A language of Nepal

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

122,000 in Nepal (2001 census), decreasing. A few elderly monolinguals in remote villages (UNESCO). Population total all countries: 145,800. Ethnic population: 155,000 (2001 census).


Sagarmatha Zone, Solu Khumbu district; Janakpur Zone, Dolakha and Ramechhap districts. Also in Bhutan, China, India, United States.

Language Status

5 (Developing). Language of recognized nationality (2002, NFDIN Act, No. 20, Section 2C).


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. Some also use Tibetan [bod] or English [eng]. Guides (men) learn trekkers’ languages: German [deu], Korean [kor], French [fra] (1998 SIL). At least 90% use Nepali [npi] (UNESCO).

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. Bible portions: 1975–2008.
Devanagari script. Tibetan script.
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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