Causes and consequences of the loss of Native language among Paharis at Khopasi:Sociocultural and Linguistic perspectives

Madhav P. Timalsina

This article is a synopsis of a thesis submitted in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. It will be helpful for the students of sociology and those who attempt to prepare thesis in partial fulfillment of Master’s Degree. This study was carried out at Panauti Municipality ward no.12 Khopasi. Only fifty respondents from Pahari community were chosen. The respondents were of different age groups i.e. from twelve years of age to over sixty.They were interviewed duly through structured-interview and ten people from different sphere of life and well known to Paharis and their state of affairs were taken as key informants and they were also interviewed. Apart from interview, observation was also made and the findings were considerably justified with sociological and linguistic theories.

A Brief History of Paharis at Khopasi
Khopasi was named as ‘Kuru Pasak’ during Kirat regime and it is said that Kuru Pasak later becomes Khopasi. The first people ever lived in this place were the Pahari(Sapkota,Rabin 2006).It is said that their traditional profession was to carve stone and make stone grinding mill and water-turbine. It is said that they were the first people who fished in Roshi and Salandu khola. Later Brahmins came over there from Kuntabsi, Newars from Dapcha and Bhaktapur and Paharis living at Khopasi scattered to other places like Lele,Dolakha etc. They had unique culture in marriage, funeral, feast and festivals. They claim that their ancestors were Newar and their language matches with Newar. Moreover, they also employ Napit (the one whose traditional profession is to cut nails of Newars) as Newars do. There were 11505 Paharis in Nepal according to census report 2001B.S. and only 319 Paharis were there in Khopasi. Now approximately 4oo Paharis are living there. No new generation speaks Pahari language and we do not observe any influence of Newari tongue while talking with them. A research work was done about the reason why Paharis living there do not speak their mother tongue and what will be the consequences of the loss. Interview with key informants, interview with the locals and observation were used as the tool of research and was submitted to the department of Sociology/Anthropology,Tri-Chandra Multiple Campus,Ghantaghar. The synopsis of the study is presented below;
During the interview of Paharis and key informants, the causes of the loss of the native language of Paharis were identified as follows on the basis of their responses:
I. School education
II. Lacking interest
III. Assimilation
IV. Acculturation
V. Linguistic policy of the government
VI. gradual loss of culture
VII. Speakers socio-economic status and attitudes
VIII. Literature and script
IX. Social distance
X. theories of language death
XI. Sociological theories
• Conflict theory
• World system theory
• Sociobiology
Most interviewees told that school education in Nepali language is the main cause of their loss of native language. As they did not get chance to use their language in education, they were compelled to learn Nepali language for academic purposes. It helped them to lessen the charm of using their own language. Other causes of the loss of native language of Paharis are described below:
1. Assimilation
Assimilation is a process in which a group gradually gives up its own language, culture and system of values and takes on those of another group with a different language, culture and system of value through a period of interaction (Crystal, 1991) Paharis at Khopasi came to unending interaction with Brahmins and Chhetris and they needed to use Nepali language while talking to Newars and Tamangs. They assimilated the language first then their culture gradually. As a result, they lost their language.
In Nepalese society, we mostly observe linguistic assimilation, the process of interaction between different group of behavior of the majority. Despite being a multi-lingual nation. Nepali language has been given power, recognition while the remains minority languages and their communities are impoverished and marginalized. As a result linguistic minorities have remained socially excluded from harnessing national benefits in fields such as politics, economy, education, employment and so on. promotion of one language, one religion, one dress and mono-cultural nationalism by the state not only hurt the culture of these people but it effectively marginalized them in economic political and social realms(Bhattachan, 1995)
2. Acculturation
It is a process in which changes in language, culture and system of value of a group happen through interaction with a different language, culture and system of values.(Crystal, 1991) Paharis at Khopasi acculturate Brahmins language and culture. They called Brahmin purohit to perform rites and rituals that changed their cultural values and system. It led them to abandon their native language.
