The Magar language


Magar is a Trans-Himalayan (Tibeto-Burman) language spoken in Nepal and North-East India. Although the number of speakers is estimated to be 700,000 people (Nepal Census 2011), the Magar language is endangered, spoken by populations where, in some areas, the youngest generation already no longer speak the language.

Magar is a language of Oral Tradition (without a writing system). Different scholars have conducted linguistics research on Magar: Subhadra Subba, Gary & Barbara Shepherd, Tej Man Angdembe, Bhim Regmi and Karen Grunow-Hårsta. Recently, Pratigya Regmi (University of Tribhuvan, Kathmandu) wrote her MA thesis (2014) on the Tense Aspect and Modality system of the Magar spoken in the district of Nawalparisi.


The Magar data presented here come from linguistics research carried out since 2011 by Marie-Caroline Pons (University of Oregon) on the Western Magar variety spoken in the Village Development Committee (V.D.C.) of Nibuwakharka, Syangja. In particular, she has been working in collaboration with Magar speakers of Dudhechaur, Motichaur and Charakh.

A bit of Linguistics!

Bradley (1997:16) has proposed to classify Magar under the sub-family of the ‘Central Himalayan' of Tibeto-Burman, along with Kham, Chepang, Raute (Bhoto, Khamci, Raji), Raji and Newari languages. Following Grunow-Hårsta (2008:111) and Pons (ongoing research), three Magar varieties are attested, distinguished on the basis of alignment properties: Mid-Western, Western and Eastern Magar. Western Magar has been described as being the most preserved of the three, and in particular with regards to verbal morphology, featuring an accusative system indexing the subject. On noun-phrases, Western Magar exhibits an ergative system, whereas Eastern Magar displays a tense based split-ergativity and no verb agreement. The Mid-Western variety does not feature agreement in the verb but ergativity on noun-phrases. Figure 1. presents the three Magar varieties along with the districts where they have been attested.




Figure 1. Magar varieties

The following map illustrates the different districts where Magar has been or is still the object of linguistics research conducted by Karen Grunow-Hårsta (Tanahu, Palpa and Syangja), Tej Man Angdembe (Palpa), Pratigya Regmi (Nawalparisi) and Marie-Caroline Pons (Syangja and Surkhet).

Literature Review

Angdembe, Tej Man.

1996. Magar conjugational morphology: An analysis and some historical observations. Article submitted at the 2nd Himalayan Languages Symposium at Noordwijkerhout. The Netherlands, 12 October.
1999a. The rise of honorific marking and the demise of the verbal agreement system. Gipan I (1), 43-99.
1999b. Anomalous conjugation of copulas, development of tense/aspect morphemes and the loss of agreement prefixes. In: Yogendra Prasad Yadava and Warren William Glover (eds.), Topics in Nepalese linguistics, 498-524. Kathmandu: Royal Nepal Academy.


Bradley, David.

1993. Tibeto-Burman Languages of the Himalayas. (ed.) Canberra: Pacific Linguistics A-86.


Grunow-Hårsta, Karen.

1998. An analysis of murmur in Magar. Paper presented at the 19th Annual Conference of the Linguistic Society of Nepal, Tribhuvan University at Kirtipur, 26 November.

2002. 'Posture verbs in two Tibeto-Burman languages' with Michael Noonan, in John Newman, ed., The linguistics of sitting, standing and lying. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 79-101.

2003. 'Direction and differential dative case marking in Magar' in Anju Saxena, ed., Himalayan Languages Past and Present. Amsterdam: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 77-100.

2004. Direction and differential dative case marking in Magar. Himalayan Languages. Past and Present, Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin/New-York.

2007. Evidentiality and mirativity in Magar. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area.

2008. A descriptive grammar of two Magar dialects of Nepal: Tanahu and Syangja Magar, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

2008.'Evidentiality and mirativity in Magar', Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area: Special issue on evidentiality 30.2 151-194.

2009. Pluri-functiunality in the magar nominalization system. Nepalese Linguistics, Linguistic Society of Nepal, Vol 24, Kirtipur, Kathmandu.

2010. 'Non-referential uses of nominalization constructions' Invited article with Foong Ha Yap Language and Linguistics Compass. pp. Vol. 4:12, pp 1154–1175.

2011. Adjectives and adjectivals in Magar. Himalayan Linguistics, Vol. 10.

2011. 'Innovation in nominalization in Magar' in Nominalization in Asian languages. pp. 215-254.


Pons, Marie-Caroline.

2013. Essai de description du Magar de Syangja, Langue tibéto-birmane du Népal. Thèse de Master, Université Paris IV Sorbonne.

2014. Valence and Voice strategies in Magar. Nepalese Linguistics, Vol. 29. Kathmandu, Nepal. 


Regmi, Bhim Narayan.

1999. Cauzativation in Magar, MA. Thesis, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur, Nepal.


Regmi, Pratigya.

2014. Mood and Modality in Magar Dhut. Nepalese Linguistics, Vol. 29. Kathmandu, Nepal.

2015. Aspect in Magar Dhut. Nepalese Linguistics, Linguistic Society of Nepal, Vol 30, pp.132-138 

Shepherd, Gary & Barbara.

1969. Tibeto-Burman phonemic summaries. Kathmandu, SIL, TU, Institute for Nepalese Studies.

1971. Magar phonemic summary, Tibeto-Burman phonemic summaries VIII, Kathmandu: SIL, TU pp.34.
1972. A vocabulary of the Magar language. Kathmandu: SIL, and INS, pp.40-93.

1973. Magar texts, Clause, Sentence, and Discourse Patterns in Selected Languages of Nepal. Part III, Kathmandu: SIL.


Subba, Subhadra.

1999b. Morphophonological rules in Magar. In: Yogendra Prasad Yadava and Warren William Glover (eels.).

1972. Topics in Nepalese linguistics, 170-173. Kathmandu: Royal Nepal Academy. A descriptive analysis of Magar: a Tibeto-Burman language, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pune, Pune, India.

© 2017 Magar Speakers

Magar Data 2011-2018 - Marie-Caroline Pons

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