Bachelor of Arts degree. the primary level textbooks assume a spoken knowledge of Nepali and nowhere is it taught as a foreign language to non-Nepali speakers. He specifically mentions Majhi. . is not seen as a financial or pragmatic necessity. Bayu. the study of some minority languages is possible at advanced levels of education. Toba (1992). Alternative English. the Nepalisation and/or death of languages in Nepal. Nepali. Both Maithili and Newari are said to be offered as subjects in some high schools.The Language Situation in Nepal 299 ready” for it – in view of the lack of textbooks and reading materials written in the medium of the bewildering mass of languages spoken in Nepal’. English. French. In addition. Russian. in reference to the Kusunda language. and Sanskrit as optional subjects applicable to a BA. There is an urgent need to conduct linguistic studies of the dying languages in Nepal before they are irretrievably lost. Compulsory Nepali. (1994: inside front cover) states that the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences offers Hindi. 1997: 227). Maithili. the journal.

000 refugees from Bhutan. the fact that they teach Nepali using the textbooks from Nepal’s curriculum means that the children are becoming “Nepalised”. making it the most studied foreign language in Nepal 9 after English. Tibetans did not use Chinese script for Tibetan writing prior to 1959. and Nepali has been banned in the country since 1985. 1993). 22 language institutions in Nepal offer instruction in Japanese. The Sikhs I met informally in shops and restaurants spoke fluent English. Wilkinson (1994: 17) states that: Relations between the Chinese and those Tibetans seeking ‘independence’ have been severely strained. which has its origins in the Kutila writing system invented in the 7th century AD’. Bhutan also passed citizenship laws which discriminated against long-time Nepali speaking residents. They dominate the trucking and transport industry between the Terai and the hill regions. Since the 1700s. 1993). which are characteristic of only 16% of the population (Baral. Nepalese people migrated to Assam. As a result. According to Kansakar (1993: 165).000 people have fled Tibet and settled in a number of locations in Nepal.300 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 8 Sanskrit and Tibetan are also offered for international students. As a result. the Nepalese settled in the south where they constitute a majority. over 10. According to Devendra Jung Rana in an interview. The Tibetans speak a Tibeto-Burman language which includes a group of languages within the Sino-Tibetan language family (Kansakar. In a further move towards ‘ethnic cleansing’. many of the Sikhs fled Burma/Myanmar during the military takeover. the government has imposed on the Nepalese majority the compulsory use of the Bhutanese language and traditional Bhutanese dress. Language studies appear to be an important part of tertiary education in Nepal. According to an unofficial count by the Japanese Embassy. and intensified the political instability of the south-eastern districts of the country. Sikkum and Bhutan in search of better economic opportunities. Darjeeling. exacerbated ecological problems. or language of the refugees other than to state that they are Nepali speakers. Little has been written on the literacy. In Bhutan. although they were not mentioned in the available literature. who have been settled in refugee camps in the south-eastern area (Kumar. education. 1993: 197). … To the Tibetans. A particularly pressing problem in Nepal is the presence of over 85. Guragain (1993: 42) states that ‘while the refugee educators are trying their best to follow the Bhutanese system. The Bhutanese government has accused the Nepali-speaking Hindus of trying to usurp the power of the Bhutanese King. . and the Buddhist religion. many Nepali speakers fled Bhutan and entered Nepal as refugees. ‘the Tibetan and Newari scripts are variations of the Brahmi (Devanagari) alphabet of northern India. To the Chinese. as well as between the Terai and India. English is apparently the medium of instruction in Bhutan. Immigrants and refugees in Nepal There are a number of Sikhs residing in Nepal. Tibet is a strategically vital region that must also be led from feudalism to socialism. This population flow has led to increased land pressure and deforestation. the elite.’ Since 1959. marking the Chinese take-over of Tibet.

US AID. In an effort to escape Chinese persecution.39% have an intermediate education. It is likely that the secularly educated would be literate in Nepali and/or English. Permission was granted in 1986. Nowhere did the study specify in which language the Tibetans were literate. in Nepali. As of 1988. 10.The Language Situation in Nepal 301 their country was invaded and despoiled by the Chinese. ‘as high as 98.77% have a middle-level education. 52% have a primary education. and particularly Swiss Overseas Aid have all helped in the feeding. and even relatively prosperous. resettlement. The Tibetan refugees endured considerable hardship during their early re-settlement. 4. but in 1984. of the educated Tibetans. Also.43% have their School Leaving Certificate. 12. there were four English-medium Tibetan schools in the Kathmandu Valley. the children of this settlement were educated at a nearby national Nepalese school. Jha (1992: 82) says that despite the current relative affluence of the Tibetans in Nepal. One of the major Tibetan refugee centres is in Jawalakhel. so they asked the national government for permission to set up an English-medium primary school. The carpet industry and a number of other handicrafts have helped the Tibetans to become self-supporting. Several organisations including the Indian Red Cross. He also notes that the monks in Tibetan monasteries in Nepal have expanded their curriculum to include English. The school follows the Nepalese syllabus. Initially. the Atisha Primary School was opened in the settlement. The Tibetans have stimulated the revitalisation of two important Buddhist centres near Kathmandu – Swayambath Stupa and Bodnath Stupa. although it was not clear why the Tibetans elected to educate their children in English. the government and people of Nepal have played an important role in accepting and resettling the refugees. Schools for Tibetans have also been established in several other refugee areas outside the Valley.88% an MA education.95% of the people classified as literate. with 57. located near Kathmandu and adjoining the city of Patan. the literacy rate of Tibetan refugees is comparatively high for Nepal.46% of these people are still determined to . Both areas have become Tibetan settlements as well as handicraft and tourist centres. Jha indicates that Tibetan refugees near Pokhara felt that studying in Nepali was not particularly useful for Tibetans. SJ). Kathmandu. Based on a survey by Jha (1992: 57). Nepali. who must leave before there can be peace. Jha also adds that some well-off refugees send their children to English-medium boarding schools in Pokhara. while those educated in the monasteries have been primarily educated in Tibetan. 1992). many people fled from Tibet and settled in the mountain regions of India and in parts of Nepal. Chetri (1990: 268) states that among the refugees in Nepal. Jha (1992) states that. Furthermore. Another 17. 1. but the medium of instruction is English with Tibetan and Nepali as compulsory subjects.70% have a monastic education. the International Committee for Assistance to Tibetan Refugees in Nepal (founded by Father Moran. care.62% have a BA education and 0. This is consistent with the general spread of English-medium schools in Nepal. there is a strong emphasis on the need to learn three languages (Tibetan. and training of these Tibetan refugees. Oxfam. and English). including Namgyal High School (Jha. and India.

he indicates that there is no assurance of the presence of local authorities on the committees. In 1993. … Nepali as a language is widely in use and people of Nepal have started to identify with it. My reasons are pragmatic not prejudiced. the society president. it would seem that given Martinussen’s conclusions. On the other hand. and language planning. 1994: 2) If Sharma’s opinion is widely shared by other non-Nepali speakers. English in Nepal English is the second most widespread language in Nepal in terms of popularity. Education and local self-government The implementation of first language education in Nepal would require the participation of local people in the education system. as in the Tibetan case.P. and use. (Sharma. Perhaps the most common position taken is one of resignation. and the district government’s ‘influence upon the decisions regarding education policies and priorities within their own areas will remain limited’ (1995: 101). education. who wrote as early as 1971. It has taken decades to make it acceptable to the whole nation. No statistics are available for the number of people who speak or read English. However. Nepali was his third language. the present government language policy is likely to continue. Martinussen (1995) states that the government of Nepal has implemented a plan for decentralisation throughout the country. Yes. with varying levels of accuracy and fluency. the prospect for first language education in most parts of Nepal is rather cloudy. despite its change in written policy. The problems associated with language. the curriculum. Since the central government has not implemented first language education programmes. pointed out that he was first educated in the Terai in Hindi. I agree that we should also help improve other mother tongue languages of Nepal without any discrimination but we should not make a mistake of putting the languages of the nation in the same weighing pan as ‘the national language’. that: . Sharma. It is spoken at all socio-economic levels. Purcell. But it has reached that place not in a day or two. He added: Today at least we have one of the native languages of Nepal as the language of the nation. C. education. The general impression is that a large percentage of the population speak at least some English. establishing both village and district level governments and representation. In his 1994 presidential address at the conference of the Linguistic Society of Nepal. even in the rural areas. D. In this regard. I know that this language has become ‘the language’ because it was spoken by the ruling class. and language planning are not simple. Jha (1989: 111) quotes Professor H. a new education act provided for the formation of district education development committees. by both literate and non-literate people.302 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development return to their homeland provided the political condition in Tibet improves and the Dalai Lama returns there’. Educational policy continues to be handed down from the national level. English-medium education is clearly on the increase.

