|16 million (2011 census)|
L2 speakers 9 million (2011 census)
Official language in
|Regulated by||Nepal Academy|
Map showing distribution of Nepali speakers in South Asia. Dark red is areas with a Nepali-speaking majority or plurality, light red is where Nepali speakers are more than 20% of the population
Nepali (English: /nɪˈpɔːli/; Devanagari: नेपाली, [ˈnepali]) is an Indo-Aryan language native to the Himalayas region of South Asia. It is the official, and most widely spoken, language of Nepal, where it also serves as a lingua franca. Nepali has official status in the Indian state of Sikkim and in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration of West Bengal. It is spoken by about a quarter of Bhutan's population. Nepali also has a significant number of speakers in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Uttarakhand. In Myanmar it is spoken by the Burmese Gurkhas. The Nepali diaspora in the Middle East, Brunei, Australia and worldwide also use the language. Nepali is spoken by approximately 16 million native speakers and another 9 million as a second language.
Nepali is commonly classified within the Eastern Pahari group of the Northern zone of Indo-Aryan. The language originated from the Sinja Valley, Karnali Province then the capital city of the Khasa Kingdom around the 10th and 14th centuries. It developed proximity to a number of Indo-Aryan languages, most significantly to other Pahari languages. Nepali was originally spoken by the Khas people, an Indo-Aryan ethno-linguistic group native to the Himalayan region of South Asia. The earliest inscription in the Nepali language is believed to be an inscription in Dullu, Dailekh District which was written around the reign of King Bhupal Damupal around the year 981. The institutionalisation of the Nepali language arose during the rule of the Kingdom of Gorkha (later became known as the Kingdom of Nepal) in the 16th century. Over the centuries, different dialects of the Nepali language with distinct influences from Sanskrit, Maithili, Hindi, and Bengali are believed to have emerged across different regions of the current-day Nepal and Uttarakhand, making Nepali the lingua franca.
Nepali is a highly fusional language with relatively free word order, although the dominant arrangement is subject–object–verb word order (SOV). There are three major levels or gradations of honorific: low, medium and high. Low honorific is used where no respect is due, medium honorific is used to signify equal status or neutrality, and high honorific signifies respect. Like all modern Indo-Aryan languages, Nepali grammar has syncretized heavily, losing much of the complex declensional system present in the older languages. Nepali developed significant literature within a short period of a hundred years in the 19th century. Around 1830, several Nepali poets wrote on themes from the Sanskrit epics Ramayana and the Bhagavata Purana, which was followed by Bhanubhakta Acharya translating the Ramayana in Nepali which received "great popularity for the colloquial flavour of its language, its religious sincerity, and its realistic natural descriptions".
See also: Name of Nepal
The term Nepali derived from Nepal was officially adopted by the Government of Nepal in 1933, when Gorkha Bhasa Prakashini Samiti (Gorkha Language Publishing Committee), a government institution established in 1913 (B.S. 1970) for advancement of Gorkha Bhasa, renamed itself as Nepali Bhasa Prakashini Samiti (Nepali Language Publishing Committee) in 1933 (B.S. 1990), which is currently known as Sajha Prakashan. Conversely, the term Gorkhali in the former national anthem entitled "Shriman Gambhir" was changed to Nepali in 1951. However, the term Nepali was used before the official adoption notably by Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh, now considered one of the national heroes of Nepal, who advocated for the embracement of the term.
The initial name of Nepali language was Khas Kura (खस कुरा), meaning language or speech of the Khas people, who are descended from the ancient Khasas of Mahabharata, as the language developed during the rule of the Khasa Kingdom in the western Nepal. Following the Unification of Nepal led by Shah dynasty's Prithvi Narayan Shah, Nepali language became known as Gorakhā Bhāṣā (गोरखा भाषा; language of the Gorkhas) as it was spoken by Gorkhas. The people living in the Pahad or the hilly region, where it does not generally contain snow, called the language Parvate Kurā (पर्वते कुरा), meaning the speech of the hills.
See also: Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhraṃśa, Khasa Prakrit language, and Dardic languages
Early forms of present-day Nepali developed from the Middle Indo-Aryan apabhraṃśa Vernaculars of present-day western Nepal in the 10th–14th centuries, during the times of the Khasa Kingdom. The language evolved from Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Apabhraṃśa. Following the decline of the Khasa Kingdom, it was divided into Baise Rajya (22 principalities) in Karnali-Bheri region and Chaubise rajya (24 principalities) in Gandaki region. The currently popular variant of Nepali is believed to have originated around 500 years ago with the mass migration of a branch of Khas people from the Karnali-Bheri-Seti eastward to settle in lower valleys of the Karnali and the Gandaki basin.
