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.
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)
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).
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.