SJ. and all of the Far East. and international communication. and others throughout the country. In addition. mathematics. Xavier changed to meet government requirements in 1977. several English-medium schools existed in Nepal. operated by the Loretta Sisters. in practice. and continues to play an important role in higher education. was introduced. … better English is spoken at Tribhuvan University than at any University in the Middle East … and that goes for the whole of South America. and St. the nationalisation of the schools in the 1970s effectively limited their influence on Nepal and the Nepalese people. In addition to these institutions of higher education. and other classes were converted to Nepali. with the exception of Malaysia. Nepali. The impact of Christianity on Nepal has remained minimal. including the national language. albeit reserved primarily for the elite. Before 1950. international aid projects. for example in the Gorkha area. wealthy Nepalese sought advanced education abroad in England or India where they were educated in English. English was no longer the medium of instruction in the first three grades. trade. making English the primary language of communication in education. mass media. this fluency extends beyond the university. Mary’s School for girls. Jha (1989: v) states that. and internationalisation of Nepal. Hong Kong and the Philippines. science. commerce. when English. St. The mission schools were given over to the government after 1970. Today. although English textbooks may be required or recommended. but it was introduced into the national curriculum in the fourth year and remained a compulsory school subject through to the BA. the standard of English here strikes me as comparatively high. the English language functions as a second language in Nepal because it is used in more domains than any other language in Nepal. English and education For over 100 years in Nepal. Protestant mission schools also 10 existed in parts of the country. and a pass on the exam was required for entrance into university. Singapore. in world terms. .The Language Situation in Nepal 303 I am bound to start by saying that. prepared at the national level. Although there are 12 some schools run by missionaries. development. tourism. Xavier School for boys. and technical subjects are taught in English at the advanced levels. Between 1950 and 1970 other private English-medium schools were opened including the Jesuit St. After the 1970s. there are over 20 English language institutes in Kathmandu alone. a Western education meant an education in English. and science continued to be taught in English. English is regarded as essential to the modernisation. including Durbar High School and Trichandra College. as part of the process of 11 nationalisation. Although both Catholic and Protestant schools have existed in Nepal since the 1950s. In addition to compulsory and optional English language classes. the official policy defined English as the international language and the language of science and technology. most of the English-medium schools today do not have any religious affiliation. medicine. An English School Leaving Exam. courses in mathematics. Other courses are increasingly being taught in Nepali at the post-high school levels. founded by Father Moran. and technical schools. and are operated by educated Nepalese. most of Africa. colleges.

Making English a . Jha (1989: 110) states that of the 145. it is therefore a comparatively neutral language in the national political debate. Recent developments in English-medium education in Nepal English-medium schools. Requiring English favours the wealthy who can afford to attend good English-medium schools. and in the interpersonal communication of ideas and views. English is an essential tool in both upward mobility and the job market. 1989: v) The opposing view points out that. it contributes nothing to a national identity or to national pride. No statistics were found after this date. but the number has increased significantly since the new democratic govern13 ment was inaugurated in 1990. and the Integrated Women’s Development Library. it is used even in socio-cultural gatherings. send their children to the national schools to be educated in Nepali. birthday celebrations.304 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development These include the American Language Center (USIS) and the British Council School. Jha (1989: 114) states that in the whole of Nepal. as well as Nepalese operated institutes. the Tribhuvan University Central Library has the largest collection of English books in the country. The English language plays a central role in education and research in Nepal. often referred to as boarding schools even when no boarding facilities are available. only the very poor. According to Jha (1989: vi). Other libraries. (cited in Jha. technology. The failure rate in English on the School Leaving Examination (SLE) is very high. the Indo-Nepal Library.One professor at Tribhuvan University told me: Anyone who can possibly afford it will send their children abroad to study in England or India. Agrawal states that: Without a knowledge in the English language it has become almost impossible these days to get a job. educated. then they will send them to the best possible English-medium school they can afford in Nepal. In my opinion proficiency in the English language is essential to get any one of 90% of the available jobs. M.000 books in the library in 1989. international citizen. include the British Council Library. English is closely tied to the identity of a modern. the Russian Cultural Library. It has a long history as the language of Western education and it remains important for the development of science. magazines. the number increased from 35 in 1977 to 785 in 1988. Jha adds that almost 95% of the journals. where 60 to 100% of the books are in English. family weddings. have mushroomed throughout Nepal in the last two decades. As a result. as English is not a native language. If that is not possible. the Kesar Library. the USIS Library. it is not confined to specific domains. who have no choice. Attitudes towards the use of English as a medium of instruction Those who support education in English stress that it was never the native language of an oppressive government. and only 40% of the candidates or fewer pass each year. With regard to libraries. colonial or domestic. more than 80% were in English. and modernisation in Nepal. If that is too expensive they will send them to an inferior English-medium school. and newspapers in these libraries are written in English.

Some of the lower grades had no chairs or desks. whose children. He quotes a recommendation by the Second National Convention of Tribhuvan University Teachers of English. the legal system. and the police. points out that many intellectuals in Nepal would prefer to enhance the status of English. In the context of Nepal it is the only language of education and communication for a majority of people and the number of such people is increasing at a fast rate. Since there was no electricity. it does not explain why people choose to educate their children in English-medium private schools rather than establish and operate good private Nepali-medium or first language medium schools. One interpretation of the popularity of English-medium schools in Nepal today is that it is a passing trend or fad. especially in the urban areas. termed ‘English-mania’ by some. Karki. people were very adroit at side-stepping the issue. 1989) have discussed the problems of lack of teacher training. overcrowded classrooms. and linguistics. 1981. It needs. They were long buildings made of stone walls. and there is some evidence to indicate that it may be true. appears to be a model curriculum. Children in these classrooms sat on mats on the floor … While they are describing a national school. as Nepali is the language of the national government. Giri. set up along British lines. even when I asked directly why they chose to educate their children in English. possibly for political reasons. and the facilities were much better. Yadav. . for example. the teachers were better trained. the national military. who is personally in favour of reducing the role of English in higher education. aged five and seven. so English should not be included in the curriculum as early as the fourth grade. Courses are taught. Several reports (Davies et al. both attended English-medium schools and spoke fluent English. In interviews. One Newar businessman. therefore. they have no need to learn a foreign or international language.. Since 93% of the people in Nepal are farmers. Naudadan schools appeared sparsely furnished and austere. While superior facilities and teaching may be a fact in the better English-medium schools. avoided the language issue and said that he sent them to the English school because the system of education was superior. Skinner and Holland (1996: 279) write: From our perspective. The programme involves two months of practice teaching and the writing of 36 lesson plans. the civil service. language acquisition. 1984.and poor facilities in the national schools. Furthermore. the description is also fairly accurate for some of the English-medium schools that I saw or visited outside of Kathmandu. The MA in English Language Teaching at Tribhuvan University. to be given the recognition of this reality in our national language policy document. This is generally the opinion expressed by many. and funds should be accordingly allocated to the effective teaching/learning of English in Nepal (1990: 280). and slate or tin roofs. English is not necessary for many positions in these fields.The Language Situation in Nepal 305 requirement for higher education limits the number of people eligible for advanced level training. in language teaching. concrete floors. stating: English cannot be considered a foreign language like say French or Arabic. light came only from a few small windows.

