A Meticulous Survey of the History, Development and Policies of the English Language in Nepal

Shilash Thapa Tamang

At a time when the English language is gaining popularity and strengthening its grip in the lips of millions of speakers every day, a comprehensive idea about the nature, background and present status of English language can enhance an individual’s knowledge and experience of the language. As a matter of fact English now has become the plural Englishes due to its extraordinary flexibility, heterogeneity and cosmopolitan nature that enables us to assume new forms, accent, intonation and innovations as it travels from one corner of the world to another with the passage of time. Nepal is not an exception.

At such, English in Nepal: History, Development and Policies, a research work by Tikaram Poudel, explores the history, and development of English language, policies governing it and education teaching the language. The book also tries to describe the linguistic variations of English language in Nepal.

The author has divided the book into six chapters through which the readers are cruised back tracing the history of 200 years and sheds light on the major causes and incidents for the inception of the English language in Nepal and its subsequent development.  Very comprehensive and simple in presentation yet quite compact with information, the book can be a very useful tool for any enthusiast of the English language. It can be even more fruitful to the students and teachers of English for the overall understanding of the growth and development of the English language in the world in general and in Nepal in particular.

Chapter I is the introductory part that first surveys the historical development of English centering around England that discusses different periods in the development of the English language and literature broadly distinguishing old, middle and modern English, explaining how the language took its modern shape by undergoing a number of changes and adopting influences. Within the chapter, one might also notice that English language has travelled beyond the boundary of England along with the colonial expansion of the British Empire. English imposition upon the countries that were colonized by the British gave growth to English language; however Nepal does not share the same story as it never was a British colony. The chapter states that Nepal came in contact with English- speaking people in 1767 when the then king of Kathmandu, Jay Prakash Malla, sought help from East India Company to resist the attack of the invading king Prithivi Narayan Shah. The author also critically approaches the linguistic history of Nepal asserting that the hegemony of a particular language in a country results into linguistic autocracy. The author also states that English as a neutral language gives privileges to the minorities. It is needless to talk about the importance of English language as lingua franca in the global arena as this book mentions off and on.

The book concentrates on the theoretical and methodological framework of the research in Chapter II. It also gives us an overview of the English language and education in Nepal showing that the socio-economic status of the Nepali people was directly proportional to the access to English education in the past and as is true for the present time too. A brief linguistic profile of Nepal in the chapter also sketches the multilingual and multiethnic feature of Nepal with as many as 129 different languages spoken in the country. But the author argues that the dominant Nepali language is resulting into an increment in the number of Nepali speakers and an unusual decrease in non-Nepali speakers. The chapter seems to direct us to perceive English language in Nepal as a language of liberation rather than the language of dominance. English has significantly influenced the Nepali culture on one hand; on the other hand it has also been functioning as an alternative language for the indigenous people whose language had been displaced by Nepali language. The chapter also presents two lines of thoughts regarding English language: one regards English as an instrument for globalization and the other treats it as a threat to national heritage. The chapter also studies the historical development of English in three periods: The Period of Colonial Influence, The Period of English Education Expansion and the Period of Professionalism.

Chapters III, IV and V deal with distinct linguistic features of the English language in Nepal in terms of phonetics, lexicology and morpho-syntactic features respectively. The chapters show how English in Nepal has accumulated different sounds, words and grammatical structures from diverse ethnic groups, cultures and geography within the country. It presents examples from different sources and references describing how speakers of English in Nepal have developed a unique way of pronouncing a particular word. English speakers in Nepal are found to be performing neologism, coining different words, and transporting one’s native words to English. As a result, English language borrows hundreds of words from different cultural and ethnic sources. To name a few from the book, words like Khukuri, Teej, Rodighar, Fulpati etc. may be mentioned. All these words and those unmentioned here are extensively used in the English language by Nepali speakers and this is a unique experiment depicting typical cultural traits in the English language. No longer limited to phone and word, English language in Nepal has also developed some distinct grammatical rules. The author presents with some data the use of some English articles and prepositions.

Chapter VI discusses a few issues the English language has given rise to and observes that the language has influenced education and the policies of Nepal since long. The book also exposes some of the drawbacks created by the language for which lack of research, inadequate linguistic policies and international pressures are presented as the responsible factors. The author very aptly draws the linguistic idea from Gramsci showing how language is not merely used as a means of expression but also as a tool for the transmission of politics and principles of that language. Yet, the English language in Nepal was not a forceful imposition as it was in India but Nepali people were fascinated by it and accepted it with consent.

Alongside such meritorious strengths, English Language in Nepal: History, Development and Policies also has some discernable weaknesses.  While reading, one might feel that the author seems to lend a bit too much of emphasis on the importance of English language, which sounds like valorization at one level. Another, while referring to the dominant class/cast, the author has somewhere used the term “high class/cast” giving the impression of authentication of their highness. The author could have used only “dominant class” or “so-called high class” so that it sounds more impartial. Nevertheless, the book remains very productive as it meticulously surveys the history, development and policies of English language in Nepal.

[Reviewer Thapa is a student of MA at the Central Department of English, TU.]