Languages of Nepal

How many languages are spoken in Nepal?

Nepal is multiethnic and multilingual country. Despite of its area, Nepal has diverse ethnic groups and all ethnic groups have their own languages. The official language of Nepal is Nepali but there more than 100 mother tongues as languages of Nepal. This multilingual status of Nepal has placed Nepal in distinct position on linguistic map of world and established Nepal as fascinating area for linguistic study.

Though different languages are spoken in same locality, Nepali has become a lingua franca of Nepal as it is used in education, administration, communication media, etc. Almost before 60 years, until king and government made Nepali the primary language, each isolated area basically spoke their own language.

languages of nepal
Devanagari script

The 2011 census of Central Bureau of Statistics has listed 126 languages spoken as mother tongue (first language) in Nepal. Census 2011 states that 44.6% of total population speaks Nepali as their mother tongue. Most of the languages belong to Indo-Aryan and Sino-Tibetan families.

The Nepali language was originally called Khaskura (language of khas – Brahmins/chhetris), then Parbatiya (language of people in hills) and later Gorkhali (language of Gorkha). After Nepali, Maithili is the widely spoken language in Nepal. According to 2011 census, 11.57% of total population of Nepal speaks Maithili language. Besides Nepali and Maithili, other languages those are commonly spoken are:

  • Bhojpuri
  • Abadhi
  • Newari
  • Gurung
  • Tamang
  • Tharu
  • Limbu
  • Magar
  • Hindu
  • Urdu

Out of 126 listed languages, 3 have become extinct: Dura, Kusunda and Waling.

10 most commonly spoken languages of Nepal according to 2011 census of CBS are listed below:

LanguagesPercentage (of total population)
Nepali44.6
Maithili11.7
Bhojpuri5.98
Tharu5.77
Tamang5.1
Nepal Bhasa (Newari)3.2
Bajjika2.99
Magar2.97
Dotyali2.97
Urdu2.61

The linguistic diversity of the country has given rise to the status of monolingualism, bilingualism and multilingualism.

languages of nepal
Tibetan script (first verse of Bodhisattva)

In 2001 census, non-Nepalese languages were also listed as the other languages spoken in Nepal. Those languages are:

  • Chinese
  • English
  • Oriya
  • Sindhi
  • Koche
  • Hariyanwi
  • Magahi
  • Kurnali
  • Dzonkha
  • Kuki
  • Mizo
  • Nagamese
  • Assamese
  • Sadhani

 

Classification of Nepali Language

Most of the languages belong to Tibeto-Burman language family and they are mostly ethnic languages. While the official and some other major languages belong to Indo-Aryan family which is the branch of the Indo-European family. Very few languages belong o Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic family.

Language FamilyLanguage/Mother Tongue
Indo-EuropeanNepali
Maithili
Bhojpuri
Awadhi
Tharu
Rajbanshi
Hindi
Urdu
Sino-Tibetan/ Tibeto-BurmanTamang
Newar
Magar
Rai, Kirat
Gurung
Limbu
Bhote, Sherpa
Sunuwar
Danuwar
Thakali
Austro-AsiaticSatar
Santhali
DravidianJhangar
Kisan
languages of nepal
Gurung script

Nomenclature of Nepali Language

The nomenclature of languages of Nepal is not so simple. The names of the languages have been derived from several country or place names (toponyms/loconyms), community or tribe names (ethnonym), profession and religion. The name of official language of Nepal is derived from the place name, even when it was known as Khas Kura, Gorkhali and Parbatiya.

Languages derived from country or place names

Maithili – Mithila

Bhojpuri – Bhojpur

Awadhi – Awadh

Hindi – Hindustaan

Santhali – Santhal

Bangala – Bangal

Marwadi – Mawraad

Angika – Ang

Tibetan –Tibet

Meche – Mechi

Punjabi – Punjab

Oriya – Orissa

Sindhi – Sindh

Marwari – Marwar

Hariyanvi – Haryana

Magahi –Magadh

Assamese –Assam

 

