Himalayan Languages

Encompassing Nepal, northern India, Bhutan, and the Tibetan areas occupied by China, the greater Himalayan region is a nexus of cultural and linguistic diversity. In recent decades, more than 20,000 people from various parts of the region have settled in Queens and Brooklyn, making New York into a new microcosm of Himalayan diversity.

Himalayan New Yorkers are generally united by their connection to Tibetan culture, written language, tradition, and religion, but the diversity of their own specific backgrounds is also substantial. Central Tibetan or Nepali may serve as a lingua franca, but a nearly full-spectrum range of Tibeto-Burman and Tibetic languages can now be heard across the five boroughs, including Loke, Sherpa, Kham, Amdo, and Ü-Tsang varieties, among others.

With most adults working long hours to make a living, many younger people in the New York community have limited access to information about their language, culture, and way of life. Himalayan New Yorkers speak multiple languages but may lack confidence in their language skills and fear that their cultural identity is disappearing.

Voices of the Himalaya: Language, Culture, and Belonging in Immigrant New York explores the lived experiences of migration and social change among Himalayan New Yorkers. In collaboration with community members and scholars of the Himalayan region, the project has been documenting the languages, cultures, social histories, folklore, and community life of Himalayan New Yorkers in over 20 online videos that have now been viewed tens of thousands of times around the world. Recored in a dozen different Himalayan language varieties and subtitled in English, the videos are now an open-access resource, archived at ELA for all who are interested, a space in which kyi-dug, joy and suffering (of immigrant life, in this case) can be shared – to use a uniquely resonant Himalayan word.

Project outreach efforts:
Rescuing an Endangered Language in Our Own Backyard: The Case of Walden and Tibet (February 19, 2017)
Himalayan Queens (April 22, 2017)
VOH at the Rubin Museum (June 7, 2017)
Himalayan Queens with the iSchool, a public high school in Soho (2017-present)
Himalayan Queens with LaGuardia Community College (2017-present)

Whether you are a speaker yourself, a partial speaker, or know someone who might be, we are always looking for more resources on Himalayan languages. Please get in touch!

Coordinator: Nawang Tsering Gurung
Originally from Ghilling village in Upper Mustang, Nepal, Nawang now lives and works in New York’s Himalayan community. He is the Executive Director of the Yulha Fund and has extensive experience as a researcher and translator.

Prof. Sienna Craig, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, Dartmouth College
Prof. Daniel Kaufman, Assistant Professor, Department of Linguistics, Queens College; Co-Director, Endangered Language Alliance
Dr. Ross Perlin, Co-Director, Endangered Language Alliance
Prof. Mark Turin, Associate Professor and Program Chair, Anthropology and First Nations and Endangered Languages Program, University of British Columbia

Supporters: Dartmouth College, Queens College

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in Partnership with the City Council.