Encoding Nepal Lipi in Unicode: An Update of Efforts

Note: ePaper version of this article can be read here.
It is heartening to be informed that a group of script encoding experts is visiting Nepal to discuss the encoding Nepal scripts from 4 to 10 October 2014. The group is led by Dr. Deborah Anderson, a researcher and leader of Script Encoding Initiative (SEI) project at the Department of Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley, USA. Since the establishment of the SEI in 2002, she has contributed encoding many scripts in the Unicode. Others included in the visiting group are: Peter Constable, a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, responsible for various platform technologies including international text display and fonts, who is also an expert in Unicode and has helped to broker an agreement on script names that held up the “Tai Tham” script proposal; Chris Fynn, a British who has helped develop fonts for Dzongkha and Tibetan is now stationed in Bhutan.

The visiting foreign expert team will be discussing, the encoding of Nepal Lipi that include both ‘Prachalit Nepal’ and ‘Ranjana’ with concerned Nepalese to solve issues that are pending, and recommend a final proposal for Prachalit Nepal and Ranjana scripts. The encoding process in the Unicode will be geared up after these meetings. As a concerned member of the Nepal Bhasa user community, and the former International Coordinator for encoding Nepal Lipi, I first extend my best wishes to our visiting experts for all the success of their meetings with the counterparts in Nepal. Secondly, I take this opportunity to share an update of efforts in encoding Nepal scripts, some concerns, and recommendations with a special reference to Nepal Lipi.

Talks of Encoding Nepal Lipi

A couple of font designers in Kathmandu and a well-known script expert foreigner had made some noteworthy attempts towards encoding Nepal Lipi before the public meeting that was held on 20 March 2010. This meeting was held at Hotel Harati in Kathmandu organized by the Nepal Lipi Guthi (NLG: a trust established to promote and preserve Nepal scripts) and presided by its chairman Sharad Kasah “Kasahchhen” and attended by several professors of Nepal, Britain and Japan; script and language experts, concerned Nepal Bhasa user community and supporters led by Professor Premshanti Tuladhar, the then Head of the Central Department of Nepal Bhasa, Tribhuvan University. At this meeting two papers were presented, one by Sarad Kasah, lecturer of Tribhuwan University and an expert of Nepal Lipi, who was also the former chair of NLG. The second paper was presented by this writer in the capacity of the chair, Nepal Study Center, Japan (NSCJ). This paper was presented as a preliminary report and proposal towards encoding Nepal Lipi. Professor Patrick Hall from Britain and Professor C. Faucher from Japan joined with Professor Tej Ratna Kansakar, Professor Kasinath Tamot, who addressed the meeting and many participants of their caliber. The meeting was a result of positive response to my humble approach to NLG chair, and pre-consultation and discussion on the need of encoding Nepal Lipi with his committee members and patron Dr. Padma Ratna Tuladhar, the noted human rights activist, former minister of Nepal, and president of Nepal Bhasa Manka Khalah, the Alliance for Nepal Bhasa activisim. Thus, the public consultative meeting held on 20 March 2010 (henceforth ‘March meeting’) can be considered a milestone move towards encoding Nepal Lipi. However, there are several important matters that we should continue to be concerned in encoding Nepal Lipi.

Matters of Concern

In encoding Nepal Lipi in Unicode, what is most concerned to us, the Nepal Bhasa user community, is the name of our script. Since March meeting (2010), two proposal have been submitted to the Unicode. One was the proposal that named Nepal Lipi as ‘Newar’ by a foreign expert while the second proposal named Nepal Lipi as ‘Nepaalalipi’ by a local expert. Among several of us who pointed out the unsuitability of both names in English, I have emphasized the need of preserving the native term for both Nepal Bhasa and Nepal Lipi and that these terms are misnomers for the following reasons. The present term ‘Nepal’ has derived from the original term of ‘Nepāla’ (written form), and ‘Newar’ from the ‘Newāra’, the term used by outsiders for the insider term of ‘Newā’, the spoken term for ‘Newāla’. Thus, Nepal has been used as the name of the country, Nepal Bhasa (language of Nepal), Nepal Samvat (Nepal Era) etc since the ancient times. A willful attempt of calling Nepal Lipi as ‘Newar’ can be justified only if the names of the country, language and era of Nepal can also be named as ‘Newar’ in English. With regard to naming ‘Nepaalalipi’ for ‘Nepal Lipi’, it is also problematic if that term is to be called English word for ‘Nepal Lipi.’ ‘Nepaalalipi’ is a transcribed form for the original term ‘नेपाललिपि / Nepal Lipi’. But in conventional English it sounds awkward. If one insists the said transcribed term to be used for Nepal Lipi, then one must also be able to change the name of the country, language and era in transcribed English term as ‘Nepaala’, ‘Nepaalabhaasaa’ and ‘Nepaalasamvata’ etc. Can one do this? The discussions in the email group that lasted for about two long years have finally agreed to use another popular term ‘Prachalit Nepal’ for the original Nepal Lipi. The term ‘Prachalit Nepal’ has been popular among the scholars and Nepal Bhasa user community to distinct it from its two derivatives such as Ranjana (Ranja) and Golamola (Bhujinmola). I am hopeful that the members discussing the term at October meeting (2014) will come out with a term that is acceptable to the user community first then to foreign users of Nepal Bhasa and its Lipi. Nepal, Nepal Bhasa, Nepal Lipi are distinct names such as brand names of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google etc. These names are not changed when they are written in foreign languages such as English except in languages like Japanese, which has difficulties in transcribing some foreign words. Bhasa Melayu and Bhasa Indonesia are other well known examples where original terms are retained and promoted in English, too. One may also argue that there are plenty of English terms for many native terms in the world. This is justified if English names do not incite confusion, opposition and offense against the local and native names. But in the case of Nepal, it is different. There is a dire need of promoting and preserving Nepal Bhasa and Nepal Lipi in its own original land. The democratic governments formed after 1990 have taken noteworthy initiatives to correct the past wrongs. One noteworthy example is that the Government Nepal in 1995 reinstated the original term ‘Nepal Bhasa’ for the language incorrectly called ‘Newari’ in the past. Therefore, it is imperative that we must be seriously become aware of correct terms and using suitable terms for our language (Nepal Bhasa), script (Nepal Lipi) and era (Nepal Samvat), whether we are natives of Nepal or foreigners working on matters related to Nepal. Name is a holy name. No one is supposed to derogate some one else’s name.

