Language Planning In Nepal
Prof. Dr. Govinda Bahadur Tumbahang
Nepal has been restructured in seven provinces and 744 local level units with four metropolitan cities, 13 sub-metropolitan cities, 246 municipalities, 481 village councils and 6,680 wards. In seven provinces, all in all 123 distinct languages are spoken as mother tongues by 126 different caste and ethnic groups.
According to part 1, Article 6 of the Constitution, all these languages are the languages of the nation. However, Sub-Article 1 of Article 7 maintains that Nepali language written in the Devanagari script shall be the official language of Nepal. Sub-Article 2 of the same Article mentions that a state may, by state law, determine one or more than one language of the nation used by a majority of people within the state as its official language (s) in addition to Nepali.
It is clear that Nepali written in the Devanagari script shall be the official language in all provinces, but how many languages are meant by "more than one language" and what is meant by "majority of the people" are not clear. For example, in a province where more than half a dozen languages are spoken whether "more than one language" means two languages or more than two languages is not clear. Similarly, whether languages spoken by a majority of people means those spoken by more than 50 per cent people or by the largest number of people is also not clear. Assuming that "more than one language" means two languages and "languages spoken by majority of people" means two languages spoken by the largest number of people, the provinces may have the following official languages.
Potential languages of provinces
In province number 1, as a mother tongue, Nepali has 1,953,386 speakers, Maithili has 507,275 speakers and Limbu has 331,685 speakers. Maithili and Limbu can be the official languages of this province in addition to Nepali. Other languages such as Bantawa which has 130,958 speakers in villages of Bhojpur, Dhankuta, Ilam, Panchthar, Sunsari and Udayapur, Rajbansi which is spoken by 121,291 speakers in pocket areas of Jhapa and Morang districts, Rai which is spoken by 120,791 speakers and Chamling which is spoken mainly in Khotang district by 75061 speakers are likely to be the official languages of the local bodies.
In province number 2, the number of Nepali mother tongue speakers is 364,704 whereas the numbers of Maithili mother tongue speakers and Bhojpuri mother tongue speakers are 2,487,978 and 1,003,873 respectively. On the basis of numerical strength, Maithili and Bhojpuri can be the official languages of this province apart from Nepali. Bajjika, which is spoken mainly in Rautahat and Sarlahi by 791,642 speakers and Tharu which is spoken by 203,587 speakers in the pocket areas of Saptari, Bara, Parsa, Siraha, Rautahat have the potential to be the official languages of the local bodies.
In province number 3, Nepali as a mother tongue is spoken by 3,175,246 population, Tamang by 1,012,862 populations and Newar by 680,027 populations. Therefore, Tamang and Newar will be the official languages of this province besides Nepali. Apart from these languages, Chepang is spoken by 46,235 people mainly in Makawanpur, Chitawan and Dhading. Thami is spoken by 29,880 people mainly in certain villages of Dolakha, Sindhupalchok and Ramechhap districts. Similarly, Sunuwar is spoken by 16,880 speakers in pocket areas of Dolakha, Sindhuli and Ramechhap. These languages can be used as official languages in local units.
In province number 4, Nepali is spoken by 1,856,961 speakers, Magar is spoken by 246, 823 speakers and Gurung is spoken by 214,495 speakers. So, in addition to Nepali, Magar and Gurung will be the official languages of this province. In province number 5, as mother tongues 2,364,516 people speak Nepali, 568,357 people speak Tharu and 498,180 people speak Avadhi. So, in addition to Nepali, Tharu and Avadhi can be made the official languages of this province. On top of these languages, Magar is spoken by 196,333 people particularly in Palpa, Rukum, Rolpa and Rupandehi. So, it can be used as the official language of the local bodies.
In province number 6, Nepali is spoken by 1,346,206, Magar is spoken by 32,328 and Tamang by 11,322 populations. Therefore, Magar and Tamang can be made the official languages of this province. Gurung is spoken by 4,101 speakers, Kham by 2,229 speakers, Dolpo by 1614 speakers and Bote is spoken by 1403 speakers in this province. These languages can be used in local units.
In province number 7, as a mother tongue Nepali is spoken by 770,322 speakers whereas Doteli is spoken by 777,247 speakers and Tharu is spoken by 434,304 speakers, Therefore, except for Nepali, Doteli and Tharu will be the official languages of this province. In addition, Baitadeli is spoken by 271,838 speakers and Achhami is spoken by 142,516 speakers. In Kailali, most speakers speak Tharu, in Baitadi most speakers speak Baitadeli and in Darchula and Doti, most speakers speak Doteli. These languages should be given proper places in the local bodies.
Large languages at the national level
Maithili is spoken as a mother tongue by 11.7 per cent population and occupies the first position in Sunsari, Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusha, Mahottari and Sarlahi and second position in Morang, Nawalparasi, Rautahat, Parsa, Bara and Rupandehi. It is the second largest language in terms of the number of population.
Bhojpuri is spoken as a mother tongue by 5.98 per cent population mainly in Rautahat, Bara, Parsa and Rupandehi. It is the third largest language at the national level but second largest language in the Terai.
Tharu is the mother tongue of 5.77 per cent population spoken across the Terai mainly in Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur. It is the fourth largest language at the national level but the third largest language in Terai. Bajjika is spoken by 2.99 per cent of the population and is the fourth largest language in the Terai. Urdu and Bajjika which constitute 2.61 per cent and 1.89 per cent speakers respectively are the fifth and sixth largest languages of Tarai. In the hill, Tamang with 5.11 per cent speakers, Newar with 3.2 per cent speakers, Magar with 2.98 per cent speakers, Limbu with 1.3per cent speakers and Gurung with 1.23per cent speakers are the first, second, third, fourth and the fifth largest languages.
Nepali is used by 77.41 per cent of the total population. However, 22.59 per cent people do not understand it though it is a national, official language. Therefore, the constitution should make clear, alternative provision for these people.
Status of Hindi language
Hindi is the mother tongue of 0.29per cent population and is used as a second language by 4.62 per cent population. It is spoken by 12,573 in province number 1, by 8,625 in province number 2, by 27,015 in province number 3, by 4,631 in province number 4, by 15,553 in province number 5, by 878 people in province number 6 and by 8,294 speakers in province number 7. On the basis of the number of speakers, it has no potential to be used as an official language even in local bodies, let alone its potential to be the official language of the province. Against this scenario, it has been a big problem to address the concern of some political parties to make it the official language of the federal state.
The government should, therefore, make provincial languages the languages spoken by the largest number of people. At the same time, it should make equal effort to preserve and develop endangered languages. Languages should be made functional from federal to the local levels according to their capability.
(The author is associated with the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, TU, Kirtipur)