Nepali

Swagatam – Welcome

Nepali, a member of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family, is a macrolanguage spoken by 12,300,000 in Nepal (2011 census), 2,870,000 In India (2001 census), and 156,000 in Bhutan. The worldwide population of Nepali speakers is estimated at 15,360,100. The language is also called Eastern Pahadi, Gorkhali, Gurkhali, Khaskura, Nepalese, and Parbate.

Status
  • Nepal
    Nepali is the national language of Nepal. Most of the country’s population speaks Nepali as a 1st language, and many speakers of Nepal’s 122 other languages speak it as a 2nd language.
  • India
    Nepali is the official language of Sikkim, an Indian state in the Himalayas, and in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal.

 

Dialects

Ethnologue lists 12 dialects of Nepali, not all of which are mutually intelligible.

Acchami Dialekhi
Baitadeli Darhulai
Bajhangi Gandakeli
Bajurali Humli
Bheri Purbeli
Dadelhuri Soradi

Structure

Sound system

The sound system of Nepali shares many features with other Indo-Aryan languages.

Vowels
Nepali has 6 oral vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning. Most of them have nasal counterparts. There is also a number of diphthongs.

Close
i
u
Mid
e
ə
o
Open
a
  • /i/ = ea in peat
  • /e/ = e in pet
  • /ə/ = a in ago
  • /a/ = a in bar
  • /u/ = oo in too
  • /o/ = o in token

 

Consonants
The consonant system of Nepali is typical of IndoAryan languages. The language permits few consonant clusters.

Stops unaspirated voiceless p
t
ʈ
k
aspirated voiceless
ʈʰ
unaspirated voiced b d
ɖ
g
aspirated voiced
ɖʰ
Fricatives voiceless s
ʃ
ɦ
Affricates unaspirated voiceless
aspirated voiceless
tʃʰ
unaspirated voiced
aspirated voiced
dʒʰ
Nasals
..ɳ
ɲ
ŋ
Laterals
.ɭ
Flap or trill
ɽ
Approximant
ʋ
j
  • There is a contrast between aspirated and unaspirated stops and affricates, including voiced ones, e.g., p—pʰ, t—tʰ, k—kʰ, b—bʰ, d—dʰ, g—gʰ, tʃ—tʃʰ, dʒ —dʒʰ. Aspirated consonants are produced with a strong puff of air.
  • There is a contrast between apical and retroflex consonants, e.g., /t/ – /ʈ/, /d/ – /ɖ/, /n/ – /ɳ/, /r/ – /ɽ/. Apical consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, whereas retroflex consonants are produced with the tongue curled, so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth.
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /ɲ/ = ny in canyon
  • /ŋ/ =first n in song
  • /ɭ/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ʋ/ is realized as /w/ or /v/.
  • /j/ = y in yet

 

Grammar

Nepali grammar shares many of its features with the grammars of other Indo-Aryan languages. Like all these languages, Nepali is agglutinative, i.e., it adds suffixes to roots to build words and to express grammatical relations. It also uses inflections for marking certain grammatical categories.

Nouns
Nepali nouns have the following major characteristics.

  • There are two numbers: singular and plural. Plural is marked by a plural marker which is not used if plurality is clear from the context.
  • There is a gender distinction, particularly for animate nouns.
  • There are two cases: nominative and oblique.
  • There is a strong system of classifiers, or counters, which are used when nouns are counted.
  • There is a well-developed system of honorifics.

 

Adjectives

There are declinable and indeclinable adjectives. Declinable adjectives are marked for agreement with the noun they modify, whereas indeclinable adjectives do not change their form.

Pronouns

  • Nepali pronouns have three persons. Third-person pronouns are subdivided into proximal and distal. Proximal pronouns indicate someone who is nearby or present. Distal pronouns indicate someone who is distant or absent.
  • Pronouns do not distinguish gender.
  • Nepali has an elaborate system of pronouns, expressing various levels of politeness, depending on the gender, number, distance, and status of the referent.
3rd person pronouns
2nd person pronouns
Low grade Person is not present or is of low status. used to address small children, animals and pejoratively
Middle grade Person is a woman. used to address people who are youngr or of lower status than the speaker
High grade Person is present or is of high status. used to address people who are older or of higher status than the speaker

There is an additional form for extremely formal situations. There is also a polite form of address.

Postpositions

Nepali uses a number of postpositions which have case-like functions. They take the form of affixes attached to an entire phrase, rather than a single noun, e.g., possessive, ergative in the past tense, instrumental, and one which marks the accusative of animate nouns, etc. There are other postpositions that perform the function of prepositions.

Verbs
Nepali verbs have the following major characteristics:

Verbs agree with their subjects in number, gender, status and person.
Verbs occur in the following forms: root, imperfect stem, perfect stem, and infinitive. The stems agree with nouns in gender and number.
There are three persons: 1st, 2nd, 2nd honorific, 3rd.
There are two numbers: singular and plural.
There are three tenses: present, past, future.
There are two aspects: imperfective and perfective.
There are three moods: indicative, imperative, optative.
There are two voices: active and passive.

Word order

The normal word order in Nepali is Subject – Object – Verb.

Vocabulary

The basic vocabulary of Nepali is Sanskrit in origin, but over the years the language has also borrowed words from other languages. Nepali is more conservative than other Indo-Aryan languages, borrowing fewer words from other languages and using more words derived from Sanskrit. While written Nepali is mostly influenced by Sanskrit, spoken Nepali has many loanwords from neighboring Tibeto-Burmese languages.

Below are a few words and basic phrases in Nepali.

Hello Namastē
Goodbye Bidā’i
Thank you Dhan’yavāda
Please Kr̥payā
Yes
No Hoēna
Man Manisā
Woman Mahilā

Below are Nepali numerals in transliteration.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
ek
dui
tin
char
pānch
cha
sāt
āt
nau
das

 

 

Writing

Nepali was first used in writing during the 12th century AD. It is written with the Devanagari alphabet, which developed from the Brāhmi script in the 11th century AD.

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Nepali in the Devanagari script.

धारा १
सबै व्यक्ति हरू जन्मजात स्वतन्त्र हुन ती सबैको समान अधिकार र महत्व छ। निजहरूमा विचार शक्ति र सद्धिचार भएकोले निजहरूले आपसमा भातृत्वको भावना बाट व्यवहार गर्नु पर्छ।
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Difficulty

Language Difficulty

questionHow difficult is it to learn Nepali?
There is no data on the difficulty of for speakers of English.