Nepali language

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Not to be confused with Newar language or Languages of Nepal.
नेपाली भाषा Nepālī bhāṣā
खस कुरा Khas kurā
Nepali word in devanagri script.png
The word "Nepali" written in Devanagari
Native to Nepal, India, Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma) and worldwide diaspora

As a first language :

As a second language :

Native speakers
16 million (2011 census)[1]
Devanagari Braille
Takri (historical)
Bhujimol[citation needed] (historical)
Signed Nepali
Official status
Official language in
 India (in Sikkim Assam and Darjeeling district of West Bengal)
Regulated by Nepal Academy
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ne
ISO 639-2 nep
ISO 639-3 nepinclusive code
Individual codes:
npi – Nepali
dty – Doteli
Glottolog nepa1254[2]
nepa1252  (duplicate code)[3]
Linguasphere 59-AAF-d
Nepali language status.png
World map with significant Nepali language speakers
Dark Blue: Main official language,
Light blue: One of the official languages,
Red: Places with significant population or greater than 20% but without official recognition.

Nepali Bhasa, also referred to as Khas Kura, Parbate Bhasa or Gorkhali is an Indo-Aryan language. It is the official language and de facto lingua franca of Nepal. It is also spoken in various part of India, particularly by Indian Gorkha, and by a significant number of Bhutanese and some Burmese people. In India, Nepali language is listed in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India having an official status in the Indian state of Sikkim and in West Bengal's Darjeeling district.[4] Nepali developed in proximity to a number of Indo-Aryan languages, most notably the Pahari languages and Magahi, and shows Sanskrit influences. However, owing to Nepal's geographical area, it has also been influenced by Tibeto-Burman languages. Nepali is mainly differentiated from Central Pahari, both in grammar and vocabulary, by Tibeto-Burman idioms owing to close contact with the respective language group. Nepali language shares 40% lexical similarity with the Bengali language. British resident at Kathmandu Brian Houghton Hodgson has observed that it is, in eight-tenths of its vocables, substantially Hindi.[5]

Historically, the language was first called the Khas language (Khas kurā), then Gorkhali or Gurkhali (language of the Gorkha Kingdom) before the term Nepali was coined. Other names include Parbatiya ("mountain language", identified with the Parbatiya people of Nepal) and Dzongkha Lhotshammikha ("Southern Language", spoken by the Lhotshampas of Bhutan). It is also known as the language among the Newar people and Pahari language among Madhesi and Tharus.


Main article: Nepali literature

Nepali developed a significant literature within a short period of a hundred years in the 19th century. This literary explosion was fueled by Adhyatma Ramayana; Sundarananda Bara (1833); Birsikka, an anonymous collection of folk tales; and a version of the South Asian 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.

In the past decade, there have been many contributions to Nepali literature from the Nepali diaspora in Asia, Europe, and America.

Number of speakers[edit]

According to the 2011 national census, 44.6 percent of the population of Nepal speaks Nepali as a first language.[6] The Ethnologue website reports 12,300,000 speakers within Nepal (from the 2011 census).[7]

Nepali is traditionally spoken in the Hill Region of Nepal (Pahad, पहाड), especially in the western part of the country. Although the Newar language dominated the Kathmandu valley, Nepali is currently the most dominant. Nepali is used in government and as the everyday language of a growing portion of the local population. Nevertheless, the exclusive use of Nepali in the courts and government of Nepal is being challenged. Recognition of other ethnic languages in Nepal was one of the objectives of the Communist Party of Nepal's long war.[8]

In Bhutan, those who speak Nepali, known as Lhotshampa, are estimated at about 35 percent [9] of the population. This number includes displaced Bhutanese refugees, with unofficial estimates of the ethnic Bhutanese Refugee population as high as 30 to 40 percent, constituting a majority in the south (about 242,000 people).[10]) Since the late 1980s, over 100,000 Lhotshampas have been forced out of Bhutan, accused by the government of being illegal immigrants.[9] A large portion of them were expelled in an "ethnic cleansing" campaign, and presently live in refugee camps in eastern Nepal.

In India, there is a large number of Nepali-speaking Indian peoples ethnically known as Indian Gorkha. In Northeast India there are several million Nepali speakers. A considerable number of Nepali-speaking Indian peoples are also present in many Indian cities such as Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Visakhapatnam, Goa, Bihar, Darjeeling, Sikkim, Chennai, Mumbai, and Hyderabad.

