Wambule language

Wambule (Nep. Vāmbule) is the language of the Wambule Rai, one of the Kiranti tribes of eastern Nepal. Some other names by which this language is known from the literature are ‘Chouras’ya’ (Hodgson 1857), ‘Chourase’ (Hanßon 1991) and ‘Umbule’ (Hanßon 1991, Toba VS 2052). The language most closely related to Wambule is its western neighbour Jero.

The Wambule-speaking area

Wambule is spoken by more than 5,000 people living around the confluence of the Sunkosī and Dūdhkosī rivers near Kuĩ-Bhīr Hill. The Wambule-speaking area comprises the southernmost part of Okhalḍhuṅgā district, the westernmost part of Khoṭāṅ district, the northernmost part of Udaypur district, and the northeasternmost part of Sindhulī district. The Wambule people form the demographic majority in this area, which is also inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan caste and by Tibeto-Burman settlers from western Nepal.


Map of the Wambule-speaking area
The Wambule village of Hilepānī in Okhalḍhuṅgā district (2011)
The Wambule village of Hilepānī in Okhalḍhuṅgā district (2000)

Documenting the Wambule language

I have studied the Wambule language since October 1996. I assumed the task of documenting the Wambule language when I was employed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and joined the Himalayan Languages Project at Leiden University, the Netherlands. By that time the Wambule was still very poorly understood. The only published source available on the language was the ‘Chouras’ya’ word list of about three hundred words compiled by Brian Houghton Hodgson (1857), on the basis of which Sten Konow compiled a short word list and grammatical note in the Linguistic Survey of India. The aim of my research was to give a detailed description of the grammar and the phonology of the Wambule language, analysed and annotated texts and a Wambule-English-Nepali glossary.

I conducted fieldwork in the Wambule-speaking area for a total duration of 44 weeks: from November 1996 until January 1997 (10 weeks), from January 1998 until April 1998 (15 weeks), from December 1998 until February 1999 (12 weeks) and from January 2000 until March 2000 (7 weeks). I also worked on Wambule during my stay in Kathmandu from December 2002 until February 2003 (10 weeks), and my recent visit to Nepal in June 2011. These investigations have come to shed much light on the grammar and the lexicon of this hitherto little known language.

Me and the late Candra Bahādur Rāī (2000)
Me and the late Candra Bahādur Rāī (2000)

Two grammars of Wambule

The book A Grammar of Wambule is a revised and enlarged version of my doctoral dissertation The Wāmbule Language, which I defended on 6 June 2002. A Grammar of Wambule is published in Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library. Languages of the Greater Himalayan Region and can be bought directly from Brill’s online shop.

Hanßon, Gerd
1991. The Rai of eastern Nepal: ethnic and linguistic grouping. Findings of the Linguistic Survey of Nepal. Edited and provided with an introduction by Werner Winter. Kirtipur/Kathmandu: Linguistic Survey of Nepal and Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, Tribhuvan University.

Hodgson, Brian Houghton
1857. ‘Comparative vocabulary of the languages of the broken tribes of Népál’, in Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal XXVI: 333-371.

Opgenort, Jean Robert
2002a. The Wāmbule language. Grammar, lexicon, texts and cultural survey of a Kiranti tribe of eastern Nepal. Amsterdam: Jean Robert Opgenort. Doctoral dissertation, Leiden University, 6 June 2002.

Opgenort, Jean Robert
2004b. A grammar of Wambule. Grammar, lexicon, texts and cultural survey of a Kiranti tribe of eastern Nepal. Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library. Languages of the Greater Himalayan Region, 2. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill.

Toba, Sueyoshi
VS 2052 (= 1993). ‘Implosive stops in Umbule Rai’, in Libju-Bhumju 3: 7-9.