Sunwar language

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सुनुवार, कोँइच, किराँती-कोँइच, मुखिया
Sunuwar koich.jpg
RegionNepal, India
Native speakers
37,898 (2011)[1]
  • Surel
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3suz
Sunwar greeting

Sunwar, Sunuwar, or Kõinch (कोँइच; kõich; other spellings are Koinch and Koincha), is a Kiranti language spoken in Nepal and India by the Sunuwar people. It was first comprehensively attested by the Himalayan Languages Project. It is also known as Kõits Lo (कोँइच लो ; kõica lo), Kiranti-Kõits (किराँती-कोँइच ; kirā̃tī-kõich), Mukhiya (मुखिया ; mukhiyā).[2][3]

The Sunwar language is one of the smaller members of the Tibeto-Burman language family. About 40,000 speakers are residing in eastern Nepal. With another 40,000 speakers residing in eastern Nepal.


The language is commonly known as Koic, for many ethnic Sunwar and Sunwar speakers also refer to the language as “Sunuwar, Kõinch[4] , Koinch or Koincha (कोँइच); Kõits Lo (कोँइच लो), Kiranti-Kõits (किराँती-कोँइच) or Mukhiya (मुखिया).”

Moreover, most Sunwar speakers have the surname (सुनुवार), Sunuvār in Latin script.[5] Many affiliated Sunwar with Sunar; they share the initial syllable, sun, “gold,” in Nepali, similar to the Sunar community of India, who are goldsmiths. However, the ethnonym Sunuvār is believed to be connected with Sunkosi, a river nearby the Sunwar villages.

Geographic distribution[edit]

  1. District Rāmechāp and Okhaldhū۠ngā
  2. Kũbhu Kãsthālī, Rāmechāp
  3. Pahare, Rāmechāp and Vacul, Okhaldhū۠ngā

A cluster of Sunwars villages are located around the region of the core spoken language. In the northern area, the village of Kũbhu Kãsthālī in Rāmechāp where a small group are speakers of Sunwar. Whereas the southern border, villages Pahare in Ramechap and Vacpu in Okhaldhū۠ngā the majority of the Sunwar speakers live in this region. According to Borchers, there are other villages located outside of the core region. The Surel are claimed to be Sunwar speakers however there are no certainties that it is true.

The Sunwar language is commonly spoken in the districts of Rāmechāp and Okhaldhū۠ngā distant from the Nepalese road system.[5] Therefore, many Sunwar households are farmers, own a small lot of land and livestock. Moreover, each village often visits their neighboring village markets to purchase inaccessible goods such as spices, sugar, tea, and salt.

Small groups of Sunwar speakers located in Nepal
Likhu Khola river

The Sunwar villages are scattered alongside the river banks of Likhu river. Located 1,800 meters above sea level, their fields aren’t all fallow from year round cultivation.[5] (Borchers, 2008) In the winter, they experience no snow but freezing temperatures. In warmer weather, they experience a lot of rainfall, in the summer, monsoon rainfall. Especially between June and August, it is when they

experience the most rain, more so monsoon rainfall.

Written Language[edit]

Although Sunwar has no traditional written language, most literate speakers use the Devanagari alphabet, scripture used for writing Nepali.[5] Sunwar speakers from Sikkim, northeastern India, use the Jenticha alphabet for printed materials such as newspapers and literature. In 2005, another script was invented for Sunwar; it is known as Tikamuli.[4]

Jenticha Script[edit]

जेँःतिच ब्रेःसे (jẽtica brese)


a ā i u e o
[ə] [a] [i] [u] [e] [o]


एउ उइ ओइ
ai au eu ui oi
[ai] [au] [eu] [ui] [oi]


ka kha ga nga ca ja ṭa ṭha
[kə] [kʰə] [gə] [ŋə] [ʔ] [tʃə] [ʤə] [ʈə] [ʈʰə]
द/ड न/ण
ta tha da na pa pha ba ma ya
[tə] [tʰə] [də] [nə] [pə] [pʰə] [bə] [mə] [jə]
/ व्ही/ह्व    
ra la va sha sa ha hha
[rə] [lə] [və] [ʃə] [sə] [hə] [ɦə] Jenticha sign, virama- halant sangmilu*

mutes inherent vowel


indicates  nasalization

The trill mark represents, Jenticha sign virama- sangmilu, halant. It is used to silent the vowel after the consonant.[6] The trill mark ँ, is known as taslathenk, it corresponds to the diacritic ँ candravindu in devanagari.[6]


Sunwar phonology is significantly influenced by the language of Nepali.


