Nepali or Nepalese : what is the difference?

There is no difference between Nepali and Nepalese. It is the people who lives in Nepal call themselves “Nepali”. It is a Nepali language word but foreigner prefers to call them Nepalese.

But, the issue is not that simple. People prefer to define the difference as per their own prediction. Much of the Nepali population doesn’t care weather they are called Nepali or Nepalese. But, some are arguing that preference should be given to one word in the official communications.

Vimal Khawas, an Executive Member of Hill and Mountain Forum, New Delhi, said that the people living in Nepal are called ‘Nepalese’ but those living in India, who speak Nepali are called ‘Nepali’; which is totally untrue.

Nepali speaking Indians are often confused with the Nepalese of Nepal

Some even ague that “Nepalese” is used to refer to the people and “Nepali” to the language. But I have seen both words used extensively in either cases. Unless some linguistic expert gives some valid reason on the usage one can’t say either is true.

An argument that Nepali is singular and Nepalese is plural might also sound valid when we read this example: “I am a Nepali,” and  “We are Nepalese.”

National Geographic’s definition in it’s NG Style Manual sounds a bit more realistic but I can’t agree on such distinction unless such usage is standardize and is used by majority of the written documents.

Use Nepali for a native of Nepal (the plural is Nepalis), as the adjective referring to the country, and for the language. Use Nepalese (noun and adjective) only in proper names that have not changed to follow current usage, such as the Royal Nepalese Army.

Taking side in the debate for and against “Nepalese”

If given a choice to talk for and against “Nepalese” I would prefer to talk against the word, as a Nepali I have some valid reasons to talk for using “Nepali” to refer us.

nepali time-1

  • First and foremost, we don’t have an equivalent to “Nepalese” in Nepali language. नेपालिज as a word doesn’t sound familiar at all, not even remotely.
  • We, as a Nepali (or Nepalese) are used to hear and say “Nepali” for everything like: Nepali food, Nepali dress, Nepali style, Nepali time, Nepali mentality, Nepali kitchen etc. It feels good and comfortable to use the word in general conversation. If it feels good to say “Nepali” while speaking, it doesn’t make sense to use “Nepalese” in writing.
  • Nepalese_congress We have some organization with “Nepali” attached to their names like Nepali Congress. (How would Nepalese Congress sound?)

Well, by saying that I don’t mean to say that the word “Nepalese” should be erased from the dictionaries. We can be Nepali as well as Nepalese. All it means is that the person is from Nepal.

All I want is that the linguistic experts need to define both the words and decide on where they should and shouldn’t be used. NG Style Manual can be a good starting point.

In a lighter note – If a person from Germany is called a German, why isn’t a person from Hungary called a Hungar? One from Afghanistan is called Afghan, from Peru is Peruvian and they also don’t make much sense to me. (these examples were used by somebody else and I forgot where I read them.)


Anand Sharma wrote in the blog about why we should call ourselves Nepali rather than Nepalese in January 2010. He has also created a Facebook group, Say no to ‘Nepalese’, to voice his concern. Till date, the group has about 800 members.

Nepali Language: Nepali, sometimes known as Nepalese to English speakers, is an official language of Nepal.  Estimated numb
ers of native speakers of Nepali range between 16 to 35 million, as the distinction between the numbers of first and second language speakers is not clear. Outside of Nepal, Nepali is widely used in India and Bhutan. There are also populations of Nepali speakers in Burma.

Nepali belongs to the Indo-Ayran branch of the Indo-European family of languages. It is related to other South Asian languages such as Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati. However, as it developed in close proximity to a number of Tibeto-Burman languages, in particular Nepal-Bhasa (another major language used in Kathmandu and throughout Nepal), influences from these languages are evident in Nepali.

Linguists commonly classify Nepali dialects into seven groups: Baitadi, Bajhangi, Bajurali (Bajura), Doteli (Dotali, Gaunle), Soradi, Acchami, Darjula These dialects can vary greatly and in some cases are not mutually intelligible with standard Nepali.