In my opinion. However. worked to help send her children to boarding school.306 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development complete with materials designed by the student. However. · My house cleaner. who spoke good English. My own interviews confirm this position. Jha (1989: 114) writes: Thus English in the education system in Nepal appears to have a very important place. Marpha is accessible only on foot or by pack-animal trains. It is about a two-hour trek from Jomosum and the nearest airport where very small planes land. or curriculum were available. a small Thakali mountain town (at 9000 feet) on the Kali-Gandaki trade route from Tibet to Pokhara. For those not hired by the institutions of higher learning. His two younger daughters. Trekking down from Jomosum to Pokara in the valley. teachers. this is no longer entirely true. takes five to seven days. whether in Nepali or in English. particularly for those jobs available to people classified as middle or lower caste. was sending his son to a Buddhist lamasery in the Sherpa region. choosing to educate children in English is not merely a fad. a high-caste Newar. opting to send children to an English-medium school may be viewed as a form of protest. The Thakali owner of the guest house. Thus education for them. however. it is difficult to implement modern methods in the classrooms. who had a . English education. Both are evaluated and graded. education in the first language is neither possible nor practical. is education in a foreign language. I stayed at a modest guest house. and its ever spreading popularity among the common Nepalese can be gauged from the fact that even low-paid jobbers. attended English-medium schools in Kathmandu. … Several of the low-paid jobbers I interviewed said that they send their children to ‘boarding school’ with the hope of bringing them at least a rung higher than they themselves are on the socio-economic ladder of their society. such as peons and watchmen send their children to English-medium boarding schools. They indicate familiarity with the latest scholars and methods in the field from Britain. the United States. Also. Ang Kami Sherpa. For those who strongly object to the national policy of Nepali as the sole medium of instruction in the national schools. teaching at a good English-medium school allows for greater freedom and better working conditions. For non-Nepali speakers. Several MA theses in English which I read were well written and of professional quality. class and caste While an English education was once the prerogative of the elite. particularly those who speak a Tibeto-Burman language. English is possibly more advantageous in the job market. no real studies of the English-medium schools. · While in Marpha. Education in two foreign languages is an additional burden. The availability of trained English teachers may make the opening and operating of English-medium schools particularly attractive. because of the class size and lack of facilities in national schools. and India. as the following examples indicate: · One trekking guide.

as well as other tribal groups. even high-caste Nepali speakers choose to send their children to English-medium schools. She explained that he needed Nepali because it was the national language. In reference to this. Tibeto-Burman speakers. Nepali is the language used in most of these occupations. Despite the remoteness of the town. Elsewhere. mercantile activity was disparaged as a polluting activity. educationally and economically to join them and their class’ (1989: 358). and he needed English because as soon as he was old enough she would send him to an English school in Jomosum. however. university professors. the university. the School Leaving Examinations were introduced for admission into colleges. it is one means of maintaining their privileged social position. Some of those in higher positions became concerned that their own children might not be able to achieve the same status. High-caste Nepali speakers may not need English to have access to many good positions. Bista (1994) points out that the vast majority of teachers. Under the educational reforms of the National Education System Plan in 1972. was teaching him to speak Nepali and English (not Thakali). Previously. ‘… the use of the English language is becoming indulged in by those who do not want others below them socially. Since the examinations most often failed were English or in the medium of English. the civil service. their positions 14 were guaranteed by social status and afno manchhe connections. intellectuals. intriguing to note that the same vocal supporters of Nepali language and culture-based nationalism send their children to the best possible English-medium schools’. if they were to fail entrance examination. Education and . it is also popular among Nepali speakers. Bista (1994: 127) states: … the requirements of examination threatened the system of privileges by emphasising competence. including the elite. He also remarks that. and politics. I was told there was a third.The Language Situation in Nepal 307 two-year-old son. on trekking back to Jomosum I photographed two small stone English-medium schools. He adds that they are strongly represented in the government. I do not believe that this attitude is so widely held by most high-caste Nepalese today. For them. Not only is it a form of labour. are classified as middle caste. and technical schools. these jobs are not available because they lack the necessary connections or social position. Bista (1994: 160) writes: Mercantile activity has been successfully practised by the ethnic people of Nepal since the earliest days … but under fatalistic caste principles imported from India. but it is crassly materialistic. positions which they obtain through afno manchhe connections. Merchants were thus considered low caste. With the exception of some teachers. and many of them are engaged in trade and commerce. the administrative bureaucracies. For most of the middle and lower classes and castes. as well as in the national military and the police. Jha (1989: 386) states. While preference for education in English among non-Nepali speakers is understandable. and journalists are high-caste Hindus. Concerning business and trade. however. and all artisans and labourers are low caste or untouchable. ‘It is.

People code switch depending on the environment and the audience. Language acquisition outside the school system Up to this point. repetitions. who learned English on the streets or on the hills and mountains of Nepal. he preferred to write papers and proposals in English. In his opinion ‘… most of the graduates of Tribhuvan University do not speak as fluently as children speaking with the tourists … even among those [children] who have never been to school’ (1989: 191). An unschooled Sherpa mountain climber of my acquaintance spoke Sherpa. taxi drivers. He majored in English at the university and spoke native-like English as well as passable French. are traditionally the occupations of many middle and lower class/caste people. interview) spoke Newari. After six years of study in Japan he spoke and wrote fluent Japanese. false starts and fragments …’ (1993: 80). hesitations. considerable attention has been given to education and multilingualism. one encounters street peddlers. not always grammatically correct. this includes both Nepali and English. Nepali. Gulmez and Shrestha (1993) conducted a study of formal and informal language exposure on EFL development. in terms of grammar and structure. Multilingualism and Language Domains Multilingualism in Nepal is frequently tied to specific domains. Multilingualism. U. is the norm throughout Nepal. the latter two learned on mountain climbing expeditions. but their speech was marked by ‘… pauses.308 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development wealth have largely replaced caste as the primary definers of status in Nepal. of these people [in tourism] is developing mainly because they interact a lot with foreign tourists’ (1989: 195). rather than through study in the classroom. The formal group was university students educated outside of Kathmandu who had little or no exposure to native English speaking people. English. although until recently these factors have been contiguous. porters. In fact. and street children who speak surprisingly fluent English. Many spoke several. while government jobs are not easily available. most language acquisition in Nepal occurs informally and outside the classroom. Although English may be a privilege for the high-caste Nepali speakers. they were rated higher on fluency. For example. business and service activities. bicycle rickshaw drivers. and Japanese. Shrestha (1995. one Newar businessman. Gulmez and Shrestha concluded that the students who learned English in the classroom scored higher on accuracy. the Sherpas were more concerned with communication and meaning. Jha states that ‘in fact fluency in the spoken English. including tourism. I rarely met anyone who spoke less than three languages. While this study deals specifically with English acquisition. However. In contrast. with varying degrees of fluency. Most of them had no formal schooling. it is a necessity for many other people. As a result. Given the low literacy rate in Nepal. In Nepal. He said that although he could read and correspond in Japanese. this attitude does point out that. the informal group was made up primarily of Sherpa mountaineering and trekking guides. . trekking guides. and Hindi. most multilingual people in Nepal acquire other languages informally. this appears to be a contributing factor in the felt need for English among these people. Most of them are unschooled. Nepali.