The Sunwar language has a mid-sized arrangement of twenty-two consonantal phonemes:

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive /p/ [p]

/ph/ [ph~ɸ]

/b/ [b]

/t/ [t̪]

/th/ [t̪h]

/d/ [d̪]

/c/ [c]

/j/ [Ɉ]

/k/ [k]

/kh/ [kh]

/g/ [g]

Nasal /m/ [m] /n/ [n] / ̇n/ [ŋ]
Flap /r/ [ɾ]
Fricative /s/ [s] /ʃ/ [ʃ] h [h]
Approximant /w/ [w~wh] /y/ [j]
Lateral Approximant /l/ [l̪]
Implosive /ᵷ/ [w~b]


According to Borchers,[5] there are eleven vowel phonemes in Sunwar:

<a> [a~ɑ], /ā / [aː], /e/ [e~ɛ], /i/ [i], /o/ [o], /u/ [u], / ū/ [uː~y], /ã/ [ã~ɑ̃], /ã̄/ [ãː], /ẽ/ [ẽ~ɛ̃], /ĩ/ [ĩ]

Front Central Back
High /i/ [i], /ĩ/ [ĩ] /ū/ [y] /u/ [u] /ū/ [uː~y]
Mid /ẽ/ [ẽ~ɛ̃], /e/ [e~ɛ] /o/ [o]
Low /a/ [a~ɑ], /ā / [aː]

Vowels with bar - Represents long vowels

Vowels with tilde -  Represents short nasalized vowels

Vowels with bar and tilda - Represents long and nasalized vowels


There are a total of eight diphthongs in Sunwar: /ai/ [aɪ], /aĩ/ [aɪ̃], /au/ [au], /eu/ [eu], /oi/ [oi], /oĩ/ [oĩ], /ui/ [ui], /uĩ/ [uĩ]

According to Borchers,[5] a principled way to distinguish diphthongs from a sequence of two monophthongs does not exist in the Sunwar language.

As exemplified by Borchers,[5] this table consists of examples of contrasts between diphthongs:

/joi/ [joi] ‘tiger’
/joĩ/ [joĩ] ‘younger sister’s husband’
/muicā/ [muicaː] ‘wear shoes’
/puĩcā/ [puĩcaː] ‘ask for, beg’
/goi/ [goi] ‘you’
/gui/ [gui] ‘hand’
/reu/ [reu] ‘rain’
/roi/ [roi] ‘ill’

Syllable Structure[edit]

Syllable Structure of Sunwar: C₁(C₂)V₁(V₂)(C₃)(C₄)



Case Marking Suffixes[edit]

According to Borchers,[5] “all case markers in the Sunwar language are suffixes.”

As exemplified by Borchers,[5] this table consists of the noun case markers.

Morpheme: Gloss: Marks: Occurs suffixed to denotions of:
-mī ~  

-amī ~-ī

m ~ -m



agents, instruments, locations persons,



-kali ~  


OBJ patients persons,


-ke POSS possessions of animate beings persons,


-ṅā GEN belongings of inanimate items        things,


-lā/-le FROM place of departure of persons or items that changed places (ABL); time of begin of action locations,


-re FROM place of departure of persons or items that changed places (ABL); time of begin of action locations,


-au VOC name of person called persons

Dual Marker[edit]

A dual marker can be associated with dual/pair or the cardinal number ‘two’. [5]

Morpheme: <-ni⟆i>
Gloss: Dual (DU)

Example of dual marker by Borchers:[5]

iciṅā ā⟆i chan
Now child.DU exist-NPT3p
Now I have two children.

