Gopimaya Magar, 81, is the eldest family member with six sons and two daughters at a village called Majhuwa of Sangurigadhi Rural Municipality, Dhankuta.
Having survived to see her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, octogenarian Magar is happy with her life. The only thing she regrets is the loss of mother tongue in her family.
“Only the Magar people inhabited Majhuwa for years. But, our young ones have started forgetting their own language,’’ said Gopimaya. She added, “All my six sons, two daughters and my grandchildren can speak Magar, but my great grandchildren can’t speak properly.’’
Rajan Magar, 9, Gopimaya’s great grandson said he only knew a few Magar words. ‘’Boi means father and moi means mother’, says Rajan, adding, “I only know a few words.”
Similar is the problem of Krishnamaya Magar, 70, another resident of Majhuwa. Krishnamaya said she has two sons and one daughter and they speak Magar language fluently. However, her grandchildren cannot speak the mother tongue. “The only child who can speak a little Magar language is my granddaughter Anita,’’ said Krishnamaya.
She added, “None of my other grandchildren from my two sons and one daughter can speak Magar language.’’ Gopimaya and Krishnamaya said the new generation cannot speak their mother tongue mainly for two reasons.
One — the Magar language is not taught in both private and public schools. Secondly, they blame television. The TV does not air any programme in the indigenous tongue.
“Our children do not like to speak Magar,’’ said Gopimaya, “They like to speak Nepali as this is spoken in school and on television.’’ Krishnamaya seconded Gopimaya, “If schools had used Magar language, they could have spoken like us.’’
Sangurigadhi Rural Municipality is spread over 10 wards in 166.4 square kilometres. Its population is 21,536 as per the census of 2011. Magar is the fourth largest mother tongue in Sangurigadhi Rural Municipality. According to statistics compiled by Nepal Language Commission based on census of 2011, there are 1,685 Magar speakers in the local government behind Bantawa (6671), Limbu (6,028) and Nepali (2,632).
Not only in local government, Magar is among the top mother tongues in Province 1. Based on data of Nepal Language Commission, Magar is the sixth largest language in the province and it is the mother tongue of 146,252 people in the province, behind five other languages — Nepali (1,953,396), Maithili (507,275), Limbu (331,685), Tharu (177,789) and Tamang (177,613).
Despite this strong lingual presence at both local levels of Sangurigadhi Rural Municipality of Dhankuta and in the Province, the number of Magar speakers is declining.
“People in my village say that Magar speakers are decreasing but Nepali and English speakers are increasing. This is not good.
All small language like Magar must not decrease,’’ said Gopimaya, “We, illiterate people, can speak our language but our educated children cannot speak their language. This is not good.’’ Ward 6 Chairperson of Sangurigadhi, Yam Prashad Magar, said no concrete effort had been made to preserve and promote Magar language locally.
“We have our rights. However, there are no attempts to teach in Magar tongue as other communities do not understand Magar language.’’ Magar said there are five elementary schools and one secondary school in the ward.
However, none of these schools teach Magar language in the Magar-majority village.
Professor Emeritus Dr Tanka Neupane, also a known linguist in Province, said every language has its lifespan.
“Because of globalisation and capitalisation, people tend to adopt and speak the language that has more economic and job opportunities,’’ said Neupane, “That is the reason English is taught widely and lately even Japanese, Korean and Hebrew, among others, are taught privately in Nepal just for better job opportunities.’’ Neupane said language preservation is a must to save human heritage.
‘’A language is not just the property of a community or country. It has global importance for humanity.’’ Neupane said language is not immortal owing to various factors.
He added, “Language also has its lifespan, we have to protect it from dying.’’ In order to protect any language such as Magar from dying, ownership has to be taken both at the community and state level.
“The state has to establish a language university to preserve, promote and protection all languages spoken in the country,’’ said Neupane. He added, ‘’Community also must practise their mother tongue irrespective of the state’s response.
There are instances, where despite the state’s neglect, many languages are still thriving in the world as a result of community ownership and protection.’’