Giant leap in revitalizing Nepal Bhasa – Hiroshima Seminar on “Language Revitalization: The Case of Newar”

Hiroshima – “Newar has taken a giant leap in revitalizing its domains in publications, print, and electronic media, and Newar mother tongue education after the 1991 Constitution of Nepal recognized it (Nepal Bhasa) as a National language”, said Professor Nirmal Man Tuladhar, presenting a paper on “Language Revitalization: The Case of Newar”, at the 183rd “IDEC Asia Seminar” and 62nd Study Session of the “Development and Cultural Change” forum of Hiroshima University coordinated by Professor Keshav Lall Maharjan.

Seminar at Hiroshima University 1

Professor of Liinguistics at Centre for Nepal Asian Studies (CNAS) and Visiting professor at Kyoto University, Professor outlined the history of Newar language and told the forum that Newar Language was in existence since the Licchavi period (5th century) as the vernacular of Kathmandu Valley. During the 14th century there were translation of many important texts took place into Newar language. At the end of the 14th century Newar language was used for epigraphs, historical records, and creative writings. He also highlighted that the very first dictionary of Newar was compiled long ago in 1792 by Hodgson Jorgensen (a Western scholar of classical Nepal). Similarly, Jorgensen also compiled “Sanskrit-Newari Vocabulary” and “Grammar of the Newar Language” during 1830s. However, after Shah from Gorkha conquered the Kathmandu valley, the decline of the Newar language started as it was replaced by Khas language under Shah dynasty. The 104 years of the Rana regime suppressed Newar through their cruelty to the Newar language and Newar writers. Further, the Panchayat regime officially declared the Khas language as the medium of instruction and enforced all companies in the country to maintain their records in Khas or English Language. Khas only policy seriously deprived the Newars of the opportunity to use their language. Despite this Newar kept on using Newar language in social, literary and religious activities, and publication of literary works and literature in Buddhism.

Seminar at Hiroshima University 2

Professor Tuladhar also put light on the Newar language movement, which went hand in hand with the Theravada Buddhist movement during the Rana autocracy. Publication of a Buddhist text in Newar took place during 1909-1920 amidst stringent action by the Rana government. The suffering continued even during the Panchayat era. Nepal Bhasa Manka Khala and Nepal Bhasa Misa Khala were the first to organize Newar movement in 1979. Later, after the fall of Panchayat, the organized movement continues with the establishment of Newa Guthi in 1993, and a nation-wide organization, Newa De Dabu in 1995. Similarly, the first mother tongue school in Newar, Jagat Sundar Bwonekuthi, in the name of the late Jagat Sundar Malla, the pioneer Newar activist, was established in 1991. He also put emphasis on conspicuous change in the name of language itself into Newar, which earlier was known as Newari (in the Khas language). He suggested that the revitalization of the Newar language took place only after 1990’s peoples’ movement that established democracy in the country. He perceives the emergence of Nepal Bhasa Academy in 1992 as the most significant event for the revitalization of Newar language. The academy printed books in Newar language, and also running Newa FM in Newar language. Lipi Guthi founded in 1980 is also quite active in revitalizing Newar language through running classes for next generation to write Newar in its original script throughout the country and also beyond the country. Use of Newar language in ample number of publications including literatures, newspapers, magazine, radio, and television program can be marked as the process of revitalization and its success to some extent.

Seminar at Hiroshima University 3

Professor Tuladhar concluded his presentation by saying that Newar has taken a giant leap in revitalizing its domains in publications, print, and electronic media, and Newar mother tongue education after the constitution of Nepal 1991 recognized Newar as a National language of Nepal. After the success of 2006 peoples’ movement II and formation of constituent assembly, all kinds of activism including language became very active as the ethnic and minority communities have come to realize question of language as question of power.

Seminar at Hiroshima University 3

After his presentation, another distinguished guest from Nepal, Mr. Iswar Kumar Shrestha, a retired English teacher commenting on the paper, emphasized the importance of mother tongue education. During the discussion, participants from several countries like Japan, Botswana, Kyrgyzstan, China, and Nepal raised several important points related to language issues. The seminar concluded with the closing remarks by Prof. Keshav Lall Maharjan on importance of mother tongue in every sphere of one’s life and handing over the certificate of excellence to Professor Nirmal Man Tuladhar.

News filed in by Niraj P. Joshi, Hiiroshima

(Editor’s note: Professor Nirmal Tuladhar’s reference to Nepal Bhasa as “Newar” and “Newar language” left intact in this news report as he must have his own reasons to do so. We also appreciate inclusion of Nepal Bhasa version of write-ups sent in for publication on this blog. – The Newah)

To have your say, click “Comments” below the line.