Nepali is a member of the Eastern Pahari branch of the Indo-Aryan language family spoken mainly in Nepal and northern India by about 25 million people. In 2011 there were about 20.9 million speakers of Nepali in Nepal, where it is a statutory national language. About 45% of the people in Nepal (12.3 million) speak Nepali as their mother tongue, and another 33% (8.6 million) speak it as a second language. It is the main language of government, education and the legal system.
There are about 2.9 million Nepali speakers in India, mainly in the states of Sikkim and West Bengal, where it is a statutory provincial language, and also in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Uttarakhand.
Other countries with significant numbers of Nepali speakers include Myanmar (299,000), the USA (94,200), Bhutan (85,000), Australia (62,000) and the UK (52,800) [source]. Nepali speakers in Bhutan make up about 35% of the population and are known as Lhotsampa (ལྷོ་མཚམས་པ་).
Historically, Nepali was called Khas Kura (खस कुरा, khasa kurā), spoken by the Khas people of Karnali, and Gorkhali (गोरखाली, gorakhālī), the language of the Gorkha Kingdom, before the term Nepali (नेपाली, nepālī) was adopted. The origin of the modern Nepali language is believed to be from Sinja Valley in Jumla. The Nepali dialect Khas Bhasa (खस भाषा, khasa bhāṣā) is still spoken among the people of the region.
Nepali was first written in the Brahmi script in about 981 AD during the reign of King Bhupal Damupal. From the 12th century, the Devanagari alphabet, which developed from the Brahmi script in the 11th century, became the primary script for Nepali.
Hear how to write and pronounce Nepali
सबै व्यक्तिहरू जन्मजात स्वतन्त्र हुन्, ती सबैको समान अधिकार र महत्त्व छ । निजहरूमा विचार शक्ति र सद्विचार भएकोले निजहरूले आपस्तमा भ्रातृत्वको भावनाबाट व्यवहार गर्नुपर्छ ।
Sabai vyaktiharū janmajāta svatantra hun, tī sabaiko samāna adhikāra ra mahattva cha. Nijaharūmā vicāra śakti ra sadvicāra bhaekole nijaharūle āpastamā bhrātṛtvako bhāvanābāṭa vyavahāra garnuparcha.
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.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Details provided by Arvind Iyengar and Arnav Darnal.
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Page last modified: 22.11.22
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