Languages derived from community or tribe names

  • Tharu
  • Tamang
  • Newar
  • Magar
  • Kiranti
  • Gurung
  • Rajbanshi
  • Sherpa
  • Chepang
  • Majhi
  • Danuwar
  • Sunuwar
  • Thami
  • Dhimal
  • Bhujel/Khawas
  • Darai
  • Kumal
  • Thakali
  • Chhantyal
  • Pahari
  • Lepcha
  • Bote
  • Raji
  • Byanshi
  • Ghale
  • Khariya
  • Raute
  • Kisan
  • Baram/Maramu
  • Kusunda
  • Dhangar
  • Dura
  • Yolmo
  • Munda
  • Jirel

 

Language derived from the profession

Churauti, its speakers prefer to call it ‘Muslim Bhasha’

 

Language derived from religion

Urdu – Muslim

Sanskrit – Hindu

Tibetan – Buddhist

 

Nepal also has sign languages. Nepali Sign Language is designed for national use while others are Jhankot Sign Language, Jumla Sign Language and Ghandruk sign language.

 

Writing System of languages of Nepal

The official language of Nepal, Nepali is written in Devnagari script. Very few languages have literate traditions; they include Nepali, Maithili, Tibetan, Newar, Limbu, Bhojpuri, Awadhi and Lepcha. Most of them use Devnagari script and some have their own scripts.

 

LanguagesScripts
Nepali, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Hindi and RajbanshiDevanagari script
MaithiliMithilakshar or Kaithi script
Bengalidifferent version of Devnagari script
TibetanTibetan script
NewarRanjana script
LimbuKiranti Srijanga script
LepchaRong script
Santhali/SatarSanthali/Satar script
languages of nepal
Khambu Rai script
languages of nepal
Limbu script
languages of nepal
Maithili script
languages of nepal
Santhali/Satar script

Language provision in Constitution

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal (1991) has recognized Nepali as ‘the language of the nation’ (raashtrabhaasaa) and all mother tongues spoke in Nepal as its ‘national languages’ (raashtriyabhaasaa) (Article 6).

Provisions about the languages of Nepal can be found in part 1 of the New Constitution of Nepal 2015 (2072 B.S.).

Article 6: All native languages spoken in Nepal are National language of Nepal

Article 7a: Nepali language in Devnagari script is used for Nepal government work

Article 7b: Beside Nepali language, any Provinces can choose one or more other languages spoken by majority population of that province for government work.

languages of nepal
Nepali Daily Papers

Status of Nepali Language

Spoken inNepal
India (Uttaranchal, Darjeeling, Siliguri)
Bhutan
RegionSouth Asia
Total speakers35 million (approx.)
Ranking57
Language FamiliesIndo-European
Indo-Aryan
Tibeto Burman
Dravidian
Writing SystemDevanagari Script

 

languages of nepal
Newspaper in Nepal Bhasa

Languages spoken in Nepal

Language       Spoken areas; Population speaking the language (2011 census); Language family; Nationality; Status

Angika             Morang and Sunsari districts; 18,600; Indo-European; Outer language;        Threatened

Athpariya       Dhankuta district; 5,530; Tibeto-Burman; Kirati – Rai; Threatened

Avadhi            Nawalparasi, Rupandehi, Kapilvastu, Banke, Bardia, Dang, Kailali, and Kanchanpur districts; 502,000; Indo-European; Kushwadiya; Educational

Bagheli            Morang district; 137,000; Indo-European; Gangai; Vigorous

Bahing             Okhaldhunga, Solukhumbu, Khotang and Kathmandu districts; 11,700; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Vigorous

Bantawa          Morang, Dhankuta, Bhojpur, Sunsari, Khotang, Okhaldhunga, Udayapur, Ilam, Jhapa, Panchthar and Taplejung districts; 133,000; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Baram              Gorkha and Dhading districts; 160; Tibeto-Burman; Baramou; Nearly extinct

Belhariya         Dhankuta district; 600; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Bengali            Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Kathamndu, Bhaktapur, Patan, Birgunj, Bhairawa, Nepalgunj and Janakpur districts; 21,100; Indo-European; Outer language; Dispersed

Bhojpuri          Rautahat, Bara, Parsa, Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Rupandehi and Sarlahi districts; 1,580,000; Indo-European; Outer language; Educational

Bhujel              Tanahun, Gorkha, Nawalparasi and Chitwan districts; 21,700; Tibeto-Burman; Bhujel; Shifting