Nepali short stories were published in journals in Nepal and Darjeeling. Writers. throughout Nepal. Most trade transactions in these remoter areas rely on the spoken language rather than on writing. At first they were translations from Hindi and other foreign works. who were graduating from the universities. Tibetan and Hindi are also used as trade languages at the extremes of the Nepalese trade routes from Tibet to India. giving rise to an ‘increasingly rich literature of the national language of Nepal’ (1988: 228). English is the second most important language after Nepali. advertisements. including heroic and devotional poetry.The Language Situation in Nepal 309 Literature in Nepal Although multilingualism is virtually universal in Nepal. with letters. Later. Contemporary issues and events. According to Jha (1994). and other business-related papers are written in English. romanticism and innovations in metre and verse influenced and modernised Nepali poetry. wrote about the aimlessness of life. The poets recited their works in the streets of Kathmandu during the summer of 1979. contracts. Hutt predicts that innovation and experimentation are likely to continue. By the 1950s novelists began writing about middle-class experiences and the lives of common people. By the 20th century. the most popular genre of Nepali literature is poetry. Hutt (1988: 225) states that Nepali poetry by the 1960s and 1970s was no longer only the privilege of high-caste males. and slogans frequently using English (1989: 186). For the first time. Trade has been a primary incentive for the acquisition of languages. novels were often set in the rural areas of Nepal. influenced by foreign literature and ideas. According to Hutt (1988). the primary language of international trade is English. In fact. . following efforts to standardise the language. The short story is the second most popular literary genre of the 20th century in Nepal. often with political overtones. Nepali has been the lingua franca of trade throughout Nepal at least since the 1700s. In the late 1970s there was a ‘Street Poetry Revolution’. By the mid-1900s. The lives of exiled Nepalese were a popular early theme. in which young intellectuals criticised the Panchayat government in popular poems. international trade beyond Nepal’s border regions became increasingly important. with traditional themes. original novels were written and published by Nepali writers. Letters. Now young men and women. became important themes in later poems. Jha states that even in domestic trade. Languages in commerce and trade As indicated in the case studies. Early poetry was derived from Sanskrit verse. most literature and creative writing forms are in Nepali. as well as political dissent and disillusionment. particularly Nepali. Prose was not developed until the 20th century. With the continuing standardisation of Nepali. novels had also appeared in Nepali. With the opening of Nepal to the outside world in 1950. were concerned with social realism and psychological themes.

from the street merchants and the mountain guides to the employees in the five-star hotels. Japan. Aid projects include agricultural development. The language of all aid projects. at all levels. hotels. Competence in English is a requirement for all jobs available in the tourist industry. water projects. and restaurants. in general. is English. Language and mass media in Nepal One area where Nepal is making inroads towards modernisation is in the development and availability of mass media. rather than solely through the national. English is usually learned through interactions with the tourists. medical centres. including the activities of foreign donor programmes. Correspondence and communication with countries outside Nepal is conducted in English. Nepali and English are the two most important languages in the media. Canada. and from the United States. The Education Material Production Centre. reforestation. has produced 150 . India. 298). English proficiency is a requirement for Nepalese who are hired to work on foreign aid projects.310 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development Tourism and language Since 1950. Literary works as well as textbooks and readers have been published in Nepali. and meetings are held in Kathmandu every year. hydroelectric power dams. publications in the other native languages of Nepal were discouraged or even suppressed. The language used on these occasions is English. Diplomacy and international agencies The language of diplomacy and international affairs in Nepal is English. conferences. established in 1962. According to Martinussen (1995: 103). but also all along the mountain trekking trails in shops. accounting for 30% of the total foreign exchange entering the country (Jha. and a variety of other projects funded by aid-donor 15 countries. English is used even with tourists who come from non-English speaking countries. the tourist industry has grown rapidly in Nepal. 1994: 5). Prior to 1990. the building of roads. bridges. People with proficiency in English are found not only in the urban and religious centres. Jha (1994: 4) states that scores of domestic and international seminars. Also. Nepal receives aid in various forms from several countries in Europe. Although at the service and street level. and tourist shops require written as well as spoken fluency. irrigation projects. (Data on publications in Newari can be found on p. the emphasis on English may change. However. small rest houses. symposia. and China. government buildings.000 titles. no matter the country of origin. is English. the many tour agencies. tea houses. Tourism has been a major factor in the use and spread of English in Nepal. particularly in popular music and film. the number of Nepali books totalled about 22. at least some of the donor-funded projects and programmes have been making efforts to work more closely with the local village and district governments. with Hindi occupying the third place. central government. The primary language of tourism. as well as from international organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations. and often demand computer literacy in English as well. By 1989. owing to the recent move towards the decentralisation of the government.

will need to be written or translated into Nepali. Gurung. By 1994. The Curriculum Development Centre of Tribhuvan University has published about 120 textbooks in Nepali for use at university level. Current Affairs. Maithili. has put out about 367 Nepali works (Malla. While most of the literature and poetry in Nepal is written in Nepali. 1994: 6). 1994: 32). Television broadcasts on the national station began in 1985. with 11. As stated previously. one came from Manila. Radio programming began in Nepal in 1947. and English textbooks are used throughout the universities and colleges. 1989: 460). especially in the areas of science and technology. about 30% of telecast time was devoted to English language programmes and the rest was in Nepali (Jha.The Language Situation in Nepal 311 standardised Nepali textbooks. In August 1994. In 1994. Some music programmes also include broadcasts in languages other than Nepali. the Weekly Mirror. 1989: 152). and philosophy. Malla (1989) comments on the acute dearth of textbooks and reference materials available in the national language. Nepali is to become the primary language of higher education. As a result of these publications. While many single families may not be able to afford a satellite dish or a VCR. The huge satellite dishes that pull in these stations can be found on many houses in the Kathmandu/Patan area. Himal. people in the area live in large extended family compounds. 1989: 459). the Everest. particularly in science and technology. and most of the books for sale are in English. Nepalese writings in English are ‘a part of the national literature of Nepal and it reflects almost the same human emotions and feelings with all human conflicts and challenges as literature produced in the Nepali languages’ (Jha. and the Sunday Dispatch. financial considerations to some extent limit these possibilities. In 1994/95 Nepal had five other channels available with a satellite dish – Star Plus (mostly American TV programmes in English). 417 were in Nepali. and Abadhi (Shrestha. many more books. an increasing number of courses at the university can be offered in Nepali. In addition. Tharu. and Bhojpuri (Malla. the Himalayan Times. Tamang. Five-minute news bulletins were aired in Rai-Bantawa (Bantawa). The Royal Nepal Academy. culture. Magar. politics. Traditionally. Jha (1994) states that a number of Nepalese scholars have published books and papers in English on history. If. Given the poverty of Nepal. most of them seemed to be music/variety shows). 80% of the books in the Tribhuvan University library are in English. Limbu. the popular English magazines included the Mountain Tribune. 1994: 6). the BBC (mostly news and business in English). Star Shangri-La Channel (movies in English). English remains important in higher education. Prime Sports (in English). Nevertheless. 32 in English. Spark. Many magazines are also published in Nepali and English. Music programmes that I saw included MTV and Indian variety/musical shows in English. Radio Nepal began broadcasting in eight national languages. the . many creative writers do write in English. Bookstores abound in Nepal.23% of the programmes in English. Bhojpuri. and Channel V (the programmes were listed in English but they were not familiar. usually the news (Jha. religion. With regard to newspapers. founded in 1957. as some scholars suggest. economics. in 1986–87 there were 455 registered newspapers in Nepal. the one radio station in Kathmandu broadcast predominantly in Nepali. In 1989. three in Newari and one each in Hindi.

