Nepal: Demographics and Language

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From 9 million people in 1950 to 29 million in 2010 Nepal’s population has grown rapidly. During the time of the 1981 census, the total population for Nepal was 15 million, the average family was made up of 5-8 persons. The descendants of three major migrations from India, Tibet and North Burma and Yunnan via Assam are the Nepalese. Even though Indo-Nepalese migrants were latecomers to Nepal relative to the migrants from the north, they have come to dominate the country not only numerically, but also socially, politically, and economically.The earliest inhabitants among all were the Kirat of east mid-region, Newar of the Kathmandu Valley and aboriginal Tharu in the southern Terai region. The ancestors of the Brahmin and Chettri caste groups came from India’s present Kumaon, Garhwal and Kashmir regions, while the Magar in the west, Rai and Limbu in the east (from Yunnan and north Burma via Assam), and Sherpa and Bhutia in the north (from Tibet).

In the Terai, a part of the Ganges Basin with 20% of the land, much of the population is physically and culturally similar to the Indo-Aryans of northern India. Indo-Aryan and East-Asian looking mixed people live in the hill region. Indo-Aryan ancestry has been a source of prestige in Nepal for centuries, and the ruling families have been of Indo-Aryan and Hindu background. The mountainous highlands are sparsely populated. Kathmandu Valley, in the middle hill region, constitutes a small fraction of the nation’s area but is the most densely populated, with almost 5% of the population.
Nepal is a multilingual society.

Nepal hosted a population of refugees and asylum seekers in 2007 numbering approximately 130,000, according to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the US Committee of Refugees and Immigrants. Of this population, approximately 109,200 persons were from Bhutan and 20,500 from People’s Republic of China. The Bhutanese refuges were restricted to seven camps in Jhapa and Morang districts, by the Government of Nepal, and refugees were not permitted to work in most professions. The United States is working towards resettling more than 60,000 of these refugees in the US at present. The majority of the population still lives in the central highlands, despite the migration of a significant section of the population to the southern plains or Terai in recent years. The northern mountains are sparsely populated.

The evolution of Nepal’s diverse linguistic heritage evolved from four major language groups: Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman, Mongolian and indigenous language isolates. The major languages of Nepal are Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tharu, Tamang, Newari/Nepal Bhasa, Magar, Awadhi, Limbu, and Bajjika.

Derived from Sanskrit, Nepali has roots in Sanskrit and is written in Devanagari script. Nepali is the official national language. Regional dialects Awadhi, Bhojpuri, and Maithili and Hindi are spoken in the southern Terai region. English is also spoken by many Nepalese in government offices and business houses. Dialects of Tibetan are spoken in and north of the higher Himalaya where standard literary Tibetan is widely understood by those with religious education. Local dialects in the Terai and hills are mostly unwritten with efforts underway to develop systems for writing many in Devanagari or the Roman alphabet.

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