History of the language[edit]

Around 500 years ago, Khas people from the Karnali-Bheri-Seti basin migrated eastward, bypassing inhospitable Kham highlands to settle in lower valleys of the Gandaki Basin that were well-suited to rice cultivation. One notable extended family settled in the Gorkha Kingdom, a small principality about halfway between Pokhara and Kathmandu. In 1559 AD a Lamjunge prince, Dravya Shah established himself on the throne of Gorkha with the help of local Khas and Magars. He raised an army of khas with the commandership of Bhagirath Panta. Later, in the late 18th century his heir Prithvi Narayan Shah raised and improvised an army of Chhetri, Thakuri, Magars and Gurung people and possibly other hill tribesmen and set out to conquer and consolidate dozens of small principalities in the Himalayan foothills. Since Gorkha had replaced the original Khas homeland, Khaskura was redubbed Gorkhali "language of the Gorkhas".[citation needed]

The most notable military achievement of Prithvi Narayan Shah was conquest of the urbanized Kathmandu Valley, on the eastern rim of the Gandaki basin. This region was also called Nepal at the time. Kathmandu became Prithvi Narayan's new capital, from which he and his heirs extended their domain east across the Koshi River basin, north to the Tibetan Plateau, south into the plains of North India, and west across the Karnali/Bheri basin and beyond.[citation needed]

Expansion – particularly to the north, west, and south – brought the growing state into conflict with the British and Chinese. This led to wars that trimmed back the territory to an area roughly corresponding to Nepal's present borders. Both China and Britain understood the value of a buffer state and did not attempt to further reduce the territory of the new country. Since the Kathmandu Valley or Nepal had become the new center of political initiative, this word gradually came to refer to the entire realm and not just the Kathmandu Valley. So Gorkhali came to be known as Nepali.[citation needed]

In all these years, Nepali has had influences from many languages. While Nepali is technically from the same family as languages like Hindi and Bengali, it has taken many loan words. Words like dhoka "door", jhyāl "window", pasal "shop", kukhura "rooster" and rāngo "water buffalo' have Tibeto-Burmese roots. Words like sahīd "martyr" (ultimately from Arabic) and kānun "law" (ultimately from Greek, came from Persian into Nepali, as the former functioned as the literary language of much of the Muslim world for over a millennium). Many English words are in use nowadays due to the rising popularity of the United States of America in the region and the previous British aid at schools and other fields.

Nepali is spoken indigenously over most of Nepal west of the Gandaki River, then progressively less further to the east.[11]


Dialects of Nepali include Acchami, Baitadeli, Bajhangi, Bajurali, Bheri, Dadeldhuri, Dailekhi, Darchulali, Darchuli, Gandakeli, Humli, Purbeli, and Soradi.[7] Doteli (Dotyali) is a closely related language which is included in the macrolanguage Nepali.[12]


Main article: Nepali grammar


Main article: Nepali phonology



Nepali vowel phonemes
Front Central Back
High i ĩ u ũ
Close-mid e ẽ o
Open-mid ʌ ʌ̃
Open a ã

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 possesses ten diphthongs: /ui/, /iu/, /ei/, /eu/, /oi/, /ou/, /ʌi/, /ʌu/, /ai/, and /au/.


Nepali consonant phonemes
Bilabial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop p
Fricative s ɦ
Rhotic r
Approximant (w) l (j)

[j] and [w] are nonsyllabic allophones of [i] and [u], respectively. Every consonant except [j], [w], /l/, 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.


Nepali numbers
Numeral Written IAST IPA Etymology
0 शुन्य śūnya /ʃunjʌ/ Sanskrit śūnya (शून्य)
1 एक ek /ek/ Sanskrit eka (एक)
2 दुई duī /d̪ui/ Sanskrit dvi (द्वि)
3 तीन tīn /t̪in/ Sanskrit tri (त्रि)
4 चार cār /t͡sar/ Sanskrit catúr (चतुर्)
5 पाँच pāṃc /pãt͡s/ Sanskrit pañca (पञ्च)
6 cha /t͡sʰʌ/ Sanskrit ṣáṣ (षष्)
7 सात sat /sat̪/ Sanskrit saptá (सप्त)
8 आठ āṭh /aʈʰ/ Sanskrit aṣṭá (अष्ट)
9 नौ nau /nʌu/ Sanskrit náva (नव)
10 १० दश daś /d̪ʌs/ Sanskrit dáśa दश
11 ११ एघार eghār /eɡʱar/
12 १२ बाह्र bāhr /barʱ/
20 २० विस vis /bis/
21 २१ एकlइस ekkāis /ekkais/
22 २२ बाइस bāis /bais/
100 ९०० एक सय ek say /ek sʌi/
1 000 ९ ००० एक हजार ek hajār /ek ɦʌd͡zar/
10 000 ९० ००० दश हजार daś hajār /d̪ʌs ɦʌd͡zar/
100 000 ९ ०० ००० एक लाख ek lākh /ek lakʰ/ See lakh
1 000 000 ९० ०० ००० दश लाख daś lākh /d̪ʌs lakʰ/
10 000 000 ९ ०० ०० ००० एक करोड ek karoḍ /ek kʌroɽ/ See crore


