Kulung language

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Native to Nepal
Native speakers
33,000  (2011 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
kle – Kulung
cuw – Chukwa
Glottolog kulu1253  (Kulung)[2]
chuk1270  (Chukwa)[3]

Kulung, or Rai, is the Kiranti language spoken by the Kulung people, one of the indigenous communities of Nepal. Of Kirant descent, they inhabit Nepal and parts of northeastern Sikkim and Darjeeling district. Their traditional land, called Mahakulung, is in the Solukhumbu District in one of the remotest parts of the eastern Nepal. The total population is estimated to be in the region of 150,000–200,000.

The language is closely related to fellow Kiranti languages Bantawa and Puma. Alternate names for the language include Khulunge, Kulu Ring, Khulung and Kholung.[4]


The Kulung trace their lineage from the Kiranti ruler Khambu.[5] The early Kulung people migrated from the Tarai – the lowlands of Nepal and settled in the Hongu valley.[6] The ethno-linguistic region inhabited by the Kulungs is called the "Mahakulung" (Greater Kulung) is located in the Sagarmatha Zone.[4] It specifically refers to the Hongu valley, comprising Gudel, Chheskam, Bung and Sotang, as well as villages in the Sankhuwasawa District and the valleys of the Hongu, Sangkhuwa and Siswa rivers.[4]


According to the 2011 census in Nepal, the Kulung-speaking peoples number 33,170; other estimates state there are about 100,000 speakers.[4][6] There are tendencies of small communities to consider themselves Kulung, though they may not necessarily have the same ethnic origin; these are possibly absorbed into the wider Kulung peoples. The Kulung practise exogamous clan marriage and are protective in their language use.[6] Up to 50% of the population can understand the Nepali language at a basic level.[4] Only Kulung people who live on the border with other language groups speak other languages.

Language and grammar[edit]

Dialects of the Kulung language include Sotang (Sotaring, Sottaring), Mahakulung, Tamachhang, Pidisoi, Chhapkoa, Pelmung, Namlung, and Khamb. Van Driem (2001) includes Chukwa, though the Chukwa identify with Saam.[4]

Kulung distinguishes among eight vowels and 11 diphthongs. There are three series of stops: dorso-velar, dental, and labial, each series having an unaspirated voiceless, aspirated voiceless, and unaspirated voiced variant. There are three voiced nasals, four approximants, one vibrant, one fricative, and three affricates.[7]

In Kulung, a distinction can be made between the categories nouns, adjectives, and personal pronouns. The 13 cases found in Kulung are absolutive, ergative, instrumental, genitive, vocative, four different locatives (depending on deictic categories like 'up', 'down', etc.), comitative, ablative, elative, and mediative.[7] Personal pronouns are distinguished for three persons, three numbers, and in the non-singular first person between inclusive and exclusive. Possessive pronouns appear as prefixes that may appear before the noun. Adjectives form a separate category in Kulung and are formed by the addition of an affix to a verb stem.[7]

The Kulung verb is characterised by a system of complex pronominalisation, in which paradigmatic stem alternation is found. Personal endings consist of morphemes expressing notions like tense, agent, patient, number, and exclusivity. Depending on the number of verbal stems and their position in the verbal paradigm, every verb in Kulung belongs to a certain conjugation type.[7] Complete conjugations of verbs belonging to the different conjugation types are presented in the second appendix. Like in other Kiranti languages, compound verbs are found in Kulung. These compound verbs consist of a verb stem and an auxiliary that adds semantic notions to the main verb. Other verbal constructions found in Kulung are a gerund, imperative, supine and an infinitive.[7]


  1. ^ Kulung at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Chukwa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kulung". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Chukwa". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Ethnologue report for Kulung
  5. ^ "History". Association of Nepal Kirat Kulung Language, Cultural Development (www.kulung.net.np). 
  6. ^ a b c "The Kulung: Language and Traditions". International Institute for Asian Studies. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Himalayan Languages Project[dead link]