KATHMANDU, Nov 6: How many of us can sit with our elders and converse with them in a language other than Nepali? And English is not the language we have in mind.
Nepal is a culturally diverse country with different languages for the different ethnic communities that live here. As our lives merge in modernity and advancing technology, where we join the rest of the world, Nepali remains our common language here, and English, the lingua franca the world over. So, most of us don’t know how to communicate and express ourselves in the language of our forefathers.
Take for example Naren Limbu, 28, who doesn’t understand Limbu except for a few words. He says, “I studied in a boarding school and during holidays, I was busy with homework and playing with friends. My father gave my sister and me with a book on Limbu language when I was in class 7. But somehow, I was never that interested to take the trouble to learn it.” He feels he is doing fine with Nepali and English and has no plans to learn the language.
Sandip Tandukar, 20, knows the importance of preserving one’s ethnic language. His parents talk with him and his sisters in Nepali and it is he who asks them to switch to Newari language. Sandip learnt Newar or Nepal Bhasha five years ago from his parents, after he started mingling with a lot more friends from Patan.
“Unlike my friends from Patan, most of my friends in Kathmandu don’t know Newari. That’s why I call them ‘bigreko Newar.’ With more and more people migrating abroad, our language and culture can be forgotten and I believe it’s important that we preserve them,” he states.
Learning one’s language is beneficial as it works as a code during awkward situations. Sarita Rai, 21, belongs to the Bantawa clan and is quite fluent in the language.
“I’ve been speaking it since I was young. But, though it was my parents who thought it was important to know one’s language and taught me, we speak Nepali at home. It’s only when we have to communicate something secret in public that we talk in our language,” she explains.
A point to note is how parents speak with their children in Nepali even though they are perfectly capable of conversing in their own ethnic languages. One reason could be the high and low reach of our national language which makes it easy for everyone to slip effortlessly into it these days.
Parents should understand and make it their responsibility, states Srijana Gurung. It is their duty to teach their children and make them aware of the importance of their language. The 24-year-old lady from Bhadrapur, who works as a cash teller in a bank, is half Gurung and half Magar and doesn’t know any of the Gurung language and can understand only a smattering of Magar.
“People are being more aware of the significance of all this and so books are now available. But it’ll be difficult to learn it now compared to how easy it would’ve been had we learnt it when we were younger,” she says.
Sabrina Singh has a mixed ethnicity of Newar and Rai. Sabrina, who is studying Liberal Arts in America, cannot speak either language. She says, “I can only understand Newari because I was more exposed to Newari people and the language.”
Sabrina is interested to learn both Newari and Rai language and wishes there were ethnic language institutes, similar to those of foreign languages like French and German. “It’s almost like foreign languages have become more accessible than local, ethnic languages, which is sad,” she says.
The reasons she states for wanting to learn both her parents’ languages are because she thinks it would be personally gratifying and intellectually stimulating, not because she believes it is her duty to uphold traditions as such.
According to her, our mother language gives us “an entire new way of looking at the world, an entire new vocabulary with which to think and conceptualize the world.” Yet, she deems English a more important language, judging by its functionality and usefulness in communication with the rest of the world.