Nepal | January 17, 2021

Dying language


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Some time ago the media lamented on the precarious fate of the Magaraa language in Province 1. With over 125 dialects and languages, it is hardly surprising that many of them will become extinct for lack of use for several reasons, including domination of the Nepali and English languages.

The Maoists waged a violent war for identity-based rule with stress on languages, cultures, cuisine and costumes. To fantasize an ideal identity-based republic is one thing, but to put that into practice is a different ballgame altogether. What happened to the languages that should have flourished under the system? A cursory look at the Swiss federation, which was cited by the parties as a model for our federal democratic republic, shows it has four official languages: French, Italian, German and Roman. Nepal has one. Each Swiss state or province uses its official language unlike in Nepal, where only the Nepali language is the official lingua franca. Canada has two official languages: English and French.

Why did Nepal stick to one official language while making a lot of hue and cry about indigenous languages? It is much like the Indian federal system as far as overarching domination of one official language is concerned.

Be that as it may, how can Province 1 halt the Magar language from going out of vogue? Had it been an official language like Nepali of the federal, province or even local government, people would have had to use it willy-nilly. Since it is not, and there is not much one can do by speaking Magar or Newar language fluently, people would rather learn Nepali and English.

This scribe tried to converse in Newari at a counter at NEA; a hilly-billy staff curtly rebuked me and ordered me to speak in Nepali, in the Newar stronghold.

I wonder then and do so now the use and purpose of the Newari language. It is not surprising that many Newar youths speak Nepali or English better than the various subgroups of Newari dialects in Kathmandu. They derive a superior complex by calling their parents mummy and daddy rather than a-baa or a-maa.

Another reason for the declining use of local languages is the liberal marriage policy in the republic. In countries like India, the social bond is so strong that even western-educated youths do not marry outside their caste, class, groups and so on. We have no such anomalies. Our liberal policies relating to the marriage where a Magar marries a Madhesi and a Madhesi marries a Newar is good for peace and harmony but detrimental to the purity of our cultures and languages.

Also, foreign labour is good for the economy but bad for our cultures and languages.

A version of this article appears in print on November 24, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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