During the times of Sena dynasty, who ruled a vast area in Terai and central hills of Nepal, Nepali language became influenced by the Indian languages including Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Braj Bhasha and Maithili. Nepali speakers and Senas had a close connect, subsequently, the language became the lingua franca in the area. As a result, the grammar became simplified, vocabulary was expanded, and its phonology was softened, after it was syncretised, Nepali lost much of the complex declensional system present in the older languages. In the Kathmandu Valley (then known as Nepal Mandala), Nepali language inscriptions can be seen during the reigns of Lakshmi Narasimha Malla and Pratap Malla, which indicates the significant increment of Nepali speakers in Kathmandu Valley.
The institutionalisation of the Nepali language is believed to have started with the Shah kings of Gorkha Kingdom, in the modern day Gorkha District of Nepal. Following the Unification of Nepal, the language moved to the court of the Kingdom of Nepal in the 18th century, where it became the state language. One of the earliest works in the Middile Nepali is written during the reign of Ram Shah, King of Gorkha, a book by unknown writer called Ram Shah ko Jivani (A Biography of Ram Shah). Prithvi Narayan Shah's Divyopadesh, written toward the end of his life, around 1774–75, contains old Nepali dialect of the era, is considered as the first work of essay of Nepali literature.
During this time Nepali developed a standardized prose in the Lal mohar (royal charter)—documents related to the Nepalese Kingdom dealing with diplomatic writings, tax, and administrative records. The language of the Lal mohar is nearly modern with some minor differences in grammar and with a pre-modern orthography. Few changes including changing Kari (करि) to Gari (गरि) and merging Hunu (हुनु) with cha (छ) to create huncha (हुन्छ) were done. The most prominent work written during this time was Bhanubhakta Acharya's Bhanubhakta Ramayana, a translation of the epic Ramayana from Sanskrit to Nepali for the first time. Acharya's work led to which some describe as "cultural, emotional and linguistic unification" of Nepal, comparatively to Prithvi Narayan Shah who unified Nepal.
See also: Nepali Language Movement
The modern period of Nepali begins in the early 20th century. During this time the ruling Rana dynasty made various attempts to make Nepali the language of education, notably, by Dev Shumsher and Chandra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, who established Gorkhapatra, and the Gorkha Bhasa Prakashini Samiti respectively. At this time, Nepali had limited literature compared to Hindi and Bengali languages, a movement notably in Banaras, and Darjeeling was started to create uniformed Nepali identity, which was later adopted in Nepal following the 1951 Nepalese revolution and during the Panchayat system. In 1957, Royal Nepal Academy was established with the objectives of developing and promoting Nepali literature, culture, art and science. During Panchayat, Nepal adopted a "One King, One Dress, One Language, One Nation" ideology, which promoted Nepali language as basis for Nepali nationalism, this time is considered to be a Golden Age for the language.
In West Bengal, Nepali language was recognised by West Bengal Government in 1961 as the official language for the Darjeeling district, and Kalimpong and Kurseong. The Nepali Language Movement took place in India around 1980s to include Nepali language in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India. In 1977, Nepali was officially accepted by Sahitya Academy, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of Indian literature. After Sikkim was annex by India, the Sikkim Official Languages Act, 1977, made Nepali as one of the official languages of state. On 20 August 1992, the Lok Sabha passed a motion to add the Nepali language to the Eighth Schedule.
Nepali language serves as the official language in education, administration, media, court and publication. Part 1 of the Nepali Constitution deals with the official language of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. Under Article 6, the official "language of the nation" will be "all languages spoken as the mother tongues in Nepal". In Article 7, the official language of Nepal have been written, which includes Nepali in Devanagari script:
- The Nepali language in the Devanagari script shall be the official language of Nepal.
- A Province may, by a provincial law, determine one or more than one languages of the nation spoken by a majority of people within the Province as its official language or languages, in addition to the Nepali language.
- Other matters relating to language shall be as decided by the Government of Nepal on recommendation of the Language Commission.
See also: Indian Gorkha
On 31 August 1992, the Parliament of India passed a bill to amend the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India to give Konkani, Manipuri, and Nepali as a languages with official status in India. Nepali has official status in the Indian state of Sikkim and in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration of West Bengal. Nepali also has a significant number of speakers in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Uttarakhand.
See also: Lhotshampa, Ethnic cleansing in Bhutan, and Bhutanese refugees
Despite Nepali language being spoken by about a quarter of population in Bhutan, it has no official status in Bhutan. The native speakers of Nepali are known as Lhotshampa ("southerners"). Many of Nepali-language speaking Bhutanese people were displaced by various laws enacted by the Bhutanese government.
According to the 2011 national census, 44.6% of the population of Nepal speaks Nepali as its first language. and 32.8% speak Nepali as a second language. Ethnologue reports 12,300,000 speakers within Nepal (from the 2011 census). It is spoken by 20,250,952, about 77.20% of the population, as their first language and second language.
According to the 2011 Census of India, there were a total of 2,926,168 Nepali language speakers in India.
|State||Nepali speakers (2011 census)||Growth (from 2001 census)|
In Bhutan, native Nepali speakers, known as Lhotshampa, are estimated at 35% of the population. This number includes displaced Bhutanese refugees, with unofficial estimates of the ethnic Bhutanese refugee population as high as 30 to 40%, constituting a majority in the south (about 242,000 people).
