Planning Maithili for Social Change in Nepalese Context

By Jha, Amar Kant | Contributions to Nepalese Studies, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Planning Maithili for Social Change in Nepalese Context


Jha, Amar Kant, Contributions to Nepalese Studies


"To plan language is to plan society" Cooper, R.L. (1989:182)

Language situation in Nepal

There are various versions regarding the exact number of languages spoken in Nepal. The Population Census (2001) mentions 92 languages Spoken in the country, while Malla (1989) and Toba (1992) enlist 70 and Grimes (2005) estimates 126 languages. However, it is a fact that the country has the possession of a lot of variety of languages. Out of 92 languages recorded in the Population Census (2000, 13 languages are foreign ones, mostly spoken in India (Yadav 2002: 140). Among the rest, Nepali (48.61% speakers), Maithili (12.30% speakers), Bhojpuri (7.53% speakers) and Awadhi (2.47% speakers) from Indo-Aryan, and Newari (3.63% speakers) and Limbu (1.47% speakers) from Tibeto-Burman language families have a long tradition of written literature with a great deal of codification while the others are uncodified. Some languages spoken in Nepal are also found spoken in India with a high degree of mutual intelligibility. The two important languages of Nepal- Nepali and Maithili- have also got the constitutional status equal to the other 20 languages of India like Oriya, Tamil, etc, all being included in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India.

As languages are potential societal resources, those spoken in the country need to be planned and mobilized properly in order to achieve the goals towards educating the citizenry, accelerating the economic pace and promoting the democratic processes and national cohesion. If, only in the education sector, the indigenous languages are exploited fully, they can eliminate illiteracy, spread mass education and achieve the goals of "Education for All" (MOES 2003: 4) by virtue of which all kinds of national development can be secured. Such a language planning will ensure ,people from different language backgrounds" to "have equal access to the national system" (Eastman 1983: 35) and will also "permit them creative fulfilment" (Pattanayak 1976), resulting in effective participatory democracy and social inclusion.

Since the unification of Nepal in the 18th century, only Nepali language has been protected and promoted by the state to develop as a lingua franca. Under "One nation-one language" policy, it has been made the sole medium of communication for administration, education, mass media, etc: The pursuance of a monistic, monoligual policy in a multi-lingual, multi-cultured and multi-ethnic country like Nepal has hindered its all-round development. The majority of the speakers of non-Nepali languages, especially, the people of lower castes and ethnic groups, find themselves linguistically handicapped in entering the threshold of education and, in job opportunities, they 'feel discriminated (Toba 2002) on account of the monolingual policy of the state. In mass media, too, the function of other languages is a mere cipher.

Further, owing to the monolingual policy more than 60 indigenous languages are on the verge of endangerment with varying degrees and Some are even on the verge of extinction. People, mainly in the hills, shift to the dominant language, Nepali, for education, job prospects, wider communication, prestige value, etc., causing their language loss. Out of 6703 languages estimated by Grimes (2000) spoken in the world, Krauss (1992: 7) guesstimates that 90% of them will die by the end of 21st century. Nepal is not immune from this global trend. The endangered and the seriously endangered ('moribund') languages of Nepal have to be conserved from obsolescence because "we need diversity", because 'languages express identity and are repositories of history" and "human knowledge" and are also "interesting in themselves" (Crystal 2000: 27-67)

Thus, the persistent neglect of all other native languages except Nepali by the state has created unhealthy conditions in all spheres of national life. There is a need to shift from the policy of linguistic monism to the policy of linguistic pluralism targeted at the promotion of all kinds of indigenous languages.

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