Bote                Tanahu, Nawalparasi and Chitwan districts; 8,770; Indo-European; Bote; Threatened

Byangsi           Darchula district; 480; Tibeto-Burman; Byasi; Threatened

Chamling         Khotang and Udayapur districts; 76,800; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Chantyal         Myagdi and Baglung districts; 4,280; Tibeto-Burman; Chhantyal; Threatened

Chepang          Makawanpur, Chitwan, Dhading and Gorkha districts; 48,500; Tibeto-Burman; Chepang; Threatened

Chhintang        Dhankuta district; 3,710; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Chhulung         Dhankuta district; 2,050; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Shifting

Chukwa           Bhojpur district; 100 – only 5 fluent; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Moribund

Danuwar         Makawanpur, Sindhuli, Kavrepalanchok and Lalitpur districts; 45,800; Indo-European; Danuwar; Shifting

Darai               Chitwan and Tanahun districts; 11,700; Indo-European; Darai; Threatened

Dhimal            Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari districts; 19,300; Tibeto-Burman; Dhimal; Threatened

Dolpo              Dolpa district; 1,760; Tibeto-Burman; Dolpo; Developing

Dotyali            Baitadi, Dadeldhura, Kanchanpur, Darchula, Doti and Bajhang districts; 788,000; Indo-European; Dotel; Vigorous

Dumi               Khotang district; 7,640; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Shifting

Dungmali         Bhojpur district; 6,260; Tibet-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Dura                Extinct

English            2,030 – users: 7,000,000; Indo-European; Educational

Ghale, Northern          Gorkha district; 4,440; Tibeto-Burman; Ghale; Threatened

Ghale, Southern          Gorkha district; 21, 500; Tibeto-Burman; Ghale; Vigorous

Ghandruk Sign Language         Kaski district; 20; Sign-Language; Nearly extinct

Gurung            Kaski, Syangja, Lamjung, Tanahu, Gorkha, Manang and Parbat districts; 326,000; Tibeto-Burman; Gurung; Threatened

Helambu Sherpa          Nuwakot and Sindhupalchok districts; 10,200; Tibeto-Burman; Hyolmo; Vigorous

Hindi                           Kathmandu valley, Janakpur and Narayani zones; 77,600; Indo-European; Outer language; Wider communication

Humla                         Bajuraa, Bajhang, Surkhet, Achham, Humla and Kathmandu district; 5,000; Tibeto-Burman; Humli; Vigorous

Jerung                          Sindhuli and Okhaldhunga districts; 1,760; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Jhankot Sign Language            Dolpa district; Sign language; Vigorous

Jirel                             Dolakaha, Nawalparasi, Sindhupalchok and Parsa districts; 4,830; Tibeto-Burman; Jirel; Threatened

Jumla Sign Language   Jumla district; 8; Sign language; Threatened

Jumli                           Jumla, Humla, Kalikot, Mugu, Bajura, Bajhang and Achham districts; 850; Indo-European; Vigorous

Kagate                         Ramechhap district; 100; Tibeto-Burman; Helambu Sherpa; Vigorous

Kaike                           Dolpa district; 50; Tibeto-Burman; Vigorous

Kayort                        Morang district; 22,000; Indo-European; Vigorous

Khaling                        Solukhumbu, Khotang, Sankhuwasabha, Sunsari and Ilam districts; 14,500; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Vigorous

Kham, Eastern Parbate           Baglung district; 7,500; Tibeto-Burman; Magar; Threatened

Kham, Gamale            Rolpa and Baglung districts; 13,100; Tibeto-Burman; Magar; Vigorous

Kham, Sheshi              Rukum district; 20,000; Tibeto-Burman; Magar; Threatened

Kham, Western Parbate          Rukum, Rolpa nad Dolpa districts; 24,500; Tibeto-Burman; Magar; Developing

Kharia                         Jhapa and Morang districts; 1,580; Austro-Asiatic; Bankariya; Threatened

Kisan                           Jhapa district; 1,180; Indo-European; Kisan; Vigorous

Koi                              Khotang district; 1,270; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Vigorous

Kuke                           Gorkha district; 29; Tibeto-Burman; Ghale; Vigorous

