Nepali, originally known as Khas Kura, Parbate Bhasa or Gorkhali, is an Indo-Aryan language. It is the official language and de facto lingua franca of Nepal. It is also spoken in various parts of India, particularly by Indian Gorkha, and by a significant number of Bhutanese and some Burmese people. In India, Nepali language is listed in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India having an official status in the Indian state of Sikkim and in West Bengal's Darjeeling district. Nepali developed in proximity to a number of Indo-Aryan languages, most notably the Pahari languages and Magahi, and shows Sanskrit influences. However, owing to Nepal's geographical area, it has also been influenced by Tibeto-Burman languages. Nepali is mainly differentiated from Central Pahari, both in grammar and vocabulary, by Tibeto-Burman idioms owing to close contact with the respective language group. Nepali language shares 40% lexical similarity with the Bengali language. In the nineteenth century, the British resident at Kathmandu Brian Houghton Hodgson observed that it was, in eight-tenths of its vocabulary, substantially Hindi.
Historically, the language was first called the Khas language (Khas kurā), then Gorkhali or Gurkhali (language of the Gorkha Kingdom) before the term Nepali was adopted. In 1920, during Rana regime in Nepal, the term "Nepal" which resembled the Nepal Mandala was taken from its people. Soon after that, Nepal Bhasa was renamed into Newari and Parbate/Khas language took over as Nepali language. Other names include Parbatiya ("hill language", identified with the Parbatiya people of Nepal) and Dzongkha Lhotshammikha ("Southern Language", spoken by the Lhotshampas of Bhutan). It is also known as the Khey language(language of Khey people, the native term for Khas people) or Partya language(native term for Parbate) among the Newar people and Pahari language among Madhesi and Tharus.
However, due to protests for identity, Newars have restored their language's name as Nepal Bhasa and voices have been raise to re-instate Parbate language in its original name.
Nepali developed a significant literature within a short period of a hundred years in the 19th century. This literary explosion was fueled by Adhyatma Ramayana; Sundarananda Bara (1833); Birsikka, an anonymous collection of folk tales; and a version of the South Asian epic Ramayana by Bhanubhakta Acharya (d. 1868). The contribution of trio-laureates Lekhnath Paudyal, Laxmi Prasad Devkota, and Balkrishna Sama took Nepali to the level of other world languages. The contribution of expatriate writers outside Nepal, especially in Darjeeling and Varanasi in India, is also notable.
In the past decade, there have been many contributions to Nepali literature from the Nepali diaspora in Asia, Europe, America and India.
According to the 2011 national census, 44.6 percent of the population of Nepal speaks Nepali as a first language. The Ethnologue website reports 12,300,000 speakers within Nepal (from the 2011 census).
Nepali is traditionally spoken in the Hill Region of Nepal (Pahad, पहाड), especially in the western part of the country. Although the Newar language dominated the Kathmandu valley, Nepali is currently the most dominant. Nepali is used in government and as the everyday language of a growing portion of the local population. Nevertheless, the exclusive use of Nepali in the courts and government of Nepal is being challenged. Recognition of other ethnic languages in Nepal was one of the objectives of the Communist Party of Nepal's long war.
In Bhutan, those who speak Nepali, known as Lhotshampa, are estimated at about 35 percent of the population. This number includes displaced Bhutanese refugees, with unofficial estimates of the ethnic Bhutanese Refugee population as high as 30 to 40 percent, constituting a majority in the south (about 242,000 people).) Since the late 1980s, over 100,000 Lhotshampas have been forced out of Bhutan, accused by the government of being illegal immigrants. A large portion of them were expelled in an "ethnic cleansing" campaign, and presently live in refugee camps in eastern Nepal.
In India, there is a large number of Nepali-speaking Indian peoples ethnically known as Indian Gorkha. In Northeast India there are several million Nepali speakers. A considerable number of Nepali-speaking Indian peoples are also present in many Indian cities such as Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Visakhapatnam, Goa, Bihar, Darjeeling, Sikkim, Chennai, Mumbai, and Hyderabad.
Around 500 years ago, Khas people from the Karnali-Bheri-Seti basin migrated eastward, bypassing inhospitable Kham highlands to settle in lower valleys of the Gandaki Basin that were well-suited to rice cultivation. One notable extended family settled in the Gorkha Kingdom, a small principality about halfway between Pokhara and Kathmandu. In 1559 AD a Lamjunge prince, Dravya Shah established himself on the throne of Gorkha with the help of local Khas and Magars. He raised an army of khas with the commandership of Bhagirath Panta. Later, in the late 18th century his heir Prithvi Narayan Shah raised and improvised an army of Chhetri, Thakuri, Magars and Gurung people and possibly other hill tribesmen and set out to conquer and consolidate dozens of small principalities in the Himalayan foothills. Since Gorkha had replaced the original Khas homeland, Khaskura was redubbed Gorkhali "language of the Gorkhas".
The most notable military achievement of Prithvi Narayan Shah was the conquest of the urbanized Kathmandu Valley, on the eastern rim of the Gandaki basin. This region was also called Nepal at the time. Kathmandu became Prithvi Narayan's new capital, from which he and his heirs extended their domain east across the Koshi River basin, north to the Tibetan Plateau, south into the plains of North India, and west across the Karnali/Bheri basin and beyond.
Expansion – particularly to the north, west, and south – brought the growing state into conflict with the British and Chinese. This led to wars that trimmed back the territory to an area roughly corresponding to Nepal's present borders. Both China and Britain understood the value of a buffer state and did not attempt to further reduce the territory of the new country. Since the Kathmandu Valley or Nepal had become the new center of political initiative, this word gradually came to refer to the entire realm and not just the Kathmandu Valley. So Gorkhali came to be known as Nepali.
In all these years, Nepali has had influences from many languages. While Nepali is technically from the same family as languages like Hindi and Bengali, it has taken many loan words. Words like dhoka "door", jhyāl "window", pasal "shop", kukhura "rooster" and rāngo "water buffalo' have Tibeto-Burmese roots. Words like sahīd "martyr" (ultimately from Arabic) and kānun "law" (ultimately from Greek, came from Persian into Nepali, as the former functioned as the literary language of much of the Muslim world for over a millennium). Many English words are in use today due to the rising popularity of the United States of America in the region and the previous British aid at schools and other fields.
Nepali is spoken indigenously over most of Nepal west of the Gandaki River, then progressively less further to the east.
Dialects of Nepali include Acchami, Baitadeli, Bajhangi, Bajurali, Bheri, Dadeldhuri, Dailekhi, Darchulali, Darchuli, Gandakeli, Humli, Purbeli, and Soradi. Doteli (Dotyali) is a closely related language which is included in the macrolanguage Nepali.
Nepali distinguishes six oral vowels and five nasal vowels. /o/ does not have a phonemic nasal counterpart, although it is often in free variation with [õ].
Nepali possesses ten diphthongs: /ui/, /iu/, /ei/, /eu/, /oi/, /ou/, /ʌi/, /ʌu/, /ai/, and /au/.
[j] and [w] are nonsyllabic allophones of [i] and [u], respectively. Every consonant except [j], [w], /l/, and /ɦ/ has a geminate counterpart between vowels. /ɳ/ and /ʃ/ also exist in some loanwords such as /baɳ/ बाण "arrow" and /nareʃ/ नरेश "king", but these sounds are sometimes replaced with native Nepali phonemes.