Nepali is the third-most spoken language in the Australian territory of Tasmania, where it is spoken by 1.3% of its population, and fifth-most spoken language in the Northern Territory, Australia, spoken by 1.3% of its population.
|Hong Kong||25,472||2016 census|
Main article: Nepali phonology
Vowels and consonants are outlined in the tables below.
|Close||i ĩ||u ũ|
Nepali distinguishes six oral vowels and five nasal vowels. /o/ does not have a phonemic nasal counterpart, although it is often in free variation with [õ].
Nepali has ten diphthongs: /ui̯/, /iu̯/, /ei̯/, /eu̯/, /oi̯/, /ou̯/, /ʌi̯/, /ʌu̯/, /ai̯/, and /au̯/.
|Nasal||m ⟨म⟩||n ⟨न/ञ⟩||(ɳ ⟨ण⟩)||ŋ ⟨ङ⟩|
|voiceless||unaspirated||p ⟨प⟩||t ⟨त⟩||t͡s ⟨च⟩||ʈ ⟨ट⟩||k ⟨क⟩|
|aspirated||pʰ ⟨फ⟩||tʰ ⟨थ⟩||t͡sʰ ⟨छ⟩||ʈʰ ⟨ठ⟩||kʰ ⟨ख⟩|
|voiced||unaspirated||b ⟨ब⟩||d ⟨द⟩||d͡z ⟨ज⟩||ɖ ⟨ड⟩||ɡ ⟨ग⟩|
|aspirated||bʱ ⟨भ⟩||dʱ ⟨ध⟩||d͡zʱ ⟨
||ɖʱ ⟨ढ⟩||ɡʱ ⟨घ⟩|
|Fricative||s ⟨श/ष/स⟩||ɦ ⟨ह⟩|
|Approximant||(w ⟨व⟩)||l ⟨ल⟩||(j ⟨य⟩)|
[j] and [w] are nonsyllabic allophones of [i] and [u], respectively. Every consonant except [j], [w], and /ɦ/ has a geminate counterpart between vowels. /ɳ/ and /ʃ/ also exist in some loanwords such as /baɳ/ बाण "arrow" and /nareʃ/ नरेश "king", but these sounds are sometimes replaced with native Nepali phonemes.
Final schwas may or may not be preserved in speech. The following rules can be followed to figure out whether or not Nepali words retain the final schwa:
Note: Schwas are often retained in music and poetry to add extra syllables when needed.
Main article: Nepali grammar
Nepali is a highly fusional language with relatively free word order, although the dominant arrangement is SOV (subject–object–verb). There are three major levels or gradations of honorifics: low, medium and high. Low honorific is used where no respect is due, medium honorific is used to signify equal status or neutrality, and high honorific signifies respect. There is also a separate highest level honorific, which was used to refer to members of the royal family, and by the royals among themselves. Like all modern Indo-Aryan languages, Nepali grammar has syncretized heavily, losing much of the complex declensional system present in the older languages. Instead, it relies heavily on periphrasis, a marginal verbal feature of older Indo-Aryan languages.
See also: Devanagari script
Nepali is written in Devanagari script.
In the section below Nepali is represented in Latin transliteration using the IAST scheme and IPA. The chief features are: subscript dots for retroflex consonants; macrons for etymologically, contrastively long vowels; h denoting aspirated plosives. Tildes denote nasalised vowels.
|Vowel mark indicated on consonant b||ब||बा||बि||बी||बु||बू||बे||बै||बो||बौ||बं||बः||बँ|
Main article: Nepali literature
Nepali developed significant literature within a short period of a hundred years in the 19th century. This literary explosion was fuelled by Adhyatma Ramayana; Sundarananda Bara (1833); Birsikka, an anonymous collection of folk tales; and a version of the ancient Indian epic Ramayana by Bhanubhakta Acharya (d. 1868). The contribution of trio-laureates Lekhnath Paudyal, Laxmi Prasad Devkota, and Balkrishna Sama took Nepali to the level of other world languages. The contribution of expatriate writers outside Nepal, especially in Darjeeling and Varanasi in India, is also notable.
Dialects of Nepali include Acchami, Baitadeli, Bajhangi, Bajurali, Bheri, Dadeldhuri, Dailekhi, Darchulali, Darchuli, Gandakeli, Humli, Purbeli, and Soradi. These dialects can be distinct from Standard Nepali. Mutual intelligibility between Baitadeli, Bajhangi, Bajurali (Bajura), Humli, and Acchami is low. The dialect of Nepali language spoken in Karnali Province is not mutually intelligible with Standard Nepali. The language is known with its old name as Khas Bhasa in Karnali.
The following is a sample text in Nepali, of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with a transliteration (IAST) and transcription (IPA).