Kulung                        Solukhumbu, Sankhuwasabha and Bhojpur district; 33,200; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Kumhali                      Nawalparasi, Argakhanchi, Palpa, Gorkha, Tanahun and Dang districts; 12,200; Indo-European; Kumal; Shifting

Kurux, Nepali             Sunsari district; 28,600; Dravidian; Threatened

Kusunda                      Extinct

Kyirong                       Rasuwa and Kathmandu valley; 500; Tibeto-Burman; Lama; Vigorous

Lapcha                        Ilam district; 7,500; Tibeto-Burman; Lepcha; Shifting

Lhomi                          Sankhuwasabha district, Arun and Kathmandu valley; 810; Tibeto-Burman; Lhomi; Developing

Limbu                          Dhankuta, Sankhuwasabha, Terhathum, Morang, Taplejung, Panchthar, Ilam and Jhapa districts; 344,000; Tibeto-Burman; Limbu; Dispersed

Lohorrung                   Sankhuwasabha district; 3,720; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Loke                            Mustang and Dolpa districts; 3,030; Tibeto-Burman; Bahragaunle, Lhopa; Vigorous

Lumba-Yakkha            Dhankuta district; 1,200; Tibeto-Burman; Threatened

Magar, Eastern            Tanahu, Gorkha, Palpa, Nawalparasi, Dhading, Sindhuli and Okhaldhunga districts, Mechi and Koshi zone; 462,000; Tibeto-Burman; Magar; Threatened

Magar, Western          Palpa, Syangja, Tanahun, Parbat, Surkhet, Jajarkot and Dailekh districts, Bheri zone; 308,000; Tibeto-Burman; Magar; Threatened

Maithili                       Rautahat, Sarlahi, Mahottari, Dhanusa, Siraha, Saptari, Sunsari and Morang districts; 3,890,000; Indo-European; Dispersed

Majhi                          Ramechhap district; 24,400; Indo-European; Majhi; Threatened

Manangba                   Manag district; 390; Tibeto-Burman; Gurung-Tamang; Threatened

Marwari                      Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Parsa, Kathmandu and other urban areas; 22,600; Indo-European; Marwari; Developing

Meche                         Jhapa district; 4,380; Tibeto-Burman; Meche (Bodo); Threatened

Mewahang, Eastern    Sankhuwasabha and Sunsari districts; 4,650; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Mewahang, Western   Sankhuwasabha district; 4,650; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Mugali                         Dhankuta district; 1,500; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Shifting

Mugom                       Mugu, Jumla and Kathmandu districts; 6,500; Tibeto-Burman; Mugali; Vigorous

Mundari                      Jhapa and Morang districts; 7,780; Austro-Asiatic; Jhangad; Developing

Musasa                       Sindhuli, Dolakha, Mahottari, Dhanusa, Morang, Sunsari, Siraha and Saptari districts; 50,000; Indo-European; Musahar; Threatened

Naaba                          Sankhuwasabha district; 770; Tibeto-Burman; Nawa Sherpa; Vigorous

Nachering                    Khotang district; 10,000; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Shifting

Nar Phu                       Manang district; 600; Tibeto-Burman; Gurung-Tamang; Vigorous

Nepalese Sign Language          Scattered; 20,000; Sign language; Developing

Nepali                         East and adjacent south central regions; 12,300,000; Indo-European; Statutory Official language

Newar                         Kathmandu valley, other urban areas; 847,000; Tibeto-Burman; Newar; Educational

Nubri                           Gorkha district; 2,000; Tibeto-Burman; Larke; Vigorous

Palpa                           Extinct

Phangduwali                Dhankuta district; 290; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Shifting

Puma                           Khotang and Udayapur districts; 6,690; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Rajbanshi                    Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari districts; 143,000; Indo-European; Rajbanshi; Developing

Raji                              Surkhet, Banke, Bardiya, Kailai and Kanchanpur districts; 3,760; Tibeto-Burman; Rajhi; Threatened

Raute                           Dadeldhura and Surkhet districts; 460; Tibeto-Burman; Raute; Vigorous

Saam                            Bhojpur and Ilam districts; 530; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Nearly extinct

Sampang                      Khotang and Bhojpur districts; 18,300; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Sanskrit                       Widely dispersed; 1,670; Indo-European; Dormant