3. Social distance
The feeling a person has that his or her social position is relatively similar to or relatively different from the social position of someone else. The social distant between two different group or communities influence communication between them and may affect the way one group learns the language of another(for example, an immigrant group learning the language of the dominant group in a country). Social distance may depend on such factors as differences in the size, ethnic orgin, political status, social status of two groups (Crystal, 1991). For the case of Pahari they found themselves far from their own language as they were surrounded by Nepali native speakers. They could not use their own language in interaction and gradually they forgot their own language.
4. Linguistic and cultural hegemony
Linguistic hegemony is achieved when dominant groups create a consensus by convincing others to accept their language norms and usage as standard or model. hegemony is ensured when they can convince those who fail to meet those standards to view their own language. School have been the principle instruments in promoting a consensus regarding the alleged superiority of standardized language(Wiley, in Mckay and Hornberger, 2007, p.113)
Similarly cultural hegemony is a philosophic and sociological concept, originated by the Marxist philosopher Antonia Gramsci, that a culturally diverse society can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes. It is the dominance of one social group over another e.g. The ruling class over all other classes. The ideas of the ruling class to be seen as the norm, they are seen as universal ideologies, perceived to benefit everyone whilst only really benefiting the ruling class. (wikipedia.com). For the case of Paharis, they failed to meet the standards to view their own language and school going children found/realized the superiority of Nepali language in the past. As a result, they abandoned their native language. Nepali, as national language and dominance of Hindu culture gave them way out to abandon their culture as well. As a result, they lost their native language.
5. World system theory
World system model and Neo-Marxist divides the world into three parts viz core, semi-periphery and periphery. Standard variety i.e. Nepali lies in core and other ethnic language lies in semi-periphery and language of minorities lies in periphery. Pahari people at Khopasi were in minority and their language was dominated by Nepali language. A.G. Frank’s bi-polar division as Metropolis and Satellite also matches in the case. Pahari language was in Satellite and standard variety i.e. Nepali was in Metropolis.
6. Sociobiology (Reproductive fitness)
According to sociobiology when one loses its reproductive fitness it ultimately dies out. Similarly, Pahari language lost its reproductive fitness and the speakers gradually abandoned the language. Those Paharis who could speak Pahari language felt that they could not express them full with the help of their own language and they might have adopted words from Nepali language. During the study, old people speaking Pahari told that they did not have many words to address nature and happenings. It shows that this language lost its productive fitness and its speakers felt disadvantaged. So they did not practice it and gradually lost their own language.
2. Consequences of the loss of the native language
During the interview, the interviewees gave various responses regarding the consequences of the loss of their native language. The consequences they have perceived after the loss of native language are as follows:
1. They are how worried to loss their identity
2. They think that loss of language may cause them to assimilate with other communities
3. They think that they will no longer be people of minorities Apart from these consequences, the following things can be traced :
2.1. Collapse of culture
They no longer use their language in rites and rituals and their culture is in verge of extinction. They started calling Brahmin Purohitas to perform religious rites and rituals and they no longer celebrated their own festivals on their own. With the loss of language, they lost their own culture and 80% Paharis do not know their culture.
2.2. The Pahari language as moribund language
Krauss defines language as moribund language if children are not speaking them now, endangered if children will probably not speaking the in 100 years. (wikipedia.com) Pahari language in the study area is going to be moribund language as Pahari children do not have any interest in learning their language and even the Paharis over 50 years of age can not speak Pahari language. Krauss has suggested three main criteria that can be used to identify language as endangered. They are :
i. The number of speakers currently living
ii. The mean age of native and/or fluent speakers
iii. The percentage of the youngest generation acquiring fluency with the language in question
In the study area the researcher found only 6% Pahari who could speak Pahari language and they were found to have low and moderate proficiency. People below 48 years could not speak Phari language and the youngest generations do not speak the language at all. It shows that Pahari language in the study area is moribund language.
