Nepal Struggles to Preserve Its Indigenous Languages as Those Speaking Them Dwindle

At last count Nepal had 129 spoken languages, but even as new ones are identified, others are becoming extinct. At least 24 of the languages and dialects spoken in Nepal are ‘endangered’, and the next ones on the verge of disappearing are Dura, Kusunda, and Tillung, each of which have only one speaker left.

“It will not surprise me if these three languages will be the next to go. With no one left to speak, we will not be able to save them,” says Lok Bahadur Lopchan of the Language Commission of Nepal, which is entrusted with preserving Nepal’s linguistic diversity.

If a language is spoken by less than 1,000 people, it is categorised as ‘endangered’. Lopchan predicts that over 37 more languages spoken in Nepal are in that category and likely to disappear in the next ten years.

According to the Language Commission of Nepal‘s 2019 annual report the languages most commonly spoken in the country are Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tharu, Tamang, Nepal Bhasa, Bajjika, Magar, Doteli and Urdu, in that order.

But just as there are languages disappearing, new ones that had never been recognised are being found in far flung parts of the country, like Rana Tharu which is spoken in the western Tarai, Narphu in a remote valley in Manang, Tsum in the Tsum Valley of Upper Gorkha, Nubri Larke in the Manaslu region, Poike and Syarke.

“It is fortunate that these languages have been identified, but it is unfortunate they are spoken by very few people, and could very soon die out,” says Lopchan, who adds that every two weeks, an indigenous language goes extinct somewhere in the world.

Even those that are among the top ten most spoken in Nepal are losing their first language status. Parents insist on proficiency in Nepali or English in school to ensure good job prospects for their children. And even since King Mahendra’s reign, the state has pushed Nepali as the lingua franca to the detriment of other national languages.

Read more: IPS News

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