In February 1994. the language used is English. Nepal does not seem to lag far behind the rest of the world in catching up with the information age. with 35% of the films in English and most of the remainder in Hindi (Jha. It is probable that fluency in English has. Probably the most popular Western album heard in 1994/95 was Unplugged by Eric Clapton. 1994: 8). British and American pop music is popular with the young. in part. as well as the Gorkha veterans. it was hoped that the festival would ‘inspire and provoke the latent filmmaking talents of Nepali documentarists’ (1994: 13). plays on words. Debate and controversy are highly developed. In 1995. whom I interviewed in 1995. and for much of the media. and Nepalese English speakers are remarkably adept and adroit in their use of English. every computer that I saw used English. It should be noted that English usage in the written media in Nepal is not only fluent but makes extensive use of various forms of humour. 1989: 161). with an initial holding of 71 films on the Himalayan region. was screened in two small theatres at the Russian Cultural Centre. made the media explosion possible. The films included a wide variety of subjects. accounts for why so many people claim to speak Hindi. the Information Technology Industries in Nepal have a growth rate of over 40% annually (Anonymous. researchers. While many of the films were panned. students. most of the films being in Hindi or English. although this practice may have been intended to cater to the tourists. The video shop owner. Verma states that while Nepal has almost no documentary film-making tradition. The popularity of both Hindi films and film songs. According to one article. the majority of them in English. the first of its kind in Nepal. for a minimal fee. In 1988 there were 33 ‘cinema halls’ in Nepal. tongue-in-cheek comments. puns. showing documentaries and films on the Himalayan region and its people. as well as seminars and technology talks. The festival.312 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development extended family. in part. apparently can. and film connoisseurs (Prasad. Film Himalaya. Plans were in place for a second festival in March 1996. there were 150 video ‘parlours’ in Kathmandu. . was set up by Himal magazine. with 10. During the nine months I lived in Nepal. 1995b: 28). computers seemed to spring up everywhere. The most popular and widely known music in Nepal remains Hindi film songs. the Computer Association of Nepal (CAN) organised a four-day fair. said that the mix in his shop was about 50% in English and 50% in Hindi. the festival itself was acclaimed a success. Movies in both Hindi and English are neither dubbed nor subtitled in Nepali. double-entendre. which are sung in Hindi. the first film festival. A film archive. It extended over a period of three days. produced by a number of countries outside Nepal.000 people in attendance. The fair included 46 stalls. Bars and restaurants often played New Age music by international artists such as Kitaro. according to the Department of Information. which was put together with a budget of only US$8000. to film-makers. The aim was to display the new methods and tools in information technology and to consider their impact on Nepalese society. Although software was advertised in Devanagari script. During the same period. and sarcasm. was held in Kathmandu. This archive would be made available. Television sets were also common in many bars and restaurants in the urban areas.

. 12 were by Nepalese linguists and seven were given by non-Nepalese. In 1977. Each CNAS journal. the common use of English in the media is likely to further improve English fluency. In 1979. the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS) was established and INAS was dissolved. and a journal. Also. in the CNAS journal were in English. However. began an MA in Linguistics in the English Department at Tribhuvan University. except one. particularly those in the Tibeto-Burman family. was published by INAS (Tuladhar. published biannually. and all the articles. as well as book and poster exhibitions. although CNAS states in its editorial policy that papers are welcome in both Nepali and English. Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching (four papers). Once again. All articles that I saw in the Linguistics Society Journals were in English. all non-Nepalese. This outcome underlines the importance of English in academia in Nepal. As a non-teaching institution. Of the life members. the Nepali English Language Teaching Association (NELTA) held its first annual conference. 27 have non-Nepalese names and 89 appear to be Nepalese. The Linguistics Conference held in 1993 had four sessions: General Linguistics (four papers). Also. a Rai language. as illustrated by Toba’s presentation at the Linguistic Conference in 1994 on ‘Implosive Stops in Umbule’. when he taught three courses on linguistics and applied linguistics for college teachers of English. In 1972. there were three keynote speakers. the department had not yet been established. usually includes at least one article on linguistics or language matters. a panel/plenary. The only language used for talks and presentations at both the Linguistic Society Conference and the NELTA Conference was English. professors at Tribhuvan University made initial efforts to establish a Department of Linguistics. At present. At the Second Annual NELTA Conference. The interest and participation in linguistic matters on the part of Nepalese scholars seems clear. is published by the society. Contributions to Nepalese and Asian Studies. The list of Linguistic Society Members includes five honorary members. in 1994. in 1992. by 1995. Sociolinguistics and Language Planning (five papers) and Syntax and Semantics (six papers). 1994: 51). and 116 life members. linguists continue to struggle for funds and recognition. a journal. including the papers presented. the society has held a Linguistics Conference every year since. This work continues today. Despite the need for linguistic research and field studies in Nepal. CNAS is primarily concerned with research matters and publications. Of the 19 papers presented. the Linguistic Society of Nepal was founded. 30 presentations. The first Seminar in Linguistics was held in 1974. Nepalese Linguistics. in 1973. In 1993. The Summer Institute of Linguistics has produced a number of descriptions of different languages in Nepal. However. the Institute of Nepal and Asian studies (INAS). meetings were held to prepare a list of courses and teachers that could be used to begin a Department of Linguistics. in conjunction with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). The status of linguistics and language studies Linguistics was first introduced into Nepal in 1969 by Professor Alan Davies.The Language Situation in Nepal 313 while in turn. the linguists at Tribhuvan University are scattered in four different departments.

Nepali has several dialects. Such a survey would require a considerable amount of pre-planning. A more reliable alternative would be to implement a sociolinguistic survey independent of the national census (see Kaplan & Baldauf. the more liberal attitude towards language choice seems to have led to an increase in the number of English-medium boarding schools. with a multiparty system. with an accurate count of the number of speakers of each language. No reference grammar of the language. The period has continued to be characterised by a degree of instability. several elections have been held. To date. Nepali remains the primary language in the national schools. given the alternatives. and the appropriate interpretation of the collected data. by a variety of scholars in Nepal. although it is now a constitutionally approved alternative. One area of particular dispute involves the degree of Sanskritisation of Nepali vocabulary. bilingualism. The Future of Language Planning in Nepal The new democratic government in Nepal. the cost of a comprehensive survey is substantial. Language planning and Nepali The importance of Nepali as a link language. is yet available (Yadav. The first priority for future language planning is the need to produce a comprehensive survey of the native languages existing in Nepal. and multilingualism also need to be collected. While it is too soon to tell what the final direction of education and language planning will take. a number of recommendations might be considered. although Clyne (1982) has discussed the many difficulties of collecting and interpreting language data through the national census. who question the validity of earlier language statistics. Scholars and linguists in Nepal. and the parties in power have changed back and forth between the Nepali Congress Party and a Communist Coalition group.314 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development many native languages in Nepal remain unrecorded and further linguistic field studies are needed. Under the new government. language specialists. written on modern linguistic principles. the training of a survey team. began in 1990. Little progress has been made so far in the use of first languages in the school system. and there has been little standardisation of spelling or orthography. Despite the recent increase in the number of books and texts in Nepali. Nepali is still in the process of being standardised and modernised. have expressed the need for a more accurate method of data collection. 1992: 186). in some form. Nepali has to rely on . Since that time. Nepali will continue to be the main language of instruction for much of the country. It is possible that more explicit language information could be incorporated into subsequent Nepalese census questionnaires. is certain to continue. Data on first languages. as well as the most important language in education. Thus. if it is to become the language of higher education many more will need to be written and translated. A considerable amount of work remains to be done by linguists. 1997: 102). It is the first language for at least 50% of the population and if current trends towards Nepalisation continue that number will increase. and writers with regard to Nepali. Most of them have been suggested.

current textbooks in Nepali are written for students who already speak Nepali. both children and adults. new reading textbooks. a non-denominational missionary organisation. and at a certain level it becomes indistinguishable from Hindi. They are graded into four levels. I found no studies of adult literacy programmes in Nepali. provided the funds are made available to implement such studies. eleven books were available in the series. will be needed. there would probably be a sufficiently well-trained manpower base among Nepalese-speaking scholars. given the realities of the large number of community languages. Nepal is one of the poorest and least industrialised countries in the world. If Nepali is to survive as a separate academic language. According to Malla (1989: 458) 80% of its vocabulary is cognate with Hindi. women’s stories. writers. . abstract and technical vocabulary. Nepali language purists have tried to preserve the language by creating new terms from indigenous roots. to the implementation of first language education and to the development and preservation of minority languages. it indicates the potential for providing interesting Nepali readings and oral histories for beginning readers. Reasons for implementing first language education are well documented in studies around the world. However. The United Mission to Nepal (UMN). from easy to very difficult. The future of other Nepalese languages: Preservation and education The current government and the Ministry of Education are committed. as well as the lack of funds and trained manpower for such a project. The texts are authored by people in the villages whose stories are taken down and minimally edited (Anonymous. As of 1994. While this is a very modest beginning. It has been designed to provide meaningful literature for use in adult literacy classes all over Nepal. and earning a living. which more adequately take into account the multicultural realities of the country.The Language Situation in Nepal 315 Sanskrit roots for learned. has begun developing a series of readers in Nepali for school children and new adult literates. particularly for students outside the urban areas. greater efforts will be needed to preserve its distinct identity. considerable work will be needed. the possibilities of any full-scale implementation of such a plan may seem overwhelming. Also. Some scholars have suggested that funding might be found from countries already providing aid projects in Nepal. There is probably a need to study and expand the existing literacy programmes. on paper at least. but it is becoming increasingly difficult for these terms to be accepted since the Sanskrit alternatives are widely in use. covering topics such as soldiers’ lives. No school texts are available which teach Nepali as a second language. and funding for any programme in language studies and education has a relatively low priority. 1994: 43). textbooks for teaching Nepali as a second language will need to be designed. but this review would suggest that such programmes are to be found throughout the country. The matter of restricted and unrestricted code will have to be considered in developing school material for students who are only familiar with spoken Nepali and the restricted code. Whether Nepali is begun in the first year or added later in a bilingual programme for non-Nepali speakers. and Sanskrit oriented writers continue to borrow most words from Sanskritised Hindi. Apparently. If genuine progress is to be made in this direction. and linguists to undertake the further modernisation of Nepali. For this work. At the primary school level.

