Tamu Kyi, the language of the Tamu people (exonym: Gurung) exists as a dialect continuum in the mountainous foothills of the Himalayas in central Nepal. Due to the geography of the region, there is significant linguistic variation from village to village. Tamu Kyi is a Tibeto-Burman language closely related to Tamang, Thakali, and Manange and distantly related to Tibetan. The superstrate national language, Nepali, which is Indo-Aryan, has influenced Tamu Kyi noticeably.
The Tamu people are reputed for their physical strength and resilience. After visiting Sikles Village, I believe they should be even more highly regarded for their warmth, hospitality, and good humor! Though life in the village is still largely based on communal subsistence farming and herding, many village residents have family members abroad or in a nearby city, such as Pokhara.
The vitality of Tamu Kyi is classified by Ethnologue as 6b, threatened, due to a steady decrease in transmission from older speakers to the younger generations, who prefer to speak national or international languages such as Nepali and/or English. Though the Nepali government has indicated that every ethnic group has a right to education in their mother tongue, many local languages still do not receive much state support. Moreover, the lack of pedagogical materials in minority languages of Nepal increases their economic and educational marginalization.
Despite this, many Gurungs are very proud of their culture. In other words, this is a critical moment for the language, whose native speakers are numerous and passionate enough to encourage transmission, revitalization, and documentation.
I joined the Gurung project at the Endangered Language Alliance in 2014. At that point, several volunteers (Chris Geissler, Peter Graif, Perry Wong) had begun documenting certain aspects of Gurung phonology & morphology and collecting oral texts from Narayan Gurung, our primary consultant. Narayan is a former Gurkha soldier in the British Army and a very active community member of the Gurung diaspora in Queens, NY. Without his endless patience and dedication, the project would have been impossible. Utmost gratitude goes to Narayan and his friends and family who have been so warm and welcoming to us!
Narayan is originally from Sikles Village (cili naasa) in the Annapurna Conservation Area, approximately 10 miles from Pokhara. Therefore, our research, description, and fieldwork have all been focused on the Sikles variety of Gurung.
From 2014 - 2017, we hosted meetings regularly with Narayan to gloss, analyze, and translate oral texts that he shared with us. Our work also included recording Glover's Gurung-Nepali-English Dictionary (1977) in Sikles Gurung. During these sessions, we spent some time eliciting syntactic, morphological, and lexical data. In January 2017, Danielle Ronkos thankfully made it possible for me to join her for several weeks of fieldwork in Sikles.
Recently, we have been working on writing a grammatical sketch of Sikles Gurung using data gathered from texts, elicitation, and fieldwork in New York and Nepal. We are also segmenting and annotating audio files from our sessions and compiling a FLEx database of words and texts. After these projects are finished, we hope to open a dialogue with the community in Sikles to produce pedagogical materials or materials that would be useful and desirable to their aspirations for their language.