The indigenous language year came and went, no one noticed in Nepal

Friday 10 January, 2020   |   Art & Literature

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Rojina Lama

Rojina Lama

Kathmandu

The indigenous language year came and went, no one noticed in Nepal

2019 was the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The world marked the year by organising various programs aimed at preserving and promoting indigenous languages with a slogan -- 'languages for sustainable development, peace and harmony'.

The International Year of Indigenous Languages formally kicked off with a program organised by the UNESCO in Paris in last February. 2019 was declared as the International Year of Indigenous Languages by a UN General Assembly with the objective of drawing the world's attention to the disappearance of indigenous languages.

Although the world celebrated the year with a series of events, Nepal remained oblivious of the significance of these programs. Despite having as many as 123 languages, Nepal paid little attention to a UN year that could have been used to promote the country's linguistic diversity. 

Despite having as many as 123 languages, Nepal paid little attention to a UN year that could have been used to promote the country's linguistic diversity. 

Nepal Academy and Adivasi Janajati Utthan Rashtriya Pratisthan organised a one-day seminar to mark the year, but such perfunctory programs were not capable of creating enough buzz. Neither the Language Commission nor the Tribhuvan University understood the importance of the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

For a linguistically diverse country like Nepal, the International Year of Indigenous Languages should have been a reason to celebrate. The country should have used it as a chance to facilitate a debate on the use of mother tongues in a federal setup. But the year came and went; no one cared about it.

Five families of language exist in Nepal, but Kusunda language belongs to none. For long, Puni Thakuri of Rolpa and her daughter Kamala Khatri were considered to be the only people who can speak Kusunda language. But now, Gyani Maiya Sen and Prem Bahadur Shahi of Dang also speak this language. However, they cannot use Kusunda language as a lingua franca because they live in different places.

Kusunda is one of Nepal's indigenous communities. According the latest census, they have a population of just 273 people. But only a very few people can speak this language. It is said that there are three more people in Arghakhanchi who can speak this language. However, no one really knows where exactly they live.

As many as 117 of the 123 languages are spoken by indigenous communities in Nepal.

In the next few decades, or even years, Kusunda language will die. Another indigenous language that is on the verge of extinction is Dura. The latest census puts the number of people who can speak Dura language at 3,000, but linguists doubt the figure.  They say only a couple of people in Lamjung can speak Dura language fluently.

The languages spoken by Mugali Rai in Dhankuta and Lulam Rai are also dying.

So is the case with sam language. According to the Language Commission, as many as 37 languages are on the verge of extinction in Nepal. 

The government does not have a policy to protect endangered languages from becoming extinct. As many as 117 of the 123 languages are spoken by indigenous communities in Nepal.

Globally, 95% of the 6,700 languages that exist are spoken by indigenous people. Of them, 2,267 languages are spoken in Asia. Nearly 40% of the indigenous languages are in danger across the world.

UN declared 2019 as 'international year of indigenous languages' and now for 2022-2032 as an 'international decade of indigenous languages'.


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