the vocabulary necessary to meet the educational needs of the language would have to be compiled and modernised while technical terms may have to be devised. or modifying a writing system for first language education has usually favoured the adoption of Devanagari script. Adjustments will need to be made to adapt this script to the minority languages. as well as the standardisationof spellings and punctuation. considerable work will need to be undertaken. and dictionary. reference grammars and textbooks. The use of Devanagari. and a plan for implementing the programme into the education system would need to be designed. particularly in textbooks to be 16 used in beginning oral language classes. Hornberger (1992) has pointed out some of the problems involved in code selection. After literacy has been established in the early grades. differing vowel lengths. creating. Important decisions involving status planning would have to be made to decide which of the minority languages would be developed for use in education. For languages that do not have an existing writing system. grammar. Financial aid will be a priority if first language education is to be developed.316 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development UNECEF has helped fund bilingual programmes in other countries and may extend financial help to Nepal. grammatication and lexication. In the final process of elaboration. Primers. and decisions would need to be made regarding the selection of a suitable code. may present a number of problems. Haugen (1983) has stated that three aspects are involved in codification: graphisation. the issue of selecting. In Nepal. According to Kaplan and Baldauf (1997). and glottal stops not present in Nepali. 1976). particularly for Tibeto-Burman languages. phonemes in these languages include vowels. involving first oral Nepali classes and then reading classes. Some work has been done in this direction by SIL and linguists at Tribhuvan University. and pedagogical material will have to be written in the minority languages – material which reflects the different cultures and the multicultural nature of the communities. . Corpus planning and codification of the language would be essential. supplementary reading texts. Native-speaking teachers would have to be trained. The Japanese foster parent programme is already giving money to help support children in the Newari school. currently used for Nepali. a more extensive language planning programme would be required. Both Morton (1976) and Yadav (1992) have laid out recommendations for the implementation of programmes for bilingual education and the use of first languages in the primary grades. If the people of Nepal are determined to enact such a plan. Material will also need to be developed to facilitate the transition into Nepali. the results of codification work are a prescriptive orthography. The languages selected would need to be standardised by developing dictionaries. The following outline is a synthesis of some of their proposals along with an outline of the language planning model suggested by Haugen (1983) and Kaplan and Baldauf (1997). A bilingual programme would involve the use of the minority language in all beginning classes taught by native speakers of the language. described as a syllabic writing system (Bandhu. This would standardise writing systems in the country and facilitate the transition to Nepali. For example. Textbooks and teaching material would have to be written for those languages that already have an existing writing system. there would be a gradual shift towards the national language.

Higher education training for such positions would be needed. Language planning and education in English No mention was made in the literature regarding the possibility of bilingual education in Nepali/English or L1/English. it becomes a continuing alternative for education in Nepal. in part. however. … Most of the principals of such schools are either under-qualified or former primary teachers expelled from their schools on charges of corruption or leakage of question papers. writes in a news article: Language teachers teaching Nepali in schools are already bemoaning that the students’ skills in the Nepali language are deteriorating because of an overemphasis in English. in fact. similar to the Central Institute for Indian Languages (CIIL) in Mysore India. There is a need for more linguistic studies. Upadhyay (1995: page unknown). … Sooner or later we are bound to discover that our English-mania has managed to produce a whole breed of new Nepali intellectuals who can converse in dog-English with stilted . it is a passing fad. to promote linguistic research in the languages of Nepal (see Pattanayak. If the minority languages of Nepal are to be preserved. Indo-Aryan speakers. Finding trained linguists. consideration of these proposals will be essential. minority language writers. local languages and Nepali exist side-by-side. The present widespread growth of English-medium boarding schools needs to be reviewed and studied. If. Yadav (1992) strongly recommends establishing a Central Institute of Languages in Nepal. 1986). Even more boarding schools are being opened in the Kathmandu Valley today. While these may seem to be daunting tasks. This problem is due. and if education for the masses is to be extended effectively. although in the light of current trends this does seem to be a possible alternative. … The most surprising thing is that the people themselves are not complaining against these malpractices! In an even more dramatic vein. the present government policy of ignoring the trend may be valid. and L1 teachers will be essential and problematic. to be implemented and funded. both theoretical and applied. Yadav points out that forty years ago no studies or textbooks existed for Nepali either. … Many schools in Kathmandu have been able to dupe parents into believing that their children are indeed learning English. Many writers are critical of some of these English schools. to the very early diaspora of Hindu. who spread across the country mixing with the local tribal groups.The Language Situation in Nepal 317 Implementing L1 classes at local level is complicated by the fact that most local communities in the country are not monolingual. serious consideration should be given to the quality and standardisation of private English education. If. stock and barrel what these schools claim to be teaching. Khanal (1995: page unknown) writes: … the people have started opening boarding schools in remote villages where most students have to walk more than ten to fifteen miles a day to reach schools. an English teacher. … I find it amazing that parents have bought lock. as well as to the more recent migration of Nepali speaking Hill people into the Terai.

caste. promoting equality. If English should continue as an alternative medium of instruction in Nepal. in part because they are not officially recognised by the present government language policy. teaching methods. style. and literature are being neglected in the English-medium schools and language institutes. nor display analytical thinking that is the hallmark of an educated person. These comments seem more emotional than factual. to which the students can relate. and content of many selected readings are too often outdated and impractical. or if they are questioning the quality of English being taught. would need to be written and included in the curriculum. Class. What does seem clear is that English-medium schools are rapidly increasing in number throughout Nepal. as well as in the felt needs of at least some of the people. accuracy. Articles and writers often lament the fact that English grammar. at least for the first time in the history of the country. Bista (1994: 163) states: … the very simplicity of most of the ethnic cultures allows a greater flexibility than does the cumbersome and ossified structure of urbane upper . relevant to Nepalese cultures and experiences. and it is not always clear if such critics are complaining about education in English rather than Nepali. it seems unlikely that the current trend towards English-medium schools will die out in the near future. Also the vocabulary. and incorporating the middle and lower castes into the mainstream of the Nepalese political system will be an important test of the new administration. who have never seen a circus or a seal have difficulty relating to readings on such subjects. The relevance of material in English literature in the national school curriculum was discussed at the NELTA conference. English teaching textbooks and materials. they may even have a say in the decisions which will be made in the future. for example. With a democratic government and the beginning of decentralisation. Also. students in Nepal. and there seems to be no means of regulating the quality of most of these schools. Consequently. ethnic identity and education How the government of Nepal deals with ending caste prejudices.318 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development American accents at hip joints while gyrating to whatever trash is in fashion. but who can neither write a single sentence worth reading in English or Nepali. it may be necessary for the national government to recognise and incorporate the English school stream into the national language policy. Too often the English texts and readings used in Nepal are too difficult or are without context. Given the demand for English fluency in higher education and on the job market. Despite all of the above mentioned problems. and textbooks to prevent the rather haphazard approach to English education currently in place. it may be necessary to establish a system to evaluate materials. some degree of standardisationof the curriculum may be necessary and a system of accreditation for the schools and the teachers would be advisable if the standards of education are to be regulated. This suggests that the English curriculum in the national schools needs to be re-evaluated and updated to include relevant texts. the people have the possibility of making a choice as to how their children will be educated.