2.3. Language death
Language death is a process that affects speech communities where the level of language variety is decreased, eventually resulting no native or fluent speakers.
Similarly the most common process leading to language death is one in which a community of speakers of one language becomes bilingual in another language and gradually shifts allegiance language the second language until they cause to use their original(heritage) language. This is a process of assimilation which may be voluntary or may be forced upon a population. Speakers of some languages particularly regional or minority languages may decide to abandon them based on economic or utilitarian grounds, in favor of language regarded as having greater utility or prestige.
A language is often declared to dead even before the last native speakers of the language die. If there are only a few elderly speakers of a language remains and they no longer use that language for communication then the language is effectively dead. For the case of this study 6% pahari people living in the study area of the age of more than 50 and it seems obvious that even before their death, young generation is completely distant from their native language and their language in the study area will certainly die with the death of elder members.
2.4. Blockage for privileges due to loss of linguistic identity
They are not speaking their language and it has been a half-century since they abandoned their culture. They have changed their surname also. If they speak their language, it will be their ethnic identity but they are now unknown to their own language. As a result, special provision announced by the government for minorities’ will be blocked for them. Sudden setback to Pahari from Harisharan and Shrestha in the last six or seven months have shown that they wanted to get the privilege but remarkably they are still hesitating to revitalize their own culture and language. For them surname may help to deserve the privileges announced by the government.
3. Summary of findings
The main objective of this study was to find out why Paharis living at Khopasi lack interest in speaking their own language i.e. native Pahari and causes and consequences of the loss of their language. Among 396 Pahari living as Khopasi 50 people were duly interviewed to collect data and 10 people sharing different profession and social designation were also interviewed as key informants. Before preparing structured interview for the sampled population, key informants ideas were paraphrased as possible and valid option of the questions to selected Pahari respondents. Linguistic as well as socio-cultural theories were taken into consideration while analyzing and interpreting the data preliminary information’s of the respondents were also analysed and concluded.
The findings of the present study obtained from the analysis and interpretation of the data are summarized as follows:
 Respondents from the age of 12 to 60 plus were duly interviewed with structured. Interview. As other people from different communities Paharis of different age group were found to be involving in different walks of life.
 On the part of education, Paharis were not found exceptional i.e. literacy percentage of Paharis was found to be similar to other communities.
 On the part of religion, they were found to be Hindu dominated though Christianity was found to be growing In other words, 90% of Paharis were found to be the follower of Hinduism.
 They were found to be increasing their landholding capacity as they were involving in trade and business and other jobs. No Paharis were found to be landless.
 Regarding the linguistic figure of Paharis only 12% of the respondents from the age over 48 were found to have low and moderate proficiency of Pahari language. People below 48 years of age were not found to be known to their language. Schools and collages going children were found completely unknown to their language. As Krauss defines Pahari language has been ‘Moribund’ ;
 Only 8% of the respondents aged over sixty were found to be well-known to their own culture and 12% respondents knew very little about their unique culture. Remaining 80% of the respondents did not know their own culture. So, not only the language they were found to be abandoning their culture as well.
 Regarding the reasons for lacking interest in Pahari language various ideas were given by them. Mainly parents who did know Pahari language well did not use it for their children and today’s children never heard anyone talking in Pahari language in their surrounding. 88% of the respondents did not find the utility of this language in other walks of life and 80% of them had fear of being pushed back to traditional conservative life if they learned or used. Very remarkably 68% of the respondents agreed that inter-casts marriage among Paharis (marrying with Magars, Chhetris, Brahmins, Ghartis etc.) was the reason. According to them marrying with non-Paharis brought Nepali, language as dowry and children caught up mothers language ignoring father’s one. For academic purpose, they gave up their own language.
 Among the respondents, 80% did not want to revitalize their language and most remarkably all respondents below 36 years rejected to revitalize their language. It means revitalization of Pahari language was found to be difficult and would be unwanted in Khopasi.