Other two concerns are: one, an attempt of altering signs for letters in the name of easing the burden of using signs in some letters. For example, there was a suggestion by NLG to replace the sign ‘u’ for the letter t (t+u) as its usage is different from other headed letters like ‘ka’ etc. as it follows the rule of headless letters such as ‘ga’. It is important to retain this distinct form of ‘tu’ as it will help the future generation to recognize the old usage of words written in both Nepal Bhasa and Sanskrit manuscripts etc. in the long past. Two, Nepal Bhasa words contain sounds of ae, kae, gae, etc. but have no formal signs to represent these sounds. I have raised this matter first in the paper presented at the March meeting (2010) and later at the email group discussions with members that included Dr. Anderson. The matter is mentioned here as a reminder of the necessity than an immediate concern as the matter can be taken up after the preliminary encoding of Prachalit Nepal as convinced by her. Meanwhile Ranjana has less issue to be taken up that I hope the October meeting will finalize the proposal for encoding it.


The long awaited arrivals of the script encoding experts in Nepal and their meetings with the counterparts in Kathmandu are heartening as the meetings of this nature have been expected since February 2013. As it goes, ‘better later than never’, the distinguished guests’ visit to Nepal from 4 to 10 October is going to mark an important event in not only the history of encoding Nepal Lipi but also in the history of Nepal itself. The October meeting is going to be a future reference of important tasks in the efforts of encoding Nepal Lipi and its derivative scripts. There are many more contributors, who have helped to make this meeting a reality and a success behind the scene. Right individuals will be praised at right time in the future while I need to mention of Iain Sinclair from Australia; K.R. Tuladhar and Anar Ratna Bajracharya from Nepal for their indirect contributions to the October meeting. But the success of this one week long meetings with the script encoding experts will still depend on individuals and organizations such as NLG in Nepal as to how the rest of the work will be carried out after the October meeting (2014). NLG is the sole registered organization in Nepal to promote and preserve the Nepal Lipi (Prachalit Nepal) and its derivative scripts such as Ranjana (Ranja) and even Golamola (Bhujinmola). As a former partner with NLG and a stakeholder of Nepal Lipi, I recommend the following for the success of encoding task and its activities afterwards: 1) NLG has a long history of over three decades since its inception in 1980. Thanks to its publications both hand written and printed study materials, many including myself became informed of the importance of Nepal Lipi, its usage, promotion and preservation. But it is recommendable that NLG needs to revise its old programs of teaching Nepal Lipi limited to writing to develop its capacity to attract supports of financial, technical and scholarly experts to promote Nepal Lipi in keeping with the change of the local and international society. 2) The encoding task of Nepal Lipi has so far been undertaken by outsiders than NLG insiders (as they took interest in the encoding at the eleventh hour). Hence, it is recommended that the NLG develop ability to maintain relations with them to further promote and preserve Nepal Lipi as encoding effort so far done is yet a beginning of a huge task NLG should imagine, plan and implement for the real promotion of the Nepal Lipi and its derivative scripts. 3) In order to achieve the success in its activities in the future, it is recommended that the NLG reinstitute it’s organization as a public interest body than a club of a couple of ‘friendly’ colleagues and associates. As both insider and outsider, I wish all the best for the NLG and thank the visiting distinguished members for their interest and their contribution in encoding Nepal Lipi and their visit to Nepal in person. I am sure NLG will show its gratitude towards those who have contributed in this great task of encoding. But I am obliged to appreciate the work being done now by the worthy people led by Dr. Anderson noted above because I have bothered her and many others to help the encoding of Nepal Lipi for the past several years.

– Suwarn Vajracharya