has been a factor in changing Nepalese society and forging a new identity for individuals as educated persons. Already education has begun to replace caste as a status marker in Nepal and. Nepal’s future hopes lie with them. Education. cultures and ethnic identities of the people. who were accused of graft. lack of seaports and competition from India – factors that have hindered economic development and kept the standard of living low. Gellner (1983) believes that modern nations and nationalism emerge only with the advent of industrialisation. but also to systems of caste and gender privilege hegemonic in the society’. Sill and Kirkby attribute the weak development of manufacturing to a limited infrastructure. the status of these people should improve and be assured. is faced with the dilemma of trying to establish itself as a modern. even in the national schools. class and religion: [F]or. Gellner (1983: 13) writes: In traditional milieu an ideal of a single overriding cultural identity makes little sense. until recently. and think in terms of caste. The modern industrial sector along with cottage handicrafts contributed only 5% of the GDP. could be found in Nepal. Skinner and Holland (1996: 273) write. Yet Nepal would still be classified as an agrarian culture. Similarly. Sill and Kirkby (1991) point out that Nepal is one of the least industrial countries in the world. Multilingualism and nationalism Nepal. regarded as superior to the Indian equivalents. the students tend to share common modern attitudes and values. while at the same time preserving the languages. even in Nepali or English. During the revolution of the late 1980s. The policy of the central government. Language choice and educational opportunities for the ethnic minorities and the non-elite castes would play a critical part in the future of the people of Nepal. like many multilingual countries in the world. Nepalese hill peasants often have links with a variety of religious rituals. Only about 1% of the workforce was employed in manufacturing in the mid 1980s. corruption and the misuse of aid funding. the arguments for a single national identity are weakened. Vir (1988: 159) concludes that ‘[t]he process of modernisation is able to cut across the barriers of caste. will have to be carefully cultivated. Education thus becomes a leveller in a society’. By 1995. has stressed the importance of a single national language along with the development of a modern industrial state. industrial nation. a small domestic market. essential to the ethnic identity of the local people. Sill and Kirkby (1991: 14) state that 93% of the population is engaged in agricultural activities. ‘in Nepal. Nepalese people also blamed the slow economic development of the country on the government and the Royal Family. … Confidence in themselves and pride in the nation. currently crippled by fatalism. has become a significant factor in limiting Nepalese industrial potential. With a renewed interest in the possibilities of preserving the languages and cultures of Nepal. education has had an important impact on the social structure of the country. clan or village (but not of nation) . as well as India. school participants – teachers and students – were often struggling to turn the schools from a site of state control to a site of opposition not only to the state. Without an industrial base and a manufacturing work force. goods from China.The Language Situation in Nepal 319 class-caste society in the Kathmandu valley. Competition from China.

Elsewhere they add that: In sum. writers are already complaining that there are not enough jobs to employ the present number of college graduates. perhaps Nepal should not be in too great a hurry to create a nation on the old European model. While some advances have been made in education.320 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development according to circumstances. Nepalese handicrafts and Buddhist thankas (religious paintings) already can be ordered from Kathmandu over the Internet. These realities do not encourage optimistic predictions for the future development of a modern industrial nation in Nepal. and Pokara. . as majority languages or languages of wider communication replace smaller languages in important registers. (1997: 273) The language situation in Nepal reflects a number of these ecological factors: · Nepali is the language of the people in power and as such it occupies a number of significant domains and registers throughout the country. larger languages struggle and no amount of educational interventions is likely to save them. Patan. Conclusions: Language planning and language ecology Referring to language planning in context. But it is also the case that. global era. by the need for increased economic mobility. if languages come to serve fewer functions outside the home. regardless of the ministration of government. The language ceases to serve key communication functions (registers) in the community. They are frequented by both tourist and locals. smaller languages die. the military. the political system. language death occurs when at least the three following conditions pertain: (1) (2) (3) Parents are reluctant or unable to pass on a language to their children. for example in national trade. As mentioned previously. Given the horrors that extreme nationalism and patriotism have bequeathed to the world in the 20th century. The community of speakers is not stable and/or expanding. but rather is unstable and/or contracting. Kaplan and Baldauf (1997: 13) state that: It appears to be the case that languages which serve important societal functions for their speakers survive. For example. Nepal may be on its way. internet cafes had become popular in Nepal. as the speakers of those languages are drawn away from their home communities by the siren call of urbanisation. If it is possible for a nation to leap-frog over the industrial–national stage and jump with both feet into the post-industrial. Nepal already seems to be entering the post-industrial information age. the legal courts. and by other powerful societal forces. and the national education system. By 1999. and were found in Kathmandu. It hardly matters whether homogeneity is preached or not. the police. It can find little resonance.

so they may be able to maintain their vitality. registers. and ceremonial activities.. Also. educational. 1992 and Dahal. The parents state that these two languages are essential for education and job opportunities. and science and technology. Nepali and English. such as Maithili. Hindi. in the future Nepali. the prestige languages. At least some parents of minority languages are choosing to teach their children Nepali and/or English rather than the local language (see case study on page 306 about the Thakali in Marpha). are also spoken in neighbouring areas on all sides of the country. the media. international affairs. Languages and ethnicities are not bound by political borders. the local community. the fewer the number of speakers of a language. or trilingual in Newari. social structure in which language policy formation occurs every day. Since little or no government or financial support has been given to develop or preserve the minority languages in Nepal. Given the poverty of Nepal and the limited number of job opportunities. private education. are likely to occupy an increasing number of domains and registers in Nepal. · · · · · · · Given the above facts. demographic. so that it may not be economically feasible to extend L1 education to all the languages in Nepal. and possibly English. including Nepali. Language death of the smaller languages in Nepal is occurring (see Noonan. the greater the likelihood of language death.The Language Situation in Nepal 321 · English is the language which occupies the second largest number of significant domains throughout the country. international trade and business. it is likely that in future more of the smaller languages will die out and the larger minority languages will occupy a reduced number of communicative functions. even to some extent in the rural areas. Efforts have been made to revitalise languages such as Newari (see page 298) but most Newars are bilingual in Newari and Nepali. historical. political. fluency in Nepali and/or English is essential to compete in the job market. Education and literacy are spreading the use of both Nepali and English. 1996. 1989: 453). 1976). including the tourist industry. Kaplan and Baldauf (1997: 13) write: … it is not merely a matter of declaring politically that it is for some reason desirable to preserve or promote or obstruct some language: it is not merely a question of charging the education sector to teach or not to teach some language. Languages which are spoken and read outside the borders of Nepal. are replacing the local languages in the cities. materials production etc. aid projects. Nepali and English. to the detriment of the local languages. . As Nepal becomes more urbanised. The smaller the number of speakers of a language. and Urdu have a broader support base than most Nepalese languages. and domains – being limited to the family. Toba. Several languages spoken in Nepal. … it is a question of trying to manage the language to support it within the vast cultural. and many of the languages of Nepal have a small number of speakers (Malla. the harder it is to justify the expense of teacher training.