Plural Marker[edit]

In the Sunwar language, both nouns and pronouns can be marked as dual or plural.

In addition items in a group can be marked plural. [5]

Morpheme: <-paki ~ -puki ~ -piki>
Gloss: Plural (PL)

Examples of the plural marker used to point at items in a group by Borchers: [5]

pujā dum pachi rãga po.pakiī
worship happen after buffalo pig.PL kill.NPT-23d/-p3.p/Svi
After worship, they kill the buffalo, pig and so on.
sāg.paki acā.paki ho.⟆a.ṅāmin ⟆am cai thupro

sāg.PL pickle.PL keep.PF.then beer SNG much happen.NPT+3s


much drink. NPT-23d/-p.3p/Svi

Having stored away sāg (green leafy vegetable) and so on

and pickle and so on and, there has to be much beer, they drink a lot.

Absent Marker[edit]

According to Borchers,[5] the Sunwar language does not have a zero morpheme, but it can still indicate the number amount of something through verbal agreement markers or numerals.

Example of the absent marker by Borchers:[5]

go khame jāʔ
I rice eat.NPT-1d.1d
Wed eat rice.


Possessive Suffix: <-ke> (Animate Agent)[edit]

According to Borchers,[5] the possessive suffix <-ke> is attached to a human or animate agent to indicate a possessive relationship.

Morpheme: <-ke>
Gloss: Possessive (POSS)

Examples of the possessive <-ke> by Borchers:[5]

nā dui.ta dhol bā.ba dhanu.kan nā bā.ba
priest.POSS two.piece drum stay.NPT+3s bow.arrow priest.POSS            


The priest has two drums. The priest has bow and arrow.
ne ⟆ bhāg ho
nose face. POSS part be-NPT3s
The nose is part of the face.

Possessive Suffix: <-ke> (Inanimate Subject)[edit]

According to Borchers,[5] inanimate subjects are marked with the possessive suffix <-ke> to indicate what it is ‘made of’. Example of possessive <-ke> indicating what it is ‘made of’ by Borchers:[5] bā.b meko jasi ā.kilā
Jasi.POSS stay.NPT+3s that Jasi its.peg
It is made of Jasi wood. This is a peg made of Jasi wood.
(Jasi is the tree Bauhinia variegata)


Quantifiers in the Sunwar language are loaned from Nepali. Quantifiers are used for amounts or masses.[5] As exemplified by Borchers,[5] this table consists of quantifiers; including some that are loaned from Nepali.

From: Translation:
ac small
besā very much [<Nep. besarī ‘very   much’]
dherei many, very, much [<Nep. dherai]
ekdam very [<Nep. ekdam]
ici a little
imci some, a bit
matra, matrei only [<Nep. mātra]
⟆ū⟆ ⟆ūs much, very, expensive
thorei, torei some, little [<Nep. thorai]
thupro, tupro much, a lot [<Nep. thupro]
umcili small

Examples of quantifiers that indicate amounts or masses by Borchers: [5]

I much
I don’t eat much.
disā matreiṅ
tomorrow only know.NPT+1s.1s
I won’t know until tomorrow.


Adjectives: <-⟆o>[edit]

According to Borchers,[5] adjectives can belong to the verbal noun form, with an attached <-⟆o>. In the Sunwar language, some adjectives are borrowed from Nepali.

Adjectives: Color Form/Terms[edit]

Borchers also notes that adjectives can belong to the form/term color. [5] As exemplified by Borchers, this table consists of the color form/terms.[5]

Form: Translation:
jirjir colorful
giิk light green, light blue
nilo dark blue [<Nep. nilo]
bu⟆ white
kher black
lal red
ojela brilliant

Adjectives: Non Verbal Nouns Without <-⟆o> Attached[edit]

The Sunwar language has a category for adjectives under the form ‘others’, that are not verbal nouns. In addition, some adjectives may be interchangeable as an adverb. [5] As exemplified by Borchers, this table consists of the adjectives that are not verbal nouns ending in <-⟆o> form/terms.[5]

Form: Translation:
umcili/ici small, little
⟆ū⟆ much, many, very, expensive
theb big, great (idea, thing)
wan far
netha near

Examples of adjectives that are not verbal nouns ending in <-⟆o> by Borchers: [5]

ɓak besā.n wan cha
water very-much.REIN far exist-NPT3s
Water is far away.
go umcili thiẽ bara bars.ṅā
I small exist-PT1s twelve year.GEN
I was small, twelve years old.
nepāli.puki ⟆ū⟆ choto bā.ni.m
Nepali.PL very small stay.NPT-23d/-p.3p/Svi
Nepalese people are very small.


