A language of Nepal

Alternate Names
Serwa, Sharpa, “Sharpa Bhotia” (pej.), Xiaerba

145,000 in Nepal (2011 census), decreasing. Population total all countries: 168,800. A few elderly monolinguals in remote villages (UNESCO). Ethnic population: 155,000 (2001 census). L2 users: Some non-Sherpas who work in the trekking trade learn some Sherpa.


Sagarmatha Zone, Solu Khumbu district; Janakpur Zone, Dolakha and Ramechhap districts; Bagmati Zone, northeast Sindhupalchok district.

Language Status

5 (Developing). Language of recognized indigenous nationality: Sherpa.


Central Sherpa (Solu, South Sherpa), East Sherpa (Dolakha, Ramechhap), North Sherpa (Khumbu), West Sherpa. 95% comprehension of Solu dialect by Western and Khumbu. Lexical similarity: 90% between Solu and Khumbu dialects; 67% with Jirel [jul]; 65% with Helambu Sherpa [scp]; 62% with Loke [loy] and Dolpo [dre]; 58% with Lhomi [lhm] and Lhasa Tibetan [bod]; 57% with Kyerung (Kyirong) [kgy]; 55% with Nubri [kte] and Walungge [ola].


SOV; postpositions; noun head initial; no noun classes or genders; content q-word in situ; 1 prefix, up to 3 suffixes; clause constituents indicated by case-marking; verbal affixation marks person; split ergativity; tense and aspect; no passive forms; tonal; 31 consonant and 6 vowel phonemes (also 6 diphthongs).

Language Use

Vigorous in villages but not in urban areas where there is some shift towards Nepali [npi]. Mixed use: Home, friends, religion, work, education. Older adults and elderly. Some use among children, adolescents, and young adults. Positive attitudes. In schools children are teased if they use Sherpa. In Kathmandu parents use Nepali [npi] with school-age children. Also use Central Tibetan [bod], English [eng], French [fra], Korean [kor], Nepali [npi], Standard German [deu]. Used as L2 by Jirel [jul], Tibetan [bod].

Language Development
Literacy rate in L1: 8%–9%. The Mountain Institute and the Curriculum Development Centre have published some primary education materials. Lack of language development is source of embarrassment for some. Poetry. Newspapers. Radio programs. Dictionary. NT: 2014.

Devanagari script [Deva]. Tibetan script [Tibt].

Other Comments

Tourism and increased wealth have given Sherpas the financial means to send their children to Kathmandu and abroad for education contributing to language shift. Buddhist (Lamaist), Christian.

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