Limbu language

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ᤕᤰᤌᤢᤱ ᤐᤠᤴ yakthung pān
Region Nepal; significant communities in Bhutan; Sikkim and Darjeeling district of India
Ethnicity Limbu people
Native speakers
380,000 (2011 census)[1]
Limbu script
Official status
Official language in


Sikkim, India
Language codes
ISO 639-3 lif
Glottolog limb1266[2]

Limbu is a Sino-Tibetan language spoken mainly in Nepal,[3] significant communities in Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling district, India by the ethnic Nepali Limbu community. Virtually all Limbus are bilingual in Nepali.

The name Limbu is an exonym of uncertain origin. Limbus refer to themselves as yakthungba, and their language as Yakthung Pan. It has four main dialects; Panthare, Phedape, Chatthare and Tambar Khole. Panthare dialect is the standard dialect of the Limbu language, whereas Phedape is spoken and understood by most.

Limbu language has its own unique evolution of Tibetan and Devanagari writing system. Far more Limbus are literate in Nepali than in Limbu, thus many Limbu publications are accompanied by Nepali translation.

Limbu language is one of the major spoken and written languages of Nepal, Sikkim and other parts of Northern India. Today, linguists have reached the conclusion that pronominalization is an indigenous development. Limbu bears close resemblance to Khambu Sampang and unique Tibetan dialects. It has four main dialects—Panchthare, Tamarkhole, Phedape and Chatthare.

Before the introduction of Sirijonga script among Limbu Kiratas, Rong script was popular in East Nepal specially in early Maurong state. Sirijonga script had almost disappeared for 800 years and it was brought into practice again by Te-ongsi Sirijunga Xin Thebe of Tellok Sinam.


The Limbu script. Gray letters are obsolete.

Limbu, Lepcha and Newari are the only Sino-Tibetan languages of the Central Himalayas to possess their own scripts (Sprigg 1959: 590), (Sprigg 1959: 591-592 & MS: 1-4) tells us that the Kiranti or Limbu script was devised during the period of Buddhist expansion in Sikkim in the early 18th century when Limbuwan still constituted part of Sikkimese territory. The Kiranti script was probably composed at roughly the same time as the Lepcha script which was by the third King of Sikkim, Phyag-dor Nam-gyal (ca. 1700-1717). The Kiranti script is ascribed to the Limbu hero, Te-ongsi Sirijunga (trans: "Re-incarnated Sirijonga" ref to Sirijonga Haang) who was killed by the Tasong monks in conspiracy with the king of Sikkim at the time that Simah Pratap Shah was King of Nepal (i.e. 11 January 1775 to 17 November 1777; Stiller 141,153). Both Kiranti and Lepcha were ostensibly devised with the intent of furthering the spread Buddhism. However, Sirijonga was a Limbu Buddhist who had studied under Sikkimese high Lamas. Sirijanga was given the title 'the Dorje Lama of Yangrup'.

The language and script's influential structure are mixture of Tibetan and Devanagari. Unlike most other Brahmic scripts, it does not have separate independent vowel characters, instead using a vowel carrier letter with the appropriate dependent vowel attached.

The Limbu language and literature has been less practiced in Nepal since the last eighteenth century. The cultural identity of any community was taken as a threat to the national unification by ruling elites until the recent years. The use of Limbu alphabets was banned and the possession of Limbu writings outlawed. There were no specific laws about it, but the Security Act was enforced for such cases under the strong directives of Kathmandu.


Limbu has its own unique Tibetan writing system, the Limbu script. Far more Limbus are literate in Nepali than in Limbu; many Limbu publications will be accompanied by a Nepali version. Limbu is also written in Devanagari.


Limbu language has many papers and publications in circulation. Tanchoppa ( Morning Star ), a monthly newspaper/magazine published since 1995. There are many other literary publications. The oldest known Limbu writings were collected from Darjeeling district in 1850's. They are the ancestors of the modern Limbu script. The writings are now a part of collection in India Library in London.


In Nepal, the Limbu language is taught on private initiative. The Government of Nepal has published " Ani Paan" text books in Limbu for Primary education from grades 1 to 5. Kirant Yakthung Chumlung teaches Limbu language and script in its own initiative.

In Sikkim, since late 1970s Limbu, in Limbu script has been offered in English medium schools as a vernacular language subject in areas populated by Limbus. Over 4000 students study Limbu for one hour daily taught by some 300 teachers. Course books are available in Limbu from grades 1 to 12.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Limbu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Limbu". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Detailed language map of eastern Nepal, see language #59 in far east
  • Driem, George van (1987). A grammar of Limbu. (Mouton grammar library; 4). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-011282-5

External links[edit]