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.

We are 'Nepali' not 'Nepalese'

facebook page I was thinking of myself – being called ‘Nepalese‘. It sure wasn’t the first time I was called Nepalese, but every time I am called by that adjective I feel a bit odd. The word sounds a bit foreign even if the whole ‘Nepal’ is attached to it.

Let’s fight for ‘Nepali’.

Nepali is our identity, Nepalese isn’t!

Nepali is our own word, Nepalese isn’t.

I called myself “Nepali” my whole life. We sang songs like “Yo Nepali sir uchali …”. There was no ‘Nepalese’ in my early days… not even a trace of it.

Then came this information age. The global village shrunk in size, people came know what Gadhimai mela exactly is, Ram Bahadur Bomjom made international headline, Khagendra Thapa Magar is featured in US magazine, and these are only a few to name. The foreign media (and sometime our own media) portrayed us as Nepalese instead of Nepali. I believe, we are Nepali and there is no word called ‘Nepalese’ in our dictionary.

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