Based on Linguistic Survey of India report on Sikkim
Sikkim is inhabited mostly by the communities who have their own indigenous languages but even as they maintain a separate ethnic identity many of them have shifted to regional language i.e. Nepali. The shift has emerged from the Independence of India and subsequent inclusion of Sikkim in Indian Union and thereby trends of democratization, economic mobility and mass- media exposure to those tribal communities of Sikkim who lived in inaccessible areas. They have gradually
opened up for intense interaction with the dominant linguistic communities. As a result of this interaction, lifestyle and communication pattern have significantly changed.
Except at home, most of the minor linguistic communities have switched over to Nepali —the dominant regional language of Sikkim and Hindi and English for intergroup as well as official communication.
The eleven languages covered in the current Linguistic Survey, namely, Bhotia, Tibetan, Gurung, Sherpa, Tamang, Lepcha, Sunwar, Mangari, Newari, Limbu and Rai belong to Tibeto-Burman group of languages. Because of their prolonged contacts with Nepali and presently with Hindi—the Indo-Aryan languages—the above mentioned six languages have developed many linguistic as well as cultural features of Indo-Aryan origin.
It has been observed that the people belonging to older generation (of age group of 40 and above) maintain their respective mother tongues more compared to the younger generations. Especially the younger section (of the age group between 14 to 25 years) are indifferent to their respective mother tongues and prefer Nepali and Hindi and sometimes English, depending upon their exposure as medium of communication, because of them being perceived as the languages of power prestige and attraction.
It has also been noticed that there is languages shrinkage at lexical level, for example, the native terms for different rituals, elaborate kinship terms, exhaustive names of flora, being replaced with the lexicons of Nepali and to some extent of Hindi.
This interference of the second language, that is Nepali or Hindi, in the use of respective first languages has become the phenomenon of these communities of Sikkim, which ultimately is leading towards language shift.
Though shifting towards Nepali is the main feature among the communities of Sikkim but the vice versa is not the case with Nepali speakers. Rather maintenance of the Nepali is the feature of Nepali speaking community. This can be observed from the data available in the Census on Bi-lingualism and Tri-lingualism where it has become evident that while the speakers of these Tibeto-Burman linguistic communities use Nepali as the first subsidiary language. Nepalese are bilinguals in Hindi and English only and rarely any of these minor languages.
However, it is pertinent to mention here that very recently a trend has been observed to revive their linguistic glory in the form of nativistic movements organized by these linguistic communities of Sikkim.
In 2001 Census the total population of India was 1,028,737,436 and the population of Sikkim was 540,851. Out of the total population 52.57% population constitutes the Bi-lingual population of the State. Below is the presented the table showing the percentage of Bi-lingualism feature of the population of the Sikkim with reference to major languages.
|Serial No.||Name of major Languages||Total Speakers||Bilinguals||Percentage of bilingualis|
Nepali occupies the first rank both as a language and as a mother tongue in Sikkim as per 2001 census. After Nepali, the linguistic communities of Sikkim,
mostly use English and Hindi as their second language. As a result of this pattern of
bilingualism it is found that in spite of recognition of the indigenous languages of
Sikkim, namely Bhotia, Lepcha, Limbu, Sherpa, Rai, Tamang, Gurung, Mangari, Newari, and Sunwar, accorded by the Government of Sikkim, the Nepali occupies the predominant place in the state of Sikkim followed by English, Hindi and Bhotia.
(To be continued)