Gurung language

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Tamu Kyi, Tamu Bhaasaa
Gurung language.svg
The word "Gurung" (Tamu Kyi) written in Devanagari script
Native toNepal, India, Bhutan
EthnicityGurung people
Native speakers
325,622 (2011 census)[1]
Khema, Devanagari and Tibetan
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3gvr

Gurung (Devanagari: गुरुङ), also known as Tamu Kyi (तमु क्यी, tamu kyī; Tibetan: ཏམུ་ཀི) or Tamu Bhaasaa (तमु भाषा, tamu bhāṣā), is a language spoken by the Gurung people of Nepal. The total number of all Gurung speakers in Nepal was 227,918 in 1991 and 325,622 in 2011.

The official language of Nepal, Nepali, is an Indo-European language, whereas Gurung is a Sino-Tibetan language. Gurung is one of the major languages of Nepal, and is also spoken in India, Bhutan, and by diaspora communities in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

Geographical distribution

Gurung is spoken in the following districts of Nepal and India (Ethnologue):


At higher levels, Gurung is a member of the Tibeto-Burman (or Trans-Himalayan) family. Robert Shafer classified Gurung within the Bodic division, sub-grouping that into Bodish and West Central Himalayish. Within the Bodish "Section", he located "Bodish" languages (including the Tibetan varieties) and also the "Gurung Branch", including Gurung, Tamang (Murmi), and Thakali (Thaksya). Based on lexical cognates established by Shafer and updated by George van Driem, Shafer constructed the Bodish sub-grouping into three sub-divisions: (1) Western, (2) Central and Southern (a.k.a. “old Bodish”, including Tibetan), and (3) Eastern (containing “archaic” languages like Mönpa) and mainstream languages.[3][4] Noonan referred to the Western sub-grouping within Bodish as Manange/Nyeshangte and Nar-Phu and Gurungic (containing Gurung, Thakali and Chantyal).[5][6] He noted that Chantyal is structurally deviant due to more extensive contact-induced language change from Nepali. Sten Konow classified Himalayan T-B languages into pronominalized and non-prominalized, where Gurung is located.[7] This classification is similar to Voeglin & Voeglin (1965), but within a "Gyarung-Mishmi" sub-family within Sino-Tibetan.[8]


Phonetically, Gurung languages are tonal.

Some miscellaneous grammatical features of the Gurung languages are:



Labial Dental/
Retroflex Post-alv./
Velar Glottal
Stop voiceless p t ʈ k (ʔ)
aspirated ʈʰ
voiced b d ɖ ɡ
breathy () () (ɖʱ) (ɡʱ)
Affricate voiceless ts*
aspirated tsʰ* tʃʰ
voiced dz*
breathy (dzʱ)* (dʒʱ)
Fricative (β) s ʃ (x) h
Nasal m n ŋ
Rhotic r
Lateral l
Approximant w j
  • *- Across dialects, palato-alveolar affricate sounds /tʃ, tʃʰ, dʒ, (dʒʱ)/ may phonemically occur as apico-alveolar sounds /ts, tsʰ, dz, (dzʱ)/, and then when preceding a /j/ they are then phonetically heard as palato-alveolar [tʃ, tʃʰ, dʒ, dʒʰ].[9]
  • Breathy-voiced sounds [bʱ, dʱ, ɖʱ, ɡʱ, dʒʱ, dzʱ*] typically are heard from Nepali loanwords.
  • /pʰ/ can also be heard as [f] when followed by front vowels.
  • /kʰ/ can have an allophone of [x].
  • /r/ can also be heard as a tap [ɾ].
  • A glottal stop [ʔ] is heard when there is no initial consonant before a vowel.
  • Sounds /p, t, k/ can be heard as unreleased [p̚, t̚, k̚] when in word-final position.[10]


Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a
  • /i, e, a, o/ can have short allophones of [ɪ, ɛ, ʌ, ɔ].[9]

Writing system

For indigenous languages of Nepal, including Gurung, the rise of pluralism and ethnic consciousness has resulted in movements to develop and deploy community orthographies, but it has also resulted in variation and disagreements.[11]

As Noonan (2005)[12] reports, in Gurung, writing primarily has been done through the medium of another language, and so community orthographies tend to be based on pre-existing models of languages of wider communication. According to Glover (2004),[13] attempts at developing an orthography in Gurung go back to 1976, with work to compile the first dictionary of the language.[14] Glover describes the different scripts that have been under consideration by the community, each with their own potential benefits and challenges. Four scripts have been proposed: a system based on the Tibetan script, Devanagari, a Khemaa lipi script (also known as Tamu Khema Phri or Khema Phri), which is a unique alphasyllabary adaptation of Tibetan and Devanagari,[15] and a Romanized script. Glover reported that a plan was in place in 2002 for a forthcoming dictionary of Gurung which included both an (adapted) Devanagari script and also a Roman script, benefitting both literate Gurungs in Nepal and diaspora Gurungs (28-29).