As exemplified by Borchers, this table consists of particles in correlation to various relationships. [5]

Conjunction: Translation:
de or
hana if
ṅana if
dopā that
meklāpāṅāmin   and then
pāṅāmin   and then
minu <-nu> and then
mapatke because of

Postpositional Particles[edit]

According to Borchers, the Sunwar language borrows particles from Nepali that indicate the relationship between clauses.[5] Examples of postpositional particles by Borchers:[5]

Postpotion: Gloss:
<lā> ‘only’
<-bhandā>: A comparison. ‘than’
<cai>: Singling out or can be seen as “exactly this one”. SNG
<yo>: Inclusive focus. ‘also’
<kõ>: A tag on questions asking for affirmation or negation of a statement. OR
<da ~ ta>: Sunwar focus marker IFOC

My stomach v.s. Your stomach[edit]

Example by Borchers: [5]

iิ koʔj
your stomach
your stomach
ā koʔj
my stomach
my stomach

Order: Subject/ Object/ Verb[edit]

Examples of order: Subject/Object/Verb by Borchers[5]

kuṣulanoʔbam.mī pani
shoemaker.INS/LOC shoes sew.NPT-23d/-p.3p
(Subject) Shoemakers/ (Object) Shoes/ (Verb) Sew.
Shoemakers make shoes.
Kocombo.mī buʔs sāʔī.b
mongoose.INS/LOC snake kill.NPT+3s
(Subject) Mongoose/ (Object) Snake/ (Verb) kill.
The mongoose kills a snake.


Seu+wa+la (Sewala)

Sunwar English
Namsewal Hello / Good Bye
Sew (Respect) / (Greeting) / I bow to you
Maahr What
Dohpachaa How to
Dohshow How much
Dohmoh How big
Go I
Gopuki We are
Ge You (informal)
Gepukhi You are (informal)
Goi we (formal)
GoiPuki we are (formal)
Daarshow Beautiful
Rimso Good
MaDarshow Ugly

Language Structure[edit]

In linguistic typology, a subject+object+verb (SOV) language is one in which the subject, object, and verb of a sentence always or usually appear in that order. If English were SOV, "Sam oranges ate" would be an ordinary sentence, as opposed to the actual Standard English "Sam ate oranges". (A Grammar of Sunwar) [7]

Language S O V
Sunwar Go Khamay Jainu
English I Rice Eat

Sunwar people called "Khangsa" sign language with voice and direct action, for foreign people who don't understand a sunuwar language.[citation needed][3]


Numerals (Devanagari)[edit]


1 ichi/kaa 2 ni/nishi 3 sa/saam 4 le 5 nga
6 ruku/roku 7 chani 8 sasi 9 van 10 gau


  1. ^ 2011 Nepal Census, Social Characteristics Tables
  2. ^ Ager, Simon. "Jenticha alphabet, and the Sunuwar language". Omniglot. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  3. ^ a b Borchers, Dörte (2008). A grammar of Sunwar: descriptive grammar, paradigms, texts and glossary ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Leiden: Brill. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9789004167094.
  4. ^ a b "Sunwar Language and Alphabet". Retrieved 20 November 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag Borchers, Dörte (2008). A Grammar of Sunwar: Descriptive Grammar, Paradigms, Texts and Glossary. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-16709-4.
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ "A Grammar of Sunwar". Dörte Borchers. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  8. ^ Pandey, Anshuman (31 May 2011). "Proposal to Encode the Jenticha Script in ISO/IEC 10646" (PDF). Retrieved 18 December 2019.

External links[edit]