Santhali                       Morang, Sunsari and Jhapa districts; 49,900; Austro-Asiatic; Satar (Santhal); Dispersed

Seke                             Mustang district, Jomson and Pokhara; 700; Tibeto-Burman; Tangbe; Vigorous

Sherpa                         Solukhumbu, Dolakham Ramechhap and Sindhupalchok districts; 145,000; Tibeto-Burman; Sherpa; Developing

Sonha                          Kailali, Surkhet, Bardia and Kanchanpur districts; 580; Indo-European; Sonha; Shifting

Sunwar                        Ramechaap, Dolakha and Okhaldhunga districts; 38,200; Tibeto-Burman; Sunuwar; Threatened

Tamang, Eastern         Kathmandu, Sindhuli, Ramechhap, Dolakha, Kavrepalanchok, Sindhupalchok, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Nuwakot, Makawanpur, Chitwan, Okhaldhunga, Khotang, Udayapur, Dhading, Bara, Parsa and Rautahat districts; 1,180,000; Tibeto-Burman; Tamang; Educational

Tamang, Eastern Gorkha        Gorkha district; 3,980; Tibeto-Burman; Tamang; Vigorous

Tamang, Northwestern           Nuwakot district; 55,000; Tibeto-Burman; Tamang; Vigorous

Tamang, Western        Nuwakot, Rasuwa, Dhading, Sindhupalchok, Makawanpur and Kathmandu districts; 323,000; Tibeto-Burman; Tamang; Vigorous

Thakali                        Mustang district; 5,240; Tibeto-Burman; Thakali, Chhairotan, Marphali Thakali, Tieengaule Thakali; Shifting

Thangmi                      Dolakha, Ramechhap, Sindhupalchok and Kathmandu districts; 23,200; Tibeto-Burman; Threatened

Tharu, Chitwania        Chitwan, Bara, Parsa, Rautahat, Makawanpur, Nawalparasi and Tanahu distrits; 285,000; Indo-European; Tharu; Developing

Tharu, Dangaura         Dang, Bardiya, Banke, Surkhet, Kailali, Kanchanpur, Rupandehi and Kapilvastu districts; 28,500; Indo-European; Tharu; Developing

Tharu, Kathariya        Kailali district; 106,000; Indo-European; Tharu; Vigorous

Tharu, Kochila            Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Udayapur, Jhapa, Bara, Parsa and Rautahat districts; 258,000; Indo-European; Tharu; Vigorous

Tharu, Rana                Kanchanpur and Kailali districts; 336,000; Indo-European; Tharu; Developing

Thudam                       Sankhuwasabha district; 1,800; Tibeto-Burman; Thudam; Vigorous

Thulung                       Solukhumbu, Khotang, Bhojpur and Sankhuwasabha districts; 20,700; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Developing

Tibetan                        Kathmandu, Pokhara and Solukhumbu districts; 4,450; Tibeto-Burman; Bodish group; Educational

Tichurong                    Dolpa district; 2,420; Tibeto-Burman; Bodish; Vigorous

Tilung                          Khotang district; 1,420; Tibeto-Burman; Vigorous

Tsum                           Gorkha district; 4,790; Tibeto-Burman; Siyar; Vigorous

Urdu                            Lowland districts of Mechi, Koshi, Sagamatha, Janakpur, Narayani and Bheri zones; 692,000; Indo-European; Muslim; Dispersed

Waling                         Extinct

Walungge                     Taplejung district; 1,500; Tibeto-Burman; Walung, Topkegola; Threatened

Wambule                     Okhaldhunga, Udayapur, Khotang and Sindhuli districts; 13,500; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Developing

Wayu                          Ramechhap district; 1,520; Tibeto-Burman; Hayu; Shifting

Yakkha                        Sankhuwasabha and Dhankuta districts; 19,600; Tibeto-Burman; Yakkha; Threatened

Yamphu                      Sankhuwasabha and Bhojpur districts; 9,210; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

Yamphu, Southern      Dhankuta and Sankhuwasabha districts; 2,500; Tibeto-Burman; Rai; Threatened

 

Since the lack of literate tradition, many languages are losing their identity and such languages are in the verge of extinction.

Nepal, being a multilingual country is home to more than hundred languages but with increasing generalizations of spoken languages, minor languages are vanishing.