1994–95. and to president Kazuko Inoue of Kanda University of International Studies for her support and encouragement. His wisdom and patience . If minority languages and cultures are to be maintained in Nepal. since it favours native speakers of the chosen language in terms of prestige. to wrest more power from the state and opposition groups. These broader issues transcend the simplistic solution of including first language instruction in the system of education. The 18th century myth ‘one nation/one language’ does not work in Europe. but often a rational and instrumental attempt to reduce socio-economic inequality. On the basis of his three case studies he adds that: … Language promotion was not mere cultural attachment. and inequality felt by minority groups throughout the country. their stated policy seems to have had little impact. and to determine an increasing amount of the ethnic group’s role in the wider political structure. education in Nepali continues. is becoming an integral part of most nations. A language policy that effectively promotes one national language inevitably affects the whole network of languages within the system. I am deeply indebted to Robert B. will be a challenge. and other trade alliances and mergers forming around the world. in Nepal. (1984: 215) Similarly. within the national context. limiting the number of domains and registers of all the other languages in the country. which supported my study and research in Nepal. as well as a necessity. language issues may be seen as representative of the broader issues of powerlessness. With a United Europe. and the job market. prejudice. While the leftist politicians include the need to educate children in their first language as a part of their platform. Colin (1984) states that language is the repository of a group’s ethnic identity and linguistic concerns are often central to ethnic political activity. in addition to revitalising and preserving their ethnic identities and languages. education. How the new government of Nepal deals with the many ethnic groups and languages in Nepal. this may be changing. Kaplan for his sound advice and guidance while I was in Nepal and during the writing process. Although nationalism and monolingualism have been instrumental political values in the past. In the national schools. Efforts need to be made to incorporate the ethnic populations into the economic and political mainstream of the country. Such a policy also has social and political ramifications. today. on the national system of education. and if the position of the ethnic groups is to be improved. in the future multilingualism may become an incentive. it will require the determination of the local people. as well as the foresight of the national government. Acknowledgements I would like to express my appreciation to Sano Foundation of Japan for the one-year research/sabbatical grant. where it was born. 1972). and it does not function in polyglot polities such as Nepal (see Fishman. as yet.322 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development The government of Nepal has tended to relegate the implementation of national language planning to the educators and the Ministry of Education. with renewed and redefined ethnic identities. Multiculturalism.

included interviews with teachers. I have had to rely heavily on the works of many Nepalese scholars. . 261-0014. Special thanks go to my husband Daijiro Suzuki for his support and care both in Nepal and during the time spent writing in Japan. I would also like to thank both R. B. English Department. This work is dedicated to my children. 2. B. K. for their expertise in editing the manuscript. 3. Jha. D. Chiba-shi. Father Maniyar SJ. but I hope. Japan. Many of these sources are difficult or impossible to obtain outside Nepal. Yadav and many others is apparent throughout the study. Kirtipur. and Devandra Jung Rana for their time and their valuable input on language and education in Nepal. Chiba-ken. Antonia Diaz-Lindsey and Andres Diaz for their love. Baldauf Jr. sacrifice and understanding throughout my career. but it is likely that their numbers will be reduced. Data on the language situation in Nepal were gathered during a research/sabbatical leave that included residence in Nepal from September 1994 to May 1995. Malla. Yadav. Japan. Makuhari. R. B. Pierte Jirel and Goma Shrestha for welcoming me and making my stay in Nepal a pleasure. Correspondence Any correspondence should be directed to Professor Sonia Eagle. Notes 1. English spellings of Nepalese languages are highly variable from source to source. in association with the Centre for Nepalese and Asian Studies (CNAS). Kanda University of International Studies. Throughout the Nepalese literature the term mother tongue is used. My indebtedness to professors K. I would like to thank Nirmal Tuladhar of CNAS at Tribhuvan University for his help and advice and for his introductions to others during my research in Nepal. Kaplan and R. of course. There has been talk of forming a United Nations military force in which the Gurkha soldiers would play an important role. The Gurkhas were the major military presence in Hong Kong prior to the turnover of the territory to China. Mihama-ku. S. but this has not materialised. Bhupendra Raj Raut. Fieldwork. Thanks go to many people I talked to or interviewed. my own. Nepalese books. Because I am not Nepalese. J. These writings provided important data for this work. Rana and his family. The research in Nepal was undertaken with the approval of Tribhuvan University. I would also like to thank D. I participated in the 1994 Conference on Linguistics at Tribhuvan University and the 1994 Nepali English Language Teaching Association Conference (NELTA). Kaplan and Baldauf (1997: 19) state that ‘The notion mother-tongue is extremely difficult to define. Their participation in the Falkland war and in the peace-keeping activities in Kosovo suggest that they will continue to remain a part of the British military. Bista. 1-4-1 Wakaba. the future of the Gurkha regiments in the British army is in question. Any errors of interpretation are. In particular. that I have managed to remain objective and relatively untouched by the political and emotional debates on language issues in Nepal. graduate theses and articles in newspapers and magazines were purchased or copied. Later references from different sources may use alternate spellings. conducted primarily in the Kathmandu Valley. administrators and parents. especially to Udaya Shrestha. Today. 4. These spellings are taken from Malla (1989: 499). Both conferences were an important source of information on the language situation in Nepal.The Language Situation in Nepal 323 made this work possible. Funding for the study was provided by a grant from the Sano Foundation of Japan and Kanda University of International Studies (Kanda Gaigo Daigaku). as well as classroom observations and filming. as an outsider. B. P. journals.

ran a school for mentally retarded children in Pokara. According to Malla (1989: 448) the Rai-Kirati (Kirat) designation lumps together 18 mutually unintelligible languages. A number of studies on matters associated with foreign aid. 1998. Crooks & Crewes. In addition. Translated in Yadav (1992: 178). nonetheless. that the church operates a school for homeless children and orphans. and Indonesia (Alisjahbana. 1999). when asked why he learned to speak Japanese so well. For this reason. 16. SJ.g. some writers mark the retroflex sound with an ‘h’ and some do not. one that is widely used’. For example. . It would appear on the basis of a short article in the Himal (Anonymous. 15. principal of St. as well as a large government building in the area. 6. 1995. said that a Japanese Jesuit priest. such as the building of schools and medical centers. Yadav (1992) has grouped them together following the national census criteria. One Nepalese art shop owner. Interview 1995 with Mr Rana. 11. language development. some words are spelled with the native pronunciation and others with the Nepali form. replied. and Kenny & Savage. Since transcriptions from Nepali into English are highly variable. 1991. four Japanese Sisters of Notre Dame operate a school in Bandipur. 1995). Afno manchhe is defined by Bista (1994: 98) as one’s circle of association. 13. 10. The children are being educated and trained to be church missionaries in Nepal. I have chosen to use the term first language or L1. I have chosen not to specify the names of interviewees whenever the issue has political overtones. educated in the Gorkha mission schools. spellings in this list do not always conform to Malla’s spellings. 7. Kaplan.324 Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 5. Some are in the country on student visas to study at Japanese universities. 150 kilometres from Kathmandu. The same is true of Yadav’s list that follows. This problem also arises with names and places. Japan is one of the major aid donor countries to Nepal. With the beginning of the first direct flight to Nepal. A member of the Four Square Church told me. 14. 1976). Interview with Father Maniyar. They teach in English following the same curriculum as St. 1997). The Japanese built an important hydro-electric dam and a cement factory in Nepal and in 1995 they were constructing the new Bagmati bridge between Kathmandu and Patan. … It is not a useful term. 12. Since some people were hesitant about expressing opinions which were in opposition to government policy. There are also a large number of Nepalese currently working in Japan. Malaysia (Omar. recognising that this term too has problems of definition. According to Sharma (1995:12) 1700 Nepalis have been trained in Japan and 1400 Japanese experts and Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers have been sent to Nepal. ‘The Japanese people don’t seem to be able to speak English. Toba has listed them separately. not what you know but whom you know. Xavier school 1994–95. and manpower training are relevant to these issues (see Albin. The kinds of language planning issues and problems described in relation to Nepal have been explored in other polities in the recent past. They also fund other projects in the rural areas. If Malla is correct this would complicate the matter of first language education in Rai Kirati. Xavier. the Philippines (Gonzalez. 8. The international students are a heterogeneous group but I have no information as to which countries they are from. Many of these projects are sources of employment for the local people. Also. private Nepali tutor. so we have no choice but to learn Japanese’. but it is. 9. Akijiro. particularly in Indian or Nepalese restaurants. in its simplest meaning it can be understood literally – “The language of one’s mother” or the language one speaks with one’s mother. operating out of the new airport in Osaka. 1994) that the United Mission to Nepal is active in teaching adult literacy classes in Nepal. In reality. Ooki. e. in conversation. tourism from Japan was expected to increase. 1997. Father Maniyar in an interview in 1995. one may in fact be a native speaker of a language even though one’s mother was not.

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