Yet, even as new languages are identified, some of Nepal’s indigenous languages are in danger of becoming extinct. The 2011 census identified 37 languages having less than 1,000 speakers as being endangered. Among them, the Dura, Kusunda, and Tillung languages have only one speaker each left, and may not even register in this year’s census.
“The status of Nepal’s languages and linguistic diversity have reflected well in Nepali censuses only during periods of democracy, and not in times of tyranny and autocracy,” explains Lok Bahadur Lopchan of the Nepal Language Commission. Indeed, fluctuations in the language count correspond with major political upheavals in Nepal’s history.
In a bid to better understand Nepal’s linguistic diversity and identify the status of languages spoken, the Commission and CBS have introduced a new question to the language section in the census forms. In addition to ‘mother tongue’ and ‘second language’, respondents this time will also be asked to mention their ‘ancestral’ language.
“Because the language of teaching and communication is predominantly in Nepali, the mother tongue for many people across Nepal’s ethnic communities has become Nepali as well. Adding ancestral language to the questionnaire will help us ascertain which languages have lost speakers,” Lopchan explains.
In fact, Dilli Ram Dahal notes in his analysis that “dominant groups, such as Newa, Magar and Rai are switching over in large numbers to the Nepali language, not only because it is an official language but also because of their day to day interaction with the Nepali language speaking communities.”
“If the respondents answer openly, we might get more accurate data, and there is a possibility that the total number of endangered languages will be double of what it is now,” adds Lopchan.