Nepali is written in a Devanagari script, which derives from the Brahmi script of Ancient India.  Nepali script possesses 11 vowels and 33 consonants.

8 thoughts on “Nepali or Nepalese : what is the difference?

  1. People are often called Punjabi who are from Panjab, Rajasthani from Rajasthan, so what is the best way to call people who reside in Darjeeling/Sikkim/Assam though they are officially citizen of India yet they have the Nepali blood? Nepali/Nepalese?

  2. As far as I am concerned, ‘Nepalese’ is an anglicised word of the word ‘Nepali’. Like the author of this article says the word ‘Nepalese’ does not exist in our language. The word ‘Nepali’ is used in our language to indicate language, nationality, food, product and if fact, everything that originates from Nepal. Hence, I feel we should be promoting and educating foreigners in the use of the word ‘Nepali’ instead of ‘Nepalese’. I agree with PR and feel that just because a foreigner is unable to pronounce a foreign word does not justify changing it for their ease and comfort. And again, many foreigners pronounce the name of our country as ‘Nepaul’ and I have heard even some Nepali people using that pronunciation for Nepal just because foreigners have used it. We should teach them the correct word or pronunciation and not adopt the incorrect word or pronunciation in our language. Having said that, even our own Nepali Passport Department has made the error of using the word ‘Nepalese’ in our passport which is sad and devalues our own language. Just as ‘Everything that glitters is not gold’ so too everything a foreigner says may not be true or correct.

  3. Paila mumbai lai bombay bhanthyo aile mumbai bhanxa kina ki worldko manxele mumbai vanna ruchauxa so yasto bhako ho ki nepali and nepalsese duitai same ho but anglo le nepalese vanla tara hamile bujheko hunuparxa ko ho tapai these are diffirent vanne???

  4. I’m a nepali and i call myself a nepali but others especially the british call us nepalese…..
    i do not think their is a difference

    • Arrey yaar tapaiharule kura dherei bujhnu bhako ho ya maile kam bujheko ho vinnata ‘nepali’ ra ‘nepalese’ ko jun xa yasma koi vinnata xaina jasto ki ‘mom’ ‘mummy’ ‘mother’ yo sab ma k vinnata xa ra??

  5. In response to pawan, Nepali and Nepalese are not the same. Not even close. I agree with the writer of the article that the term Nepalese simiply doesn’t exist in our “Nepali” vocabulary. It’s not a term we “Nepali” people coined. Our byakaran doesn’t have the -ese suffix. Now, pawan’s argument is that the Britsh had difficulty in saynig the word “Nepali” and they ened up calling us Nepalese, and similarly we call them Belayat, so we cancel out each other. That’s is kindergarten talk [or Montessori talk if that’s what you prefer these days], in my opinon. Both parties are at fault here. One’s lacking in pronuncation skills does not justify calling others names that aren’t theirs. I’ve come to believe that the -ese suffix that the West have inflected upon us is pretty much a lack of respect for our language. In some Western culture that’s viewed as racism.

    Fine, we Nepali people have been illiterate and indifferent for a good chunk of time in the past and in our darkest hours of ignorance we’ve adopted the term “Nepalese” as our own. We didn’t know the difference back then. Now we know better and have a choice. I am proud to call myself a Nepali and I always will be. Anyone who refers to me as Nepalese I first politely educate them, then if they still choose to be ignorant then I give them a piece of my mind, and in Nepali of course.

  6. Nepali and Nepalese are 100% same!!! The word ‘नेपालि’ is a noun (could be adjective too) and therefore could be simply written in english as ‘Nepali’…….. for ex: माछापुच्रे simply becomes ‘Machhapuchre’and हरी प्रसाद simply becomes ‘Hari Prasad’. They are proper noun so could be simply written in roman (which becomes english translation)……

    the question is ‘why does the word ‘Nepalese’ appeared?

    British tone doesnt feel comfortable to pronunce asian word ‘Nepali’ so they just prefer to say ‘Nepalese’

    Nepalese people say ‘Belayat’ instead of ‘Britain’ simply beacause their tone suits it! The both cases are similar !!!

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