29
May

Additional Official Language Policy of Nepal: A Review

Bhim Narayan Regmi

This paper looks into the mother tongue data at local and province levels and reviews the constitutional provision on additional official languages in terms of majority, preservation and promotion of languages, and effectiveness of implementation.

Nepali, as the compulsory official language, is not discussed here. If the majority as “more than 50% of the population”, there remains no single majority language. Thus, for practical reason, the majority is supposed as “more than 25%” where the Maithili and Doteli are the only majority languages at province level. This situation requires selecting another appropriate unit for official use of language instead of province. The another unit is local level.

Preservation and promotion of indigenous languages of Nepal has been the centre of policy discussions in these days. Choosing a language for official function is directly related to promotion. All the 123 languages of Nepal can not be promoted to official language for various reasons. This situation reduces the number of languages to be promoted to official language around by half. Among these, Possible languages have been identified in terms of number of speakers.

Effectiveness of the policy has two sides – cost and implementation. Though lower number of languages lowers the cost, the number of official languages need to be increased to fulfill the responsibility of the state. Effectiveness of implementation is based on possibility of implemention, beneficiaries, and active involvement of the target population. Choosing lower unit for official language could be appropriate solution for both cost and implementation effectiveness.

This paper presents the result based on the census data analysed on the basis of local level as unit of the official language with the mother tongue user above 25%. Major findings follow:

  • 32 languages will be eligible for official languages in various local levels.
  • 330 local levels will have single official language, 384 local levels will use one additional official language, and 39 local levels will use two additional official languages. In this case, only 423 local levels among 753 need additional resources for addressing the increased cost which is far lower from the cost than the unit of official language is province.
  • 8 languages with above 25% speakers are scattered in more than one provinces. While selecting local level as unit of official language, the speakers of the relatively larger languages in a certain province but scattered in other provinces as minority and concentrated at any local level can have chance to be official language at that local level.
  • Among the 32 possible additional languages at various local levels, 18 languages have below 1% mother tongue speakers at national level whereas some languages have below 1% mother tongue seakers even in the respective provinces.
  • The languages which have more than 25% speakers in more than one local level have continuum even across the provinces.

With these findings, the paper concludes that the unit for official language should be local level, not the province.

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