67. Can preserving a local language preserve a local culture

Can preserving a local language preserve a local culture?

Will you resist or will you let it go?
Why will you resist and why will you let it go?

Here is an instance of ‘letting it go’, from a fairly neutral ground.

Tamang people living in the outskirt villages of Lalitpur have been converting into Christianity for some years, and the trend is not just growing, it is bouncing and leaping forward. It is interesting to note that, these converts do not sing Biblical hymns in English language. They sing them in Nepali. There are small pocket-sized booklets containing translated verses and hymns from the Bible. Well, they are not doing it through English. Their culture is gone, their heritage is gone, their festivals are gone. They go to church every week, sing and pray in Nepali verses, play guitar and drums. They work in their fields or have jobs. Their children go to nearby schools. They celebrate Christmas. They are not complaining.

And all this while, English language had nothing to do with the loss of their Tamang tradition. This infiltration did not happen through English language. And, they still speak both Tamang and Nepali. Apparently, factors other than imposing a language can indeed cause the loss of culture (and in such a drastic way). Even if the Tamang children get to study through Tamang MoI in their schools, a part of their culture is already lost.

Yes, a dominant language can overshadow minority languages and eventually overshadow minority cultures – but isn’t life a constant struggle for assimilation and accommodation. In the environment, all living beings constantly adapt, and they survive. Communities are no different. Cultures are no different. What used to be a part of culture a 100 years ago, will all but be an essay in the history books, and we would be shouting with astonishment ‘oh ho, yesto pani chalan rahecha hamro baajey ko paalaa ma’.

Language alone is not the factor for cultural loss. There could be hundred other reasons. Even if the government authorizes a multilingual policy which is truly fair and justified for all the multilingual and indigenous communities, can that measure guarantee preservation of the culture and tradition?

Here’s another pricking issue, regarding dominant language/minority language policy.

Consider what happens to the Limbu teenager who is far better able to express her ideas about culture in her own language, the Tharu old man who needs to defend himself against his Khas speaking adversaries in court, the Magar woman whose marketing skill as a medical representative depends heavily on the proficiency of a language she is at a disadvantage.”

But, may be they are smarter than what we presume of them. It is highly possible that they can adapt. They will adapt. If Sugata Mitra’s children can learn computers on their own, these Limbu, Tharu and Magar people can also persevere, learn and adapt to the new and challenging situations they face. If they remain adamant and revolt for status-quo (a nice oxymoron), they will be the ones getting a raw deal. Another perspective – for the Limbu girl, expressing ideas about her culture in Limbu language may not be a matter of concern when she is trying to make her ends meet. Her culture may not be a big of a deal for her while she is trying to earn livelihood in this competitive modern world.

Adaptation is the key. You adapt or you get left behind. It doesn’t have to about the language at all.

Culture is a continuum. Language is a process. The Nepali language Prithivi Narayan Shah spoke while conquering rival states and while uniting Nepal is not the same Nepali we speak today. It has evolved considerably. In between then and now, hundreds of other languages and dialects have become extinct. Unification of Nepal and enforcing of Nepali as the official language might have been a reason but, we have to consider that there were waves of other determiners which were impossible to hold back. Industrialization, for instance.

The concern for preserving local languages is the ‘hottest’ issue in Nepal these days. There are hundreds of NGOs and INGOs advocating for the official recognition of several ethnic languages. In the midst of this ethnic-language consciousness, many experts and linguists have prescribed multilingual policy in education for Nepal as well, but the big question is – how practical and feasible it is?

Let us develop all the indigenous languages together. They should also be the medium of instruction, communication and all the official affairs.

That’s a great idea, but sadly, only an idea. Because in reality, as Romaine (2006) states, no country gives official status to every single language spoken within its territory. Where language policies exist, they inevitably privilege a limited set of languages.

All languages are equal but some languages are more equal than others, pun intended but that’s so obvious, isn’t it?

It would have been such an easy task had there not been any strong (and selfish) political undercurrent shaping all these discussions!


Bista, R. (2013). Let’s Leave English as English. Retrieved from http://neltachoutari.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/lets-leave-english-as-english/

Romaine, S. (2006). Language Policy in Multilingual Educational Contexts. Concise Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics.

And, a reference to Orwell’s “Animal Farm”