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‘Nepal’s Seke ‘near-extinct’’

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    21st Jan, 2020


Recently, The New York Times reported that the “near-extinct” Nepalese language Seke has just 700 speakers around the world. 

Nepal’s Seke language:

  • According to the Endangered Language Alliance (ELA), Seke is one of the over 100 indigenous languages of Nepal and is mainly spoken in the five villages of Chuksang, Chaile, Gyakar, Tangbe and Tetang in the Upper Mustang district.
  • The dialects from these villages differ substantially and are believed to have varying degrees of mutual intelligibility.
  • In recent years, Seke has been retreating in the face of Nepali, which is Nepal’s official language and is considered to be crucial for getting educational and employment opportunities outside villages.

Why language is becoming vulnerable?

  • Out of the 700 speakers, 100 are in New York, and roughly half of these 100 stay in one building in the city.
  • Most of the Seke-speaking community in New York stays in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn, or in Queens.
  • According to ELA, difficult conditions at home and job prospects elsewhere have brought speakers of Seke to places such as Pokhara, Kathmandu and even New York.
  • Therefore, the vulnerability of the language is linked to the migration of people to places where Seke is not spoken, which has reduced the intergenerational transmission of the language.
  • Furthermore, the younger generation does not find much use in learning the language, giving preference to Nepali and English.

Disappearing indigenous language:

  • The last year, 2019, was the International Year of Indigenous Languages, mandated by the United Nations (UN).
  • In December 2019, the United Nations General Assembly stated that despite efforts throughout the year, one indigenous language disappears every fortnight.
  • Of 7,000 indigenous languages spoken today, four in 10 are in danger of disappearing.

Which languages are in danger?

  • UNESCO has six degrees of endangerment. These are:
    • Safe, which are the languages spoken by all generations and their intergenerational transmission is uninterrupted
    • Vulnerable languages, which are spoken by most children but may be restricted to certain domains
    • Definitely endangered languages, which are no longer being learnt by children as their mother tongue.
    • Severely endangered are languages spoken by grandparents and older generations, and while the parent generation may understand it, they may not speak it with the children or among themselves.
    • Critically endangered languages are those of which the youngest speakers are the grandparents or older family members who may speak the language partially or infrequently
    • Extinct languages, of which no speakers are left.
  • Considering these definitions, Seke may be considered to be a definitely endangered language.
  • As per UNESCO, roughly 57 percent of the world’s estimated 6,000 languages are safe, about 10 percent are vulnerable, 10.7 percent are definitely endangered, about 9 percent are severely endangered, 9.6 percent are critically endangered and about 3.8 per cent of all languages are extinct since 1950.
  • As per the Endangered Languages Project (ELP), there are roughly 201 endangered languages in India and about 70 in Nepal.

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