Examples of Gurung language publications that employ orthographies include three books published by Tamu.[16][17][18] These use a modified Devanagari orthography, which include subscript dots for nasalized vowels and other special symbols for consonant clusters and tonal and phonation distinctions that are found in Gurung, but not in Nepali. Also included is a 2000 Gurung-Nepali-English dictionary produced by the Tamu Bauddha Sewa Samiti Nepal (Gurung Culture Organization),[19] which also uses a modified Devanagari, and which also includes numerals (e.g., मी1 /mi/ 'eye' vs. मी2 /mi/ 'name') to indicate tone category for individual words. A 2020 Gurung-English-Nepali dictionary, based on the Sikkim variety of Gurung also makes use of a modified Devanagari script, but does not indicate tone.[20]

See also


  1. Official Summary of Census (2011), Central Bureau of Statistics, Nepal Archived 2012-12-02 at the Wayback Machine
  2. "50th Report of the Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities in India" (PDF). 16 July 2014. p. 109. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 January 2018. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  3. Shafer, Robert (1955). "Classification of the Sino-Tibetan Languages". Word. 11: 94–111. doi:10.1080/00437956.1955.11659552.
  4. van Driem, George (1994). Kitamura, Hajime (ed.). East Bodish and Proto-Tibeto-Burman morphosyntax. pp. 608–617. OCLC 36419031. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  5. David (Ed.), Bradley; Randy (Ed.), Lapolla; Boyd (Ed.), Michailovsky; Graham (Ed.), Thurgood (2015). CRCL, CRCL, Pacific Linguistics And/Or The Author(S). "Language variation: Papers on variation and change in the Sinosphere and in the Indosphere in honour of James A. Matisoff" (PDF). PL-555: 22M, xii + 333 pages. doi:10.15144/PL-555.
  6. Motion, direction and location in languages : in honor of Zygmunt Frajzyngier. Zygmunt Frajzyngier, Erin Shay, Uwe Seibert. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 2003. ISBN 978-90-272-7521-9. OCLC 769188822.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. Grierson, George (1909). Linguistic survey of India Vol. III, Part 1. Delhi: Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
  8. Voeglin, C.F.; Voeglin, F.M. (1965). "Languages of the World: Sino-Tibetan Fascicle Four". Anthropological Linguistics. 7: 1–55.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Glover, Warren W. (1974). Sememic and Grammatical Structures in Gurung (Nepal). The Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington.
  10. Nishida, Fuminobu (2004). A phonology of Syangja Gurung. In Reitaku Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 12. pp. 15–33.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link) CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  11. Noonan, Michael (2008). "Contact-induced change in the Himalayas: the case of the Tamangic languages". doi:10.11588/XAREP.00000214. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. Noonan, Michael (2008). "Language Documentation and Language Endangerment in Nepal". doi:10.11588/XAREP.00000201. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. Glover, Warren W. 2004. Ouch! Don't print that! Paper presented at the Asia Lexicography Conference, Chiangmai, Thailand, 24-26 May, 2004.
  14. Glover, Warren W.; Glover, Jessie R.; Gurung, Dev Bahadur (1977). Gurung-English-Nepali dictionary. Canberra, Australia: ANU Department of Linguistics.
  15. "Khema alphabet". Retrieved 2022-06-14.
  16. डिल्लीजङ तमु (Tamu, Dhillijang) (2000). तमु (गुह्रङ)(Tamu (Guhrang)). Kathmandu, Nepal: Jiwan Printing Sapritas Press.
  17. Tamu, Dilijung, Dilijung (1997). Let's learn Tamu (Gurung) Language. Nayaa Bazaar, Kathmandu: Jivan Printing Press.
  18. डिल्लीजङ (Tamu), तमु (Dhillijang) (1995). तमु क्योए (Tamu Kyoe, Gurung Language) Nepali English Dictionary. Nayaa Bazaar, Kathmandu: Jivan Printing Press.
  19. Tamu Bauddha Sewa Samiti Nepal (2000). Gurung-Nepali-English Dictionary. Anamnagar Kathmandu, Nepal: Tamu Bauddha Sewa Samiti Nepal.
  20. Mataina, Wichamdinbo (2020-05-20). "Wordlist elicitation from Bishnu Maya Gurung". Centre for Endangered Languages, Sikkim University.


  • J. Burton-Page. (1955). Two studies in Gurungkura: I. tone; II. Rhotacization and retroflexion. Bulletin of the Society of Oriental and African Studies 111–19.
  • Viktor S.Doherty. (1974). "The Organizing Principles of Gurung Kinship." Kailash. 2.4: 273–301.
  • Warren W. Glover. (1970). Gurung tone and higher levels. Occasional Papers of the Wolfenden society on Tibeto-Burman Linguistics III, Tone systems of Tibeto-Burman languages of Nepal, Pt. I, ed. by Austin Hale and Kenneth L. Pike, 52–73. Studies in tone and phonological segments. Urbana: University of Illinois.
  • Warren W. Glover. (1974). Sememic and Grammatical Structures in Gurung (Nepal). Publication No. 49. Norman, OK: SIL Publications.
  • Warren W. Glover and Jessie Glover. (1972). A Guide to Gurung Tone. Kathmandu: Tribhuvan University and Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Warren W. Glover and John K. Landon. (1980). "Gurung Dialects." In Papers in Southeast Asian Languages No. 7, edited by R.L. Trail et al., 9-77. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  • Kristine A. Hildebrandt, D.N. Dhakal, Oliver Bond, Matt Vallejo and Andrea Fyffe. (2015). “A sociolinguistic survey of the languages of Manang, Nepal: Co-existence and endangerment.” NFDIN Journal, 14.6: 104–122.
  • Pettigrew, Judith. (1999). "Parallel Landscapes: Ritual and Political Values of a Shamanic Soul Journey" in Himalayan Space: Cultural Horizons and Practices, edited by Balthasar Bickel and Martin Gaenszle, 247–271. Zürich: Völkerkundsmuseum
  • Nishi 西, Yoshio 義郎 (1993c). "グルン語" [Gurung (=LSI), Gūrung; Gurungkura]. In 亀井 Kamei, 孝 Takashi; 河野 Kōno, 六郎 Rokurō; 千野 Chino, 栄一 Eichi (eds.). 三省堂言語学大辞典 The Sanseido Encyclopaedia of Linguistics (in Japanese). Vol. 5. Tokyo: 三省堂 Sanseido Press. pp. 135b–143b.{{cite encyclopedia}}: CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)

External links

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