 Regarding the cause of the loss of Pahari language, mainly schooling assimilation and acculturation, speaker’s negative attitude and lacking interest, unavailability of Pahari literature and script and linguistic hegemony were found as the causes.
 Regarding the consequences of the loss of Pahari language collapse of the culture, linguistic identity, moribund to the death of language and blockade in privileges provided by the government were found to be prominent.
3.2 Conclusion
Main objective of the study was to carry out the reasons behind lacking interest of learning native language among Paharis residing as Khopasi and to find out cause and consequences of the loss of their native language. The study was based on interview and observation. The nature and universe of the population was 396 Paharis out of which 50 people from different age-group and Gender were selected with purposive random sampling and 10 people from different walks of life but quite close to Paharis were taken as key informants. Regarding education, landholding and religion, Paharis at Khopasi were not found to be exceptional to other ethnic groups. Regarding the linguistic-identity and cultural understanding Paharis were not found to be Pahari in its unique sense. Only 12% people have moderate and low proficiency in Pahari language and they no longer use it in daily life. Due to not having intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and exposure, Paharis are lacking interest in learning native language. They did not find any use of Pahari language. Similarly social distance, assimilation, acculturation, linguistic and cultural hegemony; socio-political aspects of language planning, negative attitudes towards the language were identified as the causes of the loss of native language. 100% Paharis living in Khopasi are found fluent in Nepali and no influence of their mother-tongue could be noticed while they used Nepali language. It can be said that it has been more than half a century since they gave up their language and culture. Consequences of the loss of native language seemed to have collapse of culture, ethnic identity moribund of the language that ultimately leads to the extinction of language. Due to the loss of native language they lost their ethnic identity and changed their surname quite like Newars. Recently the government has provided special privilege for marginalized group and Pahari are included in this group. The growing trend of going back to Pahari from ‘Harisharan’, ‘Nagarkoti’ ‘Udas’ and Shrestha is a bit remarkable. Still, they are not ready to accept language as identity. Not only Pahari language but also some other languages like Newari and Magar around the study area have the same fate.
Malla (1989 ; 452 ) observed that despite the distinct decline in the percentage of Maithili, Bhojpuri, Avadi and Tharu speakers in the Terai zones, ‘the mother tongues of the majority of the population of these zones still continue to be non-Nepali.
As Nepal is a multilingual country and in a multilingual situation, vernacular language (or ethnic language) may decline in terms of prestige, speakers, areas of uses etc. If the decline is severe, the language may be endangered, moribund or extinct. In recent times only, more than 750 languages have already become extinct around the world. Stoll others have only a few known speakers: these languages are called endangered language. The UN estimates that more than half of the languages spoken today have fewer than 10,000 speakers and that a quarter have fewer than 1,000 speakers and that unless there are some efforts to maintain them over the next hundred years, must of these will became extinct(Pokhrel, 2009. p.118)
More commonly language dies through cultural change and language replacement, by assimilation to a dominant culture and language. This process is broad and complex but one major factor is negative attitude to a language, both in government policy and local communities (yee, 2000). Young generation of Paharis at Khopasi has negative attitude to their own language.
Crystal (2000) suggests six key themes in language revitalization. He postulates that an endangered language will progress if its speakers:
i. Increase their prestige within the dominant community
ii. Increase their wealth
iii. Increase their legitimate power in the eyes of the dominant community
iv. Have a strong presence in the education system
v. Can write down the language
vi. Can make use of electronic technology
In the study area, Paharis lack the suggestion mentioned by Crystal (2000) to revitalize their own language. For them, it is quite impossible to use their own language. It assists that Pahari language in the study area is a dead language like Sanskrit.
This study was done for academic purpose and it covers the area of Khopasi and may be applicable to generalize the status of languages of minorities like Magars and some Newars living in other villages of Kavre.


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