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Nubri Valley lies in the high Himalayas in northern central Nepal at the foot of Mt Manaslu, the eighth tallest peak in the world. About 2000 ethnically Tibetan people live in this beyul, or hidden valley, most of whom speak Nubri, a Tibeto-Burman language.

It is a breathtakingly beautiful week’s walk from Arughat (the nearest road). This lack of easy access has kept the language relatively uninfluenced by the national language, but changing social norms, such as the greater tendency to go to school in Kathmandu, have put Nubri on UNESCO’s list of ‘definitely endangered’ languages.

Nubri language

The Nubri people are said to have settled in the valley from Tibet about 400 years ago. There are now roughly 2000 people throughout Nubri Valley, which extends from Kutang in the lower valley , where they speak Kuke, up to Samdo in the upper valley, where they speak a variety much closer to Kyirong Tibetan. In between, from Prok to Samagaun, Nubri (ISO 639-3 kte) is spoken. We have worked mostly with data from Samagaun so far, but hope to gather more information about the other dialects soon.

Enjoy some pictures of Nubri Valley here.

Some sample phrases are also available.

Nubri Linguistics

Cathryn Donohue and Mark Donohue have been working on Nubri since 2016. In addition to basic description and documentary efforts, we have also been working on specific linguistic issues.

In May 2019, Cathryn Donohue undertook a valley-wide large-scale sociolinguistic survey throughout Nubri Valley which took place alongside the Eye Clinic and discussions about orthographic systems.

See some of our recent presentations and publications here.

Some photos taken during our linguistic work.

Nubri documentation

Ongoing work has been in progress for a couple of years. Aside from word lists of several thousand words, we have been working on different aspects of the grammar and a sketch grammar is underway. There are transcribed videos that will be linked here soon, along with more focussed studies on specific aspects of the grammar.

In May 2019 a broad scale sociolinguistic survey of the valley was carried out throughout the valley which underscored the need for documentary and language maintenance efforts in this “definitively endangered” language.

Nubri Eye Clinic

At the end of May 2019 a team of ophthalmologists under the guidance of Dr Ruit of the Tilganga Ophthalmological Institute came to Nubri Valley to provide free eye clinics throughout the valley and cataract surgery for those in need through the generous award of a University of Hong Kong Knowledge Exchange grant to Dr Donohue. Nearly 500 patients were seen during the eye clinics and more than fifty villagers had cataracts removed at the surgical camp, some patients requiring bilateral cataract removal. Restoring vision is a real boost for the community which relies largely on subsistence farming. We are all grateful for the support of Tilganga for joining this project, which also provided a unique opportunity to hold focus groups for discussing possible writing systems in Nubri, a necessary step towards language maintenance and improved literacy, as part of the Nubri Language Project.

Click here for a selection of photos from the clinics that took place in the last two weeks of May 2019.

A selection of photos of the valley and the clinics were on show in the Run Run Shaw Tower and are available for viewing here. 

We have made the news!

English language: Mirage News, and a feature article in the South China Morning Post.

Chinese language: Ming Pao, Oriental Daily, Lion Rock Daily, HKEJ, on.cc, Ming