English Nepali Transliteration
Hello (informal/to someone of older age) नमस्ते / नमस्कार namaste / namaskār
Nice to meet you तपाई / हजुर संग भेटेर खुशी लाग्याे tapāī / hajur saṅg bheṭer khuśī lāgyo
How are you? तपाई / हजुर सन्चै हुनुहुन्छ ? tapāī / hajur sancai hunuhunch
My name is Ram मेराे नाम राम हाे । mero nām Rām ho
I am from Nepal म नेपालबाट हाे । ma nepālabāṭ ho
Good morning to all of you सबैजनालाइ शुभ-प्रभात । sabaijanālāi śubh-prabhāt
Goodnight शुभ-रात्री śubh-rātrī
Day दिन । din
Evening साँझ sāṃjh
I am feeling thirsty म तिर्खाएकाे छु । ma tirkhāeko chu
I am feeling hungry म भाेकाएकाे छु । ma bhokāeko chu
Tasty मिठाे । miṭho
I am sorry (formal) क्षमा गर्नुहाेस । kśamā garnuhos
Where is the place to bath? (in Nepal Bathroom and toilet are not attached) नुहाउने ठाउँ कहाँ छ ? nuhāune ṭhāuṃ kahāṃ cha
Thank you धन्यवाद । ghanyavād

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nepali at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Nepali at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Doteli at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Nepali [1]". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Nepali [2]". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  4. ^ "Official Nepali language in Sikkim & Darjeeling" (PDF). 
  5. ^ Hodgson, Brian Houghton (2013). Essays on the Languages, Literature, and Religion of Nepál and Tibet (Reprint ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 2. ISBN 9781108056083. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  6. ^ "Major highlights" (PDF). Central Bureau of Statistics. 2013. p. 4. Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "Nepali (npi)". Ethnologue. Retrieved 6 October 2016. 
  8. ^ Gurung, Dr. Harka (19–20 January 2005). "Social Exclusion and Maoist Insurgency" (PDF). Retrieved 13 April 2012.  Page 5.
  9. ^ a b "Background Note: Bhutan". U.S. Department of State. 2010-02-02. Retrieved 2010-10-02. 
  10. ^ Worden, Robert L.; Savada, Andrea Matles (ed.) (1991). "Chapter 6: Bhutan - Ethnic Groups". Nepal and Bhutan: Country Studies (3rd ed.). Federal Research Division, United States Library of Congress. p. 424. ISBN 0-8444-0777-1. Retrieved 2010-10-02. 
  11. ^ "Nepal". Ethnologue. Retrieved 29 March 2015. 
  12. ^ "Nepali (nep)". Ethnologue. Retrieved 6 October 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • पोखरेल, मा. प्र. (2000), ध्वनिविज्ञान र नेपाली भाषाको ध्वनि परिचय, नेपाल राजकीय प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठान, काठमाडौँ
  • Schmidt, R. L. (1993) A Practical Dictionary of Modern Nepali.
  • Turner, R. L. (1931) A Comparative and Etymological Dictionary of the Nepali Language.
  • Clements, G.N. & Khatiwada, R. (2007). “Phonetic realization of contrastively aspirated affricates in Nepali.” In Proceedings of ICPhS XVI (Saarbrücken, 6–10 August 2007), 629- 632. [1]
  • Hutt, M. & Subedi, A. (2003) Teach Yourself Nepali.
  • Khatiwada, R. (2009), Nepali. Journal of International Phonetic Association, 39:3, 337-380.Cambridge University Press.
  • Manders, C. J. (2007) नेपाली व्याकरणमा आधार A Foundation in Nepali Grammar.
  • Dr. Dashrath Kharel, "Nepali linguistics spoken in Darjeeling-Sikkim"

External links[edit]