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Number of Speakers: About 16,000,000

Key Dialects: Central (Kathmandu)

Geographical Center: Nepal

Nepali has over 16,000,000 speakers: 10,000,000 live in Nepal, and over 6,000,000 speakers live in India and Bhutan. Nepali is the official language of the Kingdom of Nepal, which is situated in the Himalayas. Nepali is also spoken in the neighboring countries: Bhutan and India (the regions of Sikkim and West Bengal).

Nepali belongs to the East Pahari (Pahad. i) group of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. Closely related to Nepali are Kumauni (Kumaoni) and Garkhwali (see Campbell 2000, Ethnologue, Hutt 1994, Verma 1992 and 2001, Zograf 1998).

Nepali has the following dialects: Acchami, Baitadi, Bajhangi, Bajurali (Bajura), Darjula, Doteli, Jumleli (Jumla, Singja, Sijali), Soradi (cf. Ethnologue). These dialects fall into three groups: Central, Eastern and Western (cf. Verma 2001). Some scholars add the fourth group, “pre-Himalayan” (“predgornyj”cf. Zograf 1998), which is accepted by most other scholars.

Nepali uses Devanagari script, which is a consonantal script, in which vowels are denoted by super- or subscripts. The script derives from Gupta script, a northern variety of the ancient Indic Brahmi script.

Nepali has 6 monophthongs, 2 diphthong (/ai/ and /au/), and 30 consonant and affricate phonemes. The historical opposition of vowel length has disappeared. All vowels can be nasal or oral. Nepali stops and affricates have the distinction of voicedness and aspiration. The dentals (except /l/) can also be retroflex. Nepali is a language of mixed inflectional-agglutinative type. There are two cases in Nepali: nominative and oblique. Grammatical gender is disappearing. The plural is formed with the help of the plural marker -haru, e.g. ket . i ‘girl’ >ket.i-haru ‘girls’, ket.ā ‘boy’ > ket.ā-haru ‘boys’. When plurality is clear from the context, the plural marker may be omitted. Nepali numerals take counters, when used together with nouns. If the noun that the numeral modifies denotes a human being, the counter that the numeral takes is -janā, whereas in all other cases it is -wat.ā, e.g. sat-wat.ā kitāp ‘seven books’ (NB that kitāp does not have the plural marker). The verb system of Nepali is relatively close to that of Hindi. Unlike Hindi, Nepali has a special type of future tense, the so-called presumptive/potential future, which is formed with the marker -lā. Nepali is an SOV language. Nepali has quite a few borrowings from Sanskrit, especially written Nepali. Colloquial Nepali (mostly dialects) have undergone some influence from Tibeto-Burman languages (especially Newari, which is spoken in the same region). There are some Perso-Arabic and English loanwords, e.g. kitāp ‘book’ (< Persian kitāb-), t.ebul ‘table’ (< English table; for more references see Campbell 2001, Hutt 1994, Verma 1992 and 2001, Zograf 1998).

Nepali is the official language of the Kingdom of Nepal, but a great number of other languages are widely used. About 120 languages are spoken in Nepal, the most prominent being Awadhi, Bhodjpuri, Hindi, Maithili, Rajbangsi, Tharu, Urdu (all Indo-European), Gurung, Limbu, Magar, Newari, Tamang, Tibetan (all Tibeto-Burman) Today there are three radio stations and one TV channel in Nepal. There are a number of secular and religious schools and colleges, and in Kathmandu there is a university (University of Kathmandu).

The term “Nepali” started being used in the 20th century. Before that the language was known as Gorkhwali or Khas-Kura. Nepali is believed to have developed from a certain variety of Śauraseni Prakrit, a middle Indic language, from which also modern Hindi and Urdu developed. Śauraseni Prakrit was spoken in India, and its certain varieties spread to the territory of modern Nepal around or before the 10th century AD (cf. Hutt 1994). The oldest Nepali texts (inscriptions) date back to the 13th century. For more information about the history of Nepal see

Campbell, G. L. 2000. “Compendium of the World's Languages”. Vol. 2. Ladakhi to Zuni. Second edition. First published 1991. Routledge, London and New York.

Hutt, M. J. 1994. “Nepali”. In: Asher, R. E. (Editor-in-Chief). “The Encyclopedia of Languages and Linguistics”. Vol. 5. Pergamon Press, Oxford – New York – Seoul – Tokyo. Pp. 2778 – 9.

Verma, Manindra K. 1992. “Nepali”. In: Bright, William (Editor-in-Chief). “International Encyclopaedia of Linguistics”. Vol. 3. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York. Pp. 76 – 9.

______2001. “Nepali”. In: “Facts about the World’s Languages: An Encyclopaedia of the World’s Major Languages, Past and Present”. Edited by Jane Garry and Carl Rubino. The H. N. Wilson Company, New York and Dublin.

Zograf, G. A. 1998. “Nepal’skij jazyk”. In: Jarceva, V. N. (Editor-in-Chief). “Jazyko-znanije. Bol’šoj enciklopedičeskij slovar’”. Naučnoje izdatel’stvo “Bol’šaja russkaja enciklopedija”. 1-oje izdanije 1990. Moskva. P. 331.

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