RegionNepal, Sikkim
Native speakers
20,000 (2011 census)[2]
  • Kiranti
    • Eastern
      • Greater Yakkha
        • Yakkha
Language codes
ISO 639-3ybh – inclusive code
Individual codes:
lmh – Lambichhong (duplicate code)
phw – Phangduwali (duplicate code)
luu – Lumba-Yakkha (duplicate code)[1]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Yakkha (also erroneously spelled as Yakha) is a language spoken in parts of Nepal, Darjeeling district and Sikkim. The Yakkha-speaking villages are located to the East of the Arun river, in the southern part of the Sankhuwasabha district and in the northern part of the Dhankuta district of Nepal. About 14,000 people still speak the language, out of 17,003 ethnic Yakkha in Nepal.[3] Genealogically, Yakkha belongs to the Eastern Kiranti languages and is in one subgroup with several Limbu languages, e.g. Belhare, Athpare, Chintang and Chulung. Ethnically however, the Yakkha people perceive themselves as distinct from the other Kiranti groups such as Limbu. [4][5]

Geographical distribution

Mugali is spoken between Mugakhola and Sinuwakhola on the eastern banks of the Arun River in Dhankuta District, Province No. 1, Nepal, in the villages (VDC's) of Muga, Pakhribas, and Phalate.[2]

Phangduwali is spoken above the Mugakhola headwaters in Pakhribas VDC, Dhankuta District, Province No. 1, Nepal.

Lumba-Yakkha is spoken in Arkhaule Jitpur and Marek Katahare VDC's, northern Dhankuta District, Province No. 1, Nepal.



Yakkha has the five vowels [a], [e], [i], [o], [u]. There are no centralized vowels as in other Kiranti languages. Variation between short and long vowels is possible, but this is not a phonemic contrast, because no minimal pairs can be found. Diphthongs such as [oi̯], [ui̯], [ai̯] can be found in some words such as uimalaŋ "steep descent", or the interjection hoiʔ "Enough!".

Yakkha vowel phonemes
Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open a


The consonants are shown in the table below. The voiced consonants in brackets have doubtful status. They are not phonemes, because no minimal pairs can be established. But they are also not motivated by a phonological rule. Furthermore, the voiced consonants occur only in a few words, and some of them are Nepali loans. Examples with initial voiced consonants are gogoba (an insect/worm), gʱak "all", jeppa "really", ɖaŋgak "stick".

Labial Alveolar Postalveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive unaspirated p (b ) t (d ) ʈ (ɖ ) k (ɡ ) ʔ
aspirated () () ʈʰ (ɖʱ) (ɡʱ)
Affricate unaspirated t͡s (d͡ʒ)
aspirated t͡sʰ
Fricative s h
Nasal m n ŋ
Approximant unaspirated w j
Trill r
Lateral l




Yakkha has rich nominal and verbal morphology. Nouns inflect for case and number. Verbs inflect for person, number (singular, dual, plural/nonsingular), negation, several categories in the domain of tense, aspect and mood. In transitive verbs, both actor and undergoer are coreferenced on the verb. The category of inclusive/exclusive is found in the verbal morphology and in the possessive pronouns and prefixes.


Yakkha pronouns distinguish between singular, dual and plural number, and the possessive pronouns additionally distinguish between the inclusion and the exclusion of the addressee. The third person only has singular and nonsingular forms. The possessive pronouns have developed from the personal pronouns and the genitive marker -ka. The possessive prefixes obviously are grammaticalised possessive pronouns. They can be used instead of the possessive pronouns, e.g. one could say akka paŋ or a-paŋ, both meaning "my house". Sounds represented by /N/ in the table are underspecified nasals.

Personal pronoun Possessive pronoun Possessive prefix
1st person singular ka akka a-
dual, excl kanciŋ anciŋga anciŋ-
dual, incl kanciŋ enciŋga enciŋ-
plural, excl kaniŋ aniŋga aniŋ-
plural, incl kaniŋ eŋga eN-
2nd person singular nda ŋga N-
dual njiŋda njiŋga njiŋ-
plural nniŋda nniŋga nniŋ-
3rd person singular ukka u-
nonsingular uŋci uŋciga uŋci-

Plural marking

Yakkha marks non-singular on common nouns with the suffixing clitic =ci.[6] There is no overt marking of singular.

ghak kucuma=ci=be

all dog=PL=LOC

ghak kucuma=ci=be

all dog=PL=LOC

"at/to all the dogs"

Interrogatives and indefinite reference

Yakkha has the following interrogative pronouns and other interrogatives: isa "who", i/ina "what", iya "what" (if many items or uncountables are asked for), hetna "which", imin "how", ijaŋ "why", hetne "where", hetniŋ "when". If a certain item is asked for, ina will be used, but if an event is in question, the root i occurs without further morphology, e.g. i leksa? "What happened?". Reduplication of the pronouns may result in indefinite reference, e.g. hetniŋ hetniŋ "some time".

Case system

Yakkha distinguishes the unmarked absolutive case, the ergative -ŋa, the genitive -ka/-ga, the locative -pe/-be, the ablative case -bhaŋ and the comitative case -nuŋ, and the instrumental case -ŋa.



ka khemeŋna

"I go"



uŋ-ŋa uŋ tundwana

"he understands him"





"with/by means of a stone"










ak-ka niŋ

I-GEN (prefix-)name

"my name"





siŋ-ga saŋghoŋ

wood-GEN stool

"wooden stool"





khorek-pe cuwa

bowl-LOC beer

"(There is) beer in a/the bowl."



"with you"



"sour" (in adverbial use, e.g. taste sour)

Verbal morphology


  1. ^ Hammarström (2015) Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: a comprehensive review: online appendices
  2. ^ a b Yakkha at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Lambichhong (duplicate code) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Phangduwali (duplicate code) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Lumba-Yakkha (duplicate code)[1] at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  3. ^ Toba, Sueyoshi, Ingrid Toba and Novel Kishore Rai (2005): Diversity and Endangerment of Languages in Nepal, UNESCO Kathmandu Series of Monographs and Working Papers: No 7, Kathmandu: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Kathmandu Office.
  4. ^ Linkha, Magman and Bam Dewan (2005 (VS 2064)): Yakkha Ce’ya Sikla – Prarambhik Yakkha Sabda Samgraha, Kirant Yakkha Chumma, Indigenous Peoples Yakkha Organization, Sunsari.
  5. ^ Jimi, Indira, Visvakaji Kongren and Manita Jimi (2009): Engka Yakkha Cheptap, Siksa tatha Khelkud Mantralaya, Sanothimi, Bhaktapur.
  6. ^ Schackow, Diana (2015). A grammar of Yakkha. Language Science Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-3-946234-11-1. OCLC 945783299.