Nepal is ethnically and topographically diverse. From belts of Terai to resilient mountainous regions, different kinds of languages are spoken in this country apart from Nepali being the official language. There are 123 languages spoken as mother tongue reported in census 2011. Nepali is spoken as a mother tongue by 44.6 percent (11,826,953) of the total population followed by Maithali (11.7 % 3,092,530) according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).

nepal languages

Nepal, a diverse nation in the heart of the Himalayas is a beautiful tapestry of both natural and cultural beauty. Nepal is a multicultural country and thus, there is diversity among the people too. The people diverse in their culture, castes, religion, languages, rituals, etc live in harmony in the country.

Nepal, home to more than 100 ethnicities, consists of 123 languages spoken in the country according to the Central Bureau of Statistics., it was called Khaskura (the language of the Khas- rice farmers of Nepal’s western hills). It was also called Parbatiya (the language of those who live in Parbat- the hills) and later on Gorkhali (Language of the Gorkhas).

Nepali is the official language of Nepal. However, according to article 6 of the constitution of Nepal, all native languages spoken in Nepal are national languages of Nepal. 2011 national census of Nepal gives the statistics that there are 44.6% of people who speak Nepali as their mother tongue in Nepal. Numerically too, the Nepali language is very important in Nepal.

languages of nepal

The languages of the multi-ethnic and multicultural country, Nepal can be divided according to its origin. The languages according to the origin in Nepal are Indo-Aryan (Indic) language, Tibeto-Burman language, indigenous languages, Dravidian languages, and Munda languages.

Among these, the three-quarters of total languages spoken in Nepal belongs to Tibeto-Burman language. It includes the Newari language (Nepal bhasa), Limbu, Tamang, Rai, Magar languages, etc. Some languages are on the verge of extinction. For example, Kusunda language and thus the necessary steps should be taken to preserve them as they are also one of the cultural heritage of our country.

LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN NEPAL

Here are ten languages that are widely spoken in Nepal. The demographic division is taken from (2011 National Census).

Gurung

Gurungs are the people from the western region of Nepal. These hard-working people mainly worked as a mercenary for the Indian Army and the British Empire during WW2. The total number of Gurung speakers in Nepal was 227,918 (1991 Census). The Gurung language is a family of Sino-Tibetan Language, which means it is a part of more than 400 languages spoken in East Asia.

Rai

Rai people are also from the western region and they also served as a mercenary for the British Empire and in the Indian Army. Rai Language is also a major family of Sino-Tibetan Language spoken in Nepal, Sikkim and Darjeeling Hills by Kiranti People. The Kiranti language is further divided into Chamling, Sunuwar, Bathing, Limbu, Vayu, Bantawa and few others.

Yadav (Maithali, Bhojpuri)

Terai is the main place where people of Nepal depend on its food from. The people there mostly comprises of Yadav People. The Yadav people were known as Ahir previously. The word itself is derived from the word Abhira’ which means an immigrant tribe found in the inscriptions and in Hindu sacred books. They mainly use 3 languages in common (Nepali, Maithali and Bhojpuri).

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Muslim

Muslims are not the natives of Nepal. Some of them were traders who arrived on their way to Kathmandu from Lhasa. More than 95% of Muslims in Nepal live in Terai and all of them speak Urdu. The community numbers 971,056 about 3.7 % of the total population of Nepal.

Kami (Individual Language)

Kami is the Indo-Aryan ethnic group. Kami speaks Nepali language but Kamis are scattered across all over the hilly regions of Nepal, Sikkim, Darjeeling, and Assam. Kami According to the census 2001 Nepal, there were 895,954 Kami in Nepal of whom 96.69% were Hindus and 2.21% were Buddhist.

Tamang

Tamang Language is the most widely spoken Sino-Tibetan language in Nepal. From the 2001 census there are 1,213,500 Tamangs in Nepal. The youths and adults are bilingual whereas the elderly, children are monolingual. The Tamang people use their language in Home, within friends, religion and they use Tibetan script.

Magar

Magar language is also a family of Sino-Tibetan Language. The language is mainly divided into 2 distinct groups (Eastern and Western). As per census 2011 of Nepal, the Magar community represents 7.13% of the total population of Nepal. The two languages have a large number of words in common but they have major structural differences and are not mutually intelligible.

Tharu or Tharuhat

Tharu language is spoken by the Choudhary in the Terai region. From the census 2011 of Nepal, there were 1,530,000 Tharu varieties of whom 28,500 were monolinguals. Tharu people use the Devanagari script and these people follow the Hindu religion. Tharu language is spoken within Tharu people.

Newari (Newa Bhaye, Newal Bhaye)

Newari language is very common in the capital. Newari people are mainly from the Bagmati zone and these people used the Devanagari script for primary use and Newar script and Ranjana (Lantsa, Wartu) script for other purposes. Many women and elderly in the Newar community are monolingual.

Nepali (Gorkhali, Parbate, Khas Kura)

Nepali is the Official Language of Nepal. All the official documents comprise of Nepali Language. The Nepali language is an Indo-Aryan language. The Nepali language is also spoken in various parts of India. The Nepali language shares 40% of vocabulary with the Bengali Language. According to the 2011 national census, 44.6 percent of the population speaks Nepali as the first language.

Statistics of Nepal Census

The top 10 languages spoken in Nepal according to the statistics of Nepal Census 2011 are as follows:

  1. Nepali: 44.63% of Nepali people have Nepali as their mother tongue. It is the most widely spoken language in Nepal and is the official language as well. It is an Indo Aryan language and has been derived from the Sanskrit language. Nepali is an important language, not only to Nepal but to the significant population of India, Bhutan, Myanmar, and the worldwide diaspora.
  2. Maithili: It is an Indo Aryan language and is a native language to Nepal and India as well. The second-largest language spoken in Nepal i.e. by 11.67% of people is spoken mainly in the south-eastern Terai region of Nepal.
  3. Bhojpuri: It is the Indo Aryan language that constitutes of 5.98% of people speaking the language in Nepal. It is mainly spoken in the Terai region of Nepal.
  4. Tharu: It is the Indo Aryan language spoken by the Tharu people residing in the Terai region in Nepal. According to the 2011 Census of Nepal, 5.77% of Nepalese have Tharu or Tharuhat as their native language.
  5. Tamang: It is the most widely spoken Sino Tibetan language in Nepal and constitutes of 5.1% of people speaking it as their native language. The language is native to the Tamang people of Nepal. However, the language varies from one place to another with the lexical similarity between 63% to 81%. Different dialects of Tamang language comprise Eastern Tamang, Northwestern Tamang, Southwestern Tamang, Eastern Gorkha Tamang, and Western Tamang.
  6. Newari: Newari language, also known as Nepal bhasa is a native language to the Newar people of Nepal. It is also a Tibeto-Burman language. 3.19% of people speak this language as a native language in Nepal. It has been listed as an endangered language by spoken as the population of people speaking Newari language has been dropping according to the statistics.
  7. Bajjika: It is a dialect of Maithili language that constitutes 2.99 percentages of people speaking it in Nepal. Bajjika language is spoken in Sarlahi, Mahottari and Rautahat districts of Nepal.
  8. Magar: It is a Sino Tibetan language spoken by 2.97% of people in Nepal. It is spoken by the Magar people and can be divided into the Eastern groups and western groups.
  9. Dotyali: This Indo Aryan language is spoken by 2.97% of people in Nepal. It is spoken largely in the Doti district (far western region) and midwestern region of Nepal. It consists of four main dialects namely, Baitadeli, Bajhangi Nepali, Darchuli and Doteli.
  10. Urdu: It is mutually intelligible with Standard Hindi language and it is spoken by 2.61% of people in Nepal.
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Language is a means to communicate with people. There are nearly 6500 languages in the world. About 2000 languages have less than 1000 speakers. That means many of these languages are in danger to extinct.

Nepal is declared as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. The new constitution that was announced on 20 September 2015 has listed 121 Nepali languages as the mother tongue in Nepal. Out of 121 languages of Nepal, 120 languages are still spoken by the people while one of them has already extinct.

Similarly, 110 of them are indigenous, 10 of them are non-indigenous, 8 languages are institutional, 18 are developing, 30 are vigorous, 55 are in trouble and 9 of them are dying. Most of them belong to Indo-Aryan and Sino-Tibetan families.

The official Nepali language originated from the Indo-Aryan while others like Newari, Rai, Limbu, Magar, Tamang belong to Sino-Tibetan. Besides, there are other regional languages like Urdu, Gurung, Bhojpuri, Tharu, Sherpa, etc spoken in the different parts of Nepal.

Similarly, many indigenous village sign languages like Jhankot sign, Jumla sign, Ghandruk sign are spoken in Nepal and a Nepali sign language is the national sign language of Nepal.

The new constitution of Nepal states that all mother tongue languages spoken are the national languages.  The main official language of Nepal is Nepali with about 44.6% speakers and the second most spoken language is Maithali with 11.57%.

Famous Language in Nepal

  1. Nepali

Nepali is the main official language of Nepal. It is widely spoken all over Nepal. About 44.6% of the total population speak this language fluently. Nepali greets each other with NAMASTE by joining two hands and bowing down the head. NAMASTE is the most spoken word in Nepali.

  1. Maithali

The second most spoken language in Nepal is Maithali with 11.57 % of the total population. It is spoken mostly in the eastern Terai region like Janakpur, Sagarmatha and Koshi region. People who speak this language are called Maithili as they are the inhabitant of the Mithila region. It is also spoken languages in Northern Bihar of India.

  1. Bhojpuri
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Bhojpuri is the third most spoken language in Nepal. About 6% of the total population of Nepal speak Bhojpuri. It is mainly spoken in the southern Terai region like Rautahat, Bara, Parsa, Chitwan, Nawalparasi, and Rupandehi. It is also one of the major languages spoken in the different parts of India like Bihar, UP, Jharkhand.

  1. Tharu

These languages are spoken by Tharu people mostly living in the Terai region of Nepal like Kailali, kanchanpur,  Saptari, Rupandehi, Bara, Parsa, Surkhet, Nawalparasi, Rautahat, Dang, etc. Tharu population is about 6.6 % in Nepal and 5.8 % of the total population speaks tharu languages.

  1. Tamang

Tamang is mostly inhabitants of the hilly and Himalayan regions of Nepal. They are especially found in the Makwanpur, Nuwkaot, Sindhupalchwok, Lalitpur, Dhading Rasuwa, Dolakha, Chitwan and Kavrepalanchowk. About 5.1 % of the total population are native speakers of this language.

  1. Newari

Newari is also known as Nepal Bhasa. They are the original inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley. Especially, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Lalitpur are considered as the main origin of Nepal Bhasa. There are about 3.2 % of people who are speaking Nepal Bhasa.

  1. Bajjika

People living in Sarlahi Mahottari and Rautahat districts of Nepal mostly speak this language. About 3 % of people are speakers of this language. It is a Bihari language that serves as the transition language between Maithali and Bhojpuri.

  1. Magar

Magar is residing mainly in the Lumbini, Gandaki, Sindhuli Districts of Nepal. They speak the Magar language called Dhut Magar. The magar script is also called Akha lip. There are about 3 % of people speaking this language in the country.

  1. Doteli

It is mainly spoken in the western part of Nepal like Dadeldhura, Doti, Baitadi, Bajura, Bajhang, and Darchula. About 3% of the total population of Nepal speak this language.

  1. Urdu

Urdu is the main language of Muslims in Nepal. About 2.6 % of the people of Nepal speak this language. It is mainly spoken in the Terai region.

Language spoken in Nepal data

There are many other languages like Limbu, Awadhi, Gurung, Rai, Sherpa, Hindi, Chepang and many more spoken in Nepal. Here is the table that shows the data of different languages spoken in Nepal according to the national census 2011.

Language Population
Nepali 11,826,953
Maithili 3,092,530
Bhojpuri 1,584,958
Tharu 1,529,875
Tamang 1,353,311
Nepal Bhasa 846,557
Bajjika 793,416
Magar 788,530
Dotyali 787,827
Urdu 691,546
Awadhi 501,752
Limbu 343,603
Gurung 325,622
Baitadeli 272,524
Rai 159,114
Aachami 142,787
Bantaba 132,583
Rajbanshi 122,214
Sherpa 114,830
Hindi 77,569
Chamling 76,800
Baghangi 67,581
Santhali 49,858
Chepang 48,476
Sunuwar 37,898
Language Not Known 47,718
Danuwar 45,821
Magahi 35,614
Uraue 33,651
Kulung 33,170
Kham 27,113
Rajasthani 25,394
Maghi 24,422
Thami 23,151
Bhujel 21,715
Other languages 21,173
Bengali 21,061
Thulung 20,659
Yakhka 19,558
Dhimal 19,300
Tajpuriya 18,811
Angika 18,555
Sangpang 18,270
Khaling 14,467
Bambule 13,470
Kumal 12,222
Darau 11,677
Bahing 11,658
Bajureli 10,704
Hyomlo 10,176
Nachiring 10,041
Thmpu 9,208
Bote 8,766
Ghale 8,092
Dumi 7,638
Lepcha 7,499
Puma 6,686
Dumangli 6,260
Darchuleli 5,928
AathPahariya 5,530
Thakali 5,242
Jireli 4,829
Mobahang 4,650
Sanketik 4,476
Tibbati 4,445
Meche 4,375
Chantyal 4,283
Raji 3,758
Lohorung 3,716
Chintal 3,712
Gangai 3,612
Pahari 3,458
Dailekhi 3,102
Lhopaa 3,029
Dura 2,156
Koche 2,080
Chiling 2,046
English 2,032
Jerojerung 1,763
Khas 1,747
Sanskrit 1,669

Table reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Nepal

Languages are the identity of people and the country. So, they need to be protected. They should be passed from one generation to another so that they remain alive. In the present context, most of the Nepalese people have been studying foreign languages like English, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Chinese, and Germany, etc. It is good to learn new languages but it is bad to forget the national languages and this is what happens in the present day. People are speaking new languages more than their original one. The government of Nepal should give more attention to protecting the local languages of Nepal. Many organizations have done a great job by publishing books in different languages. It is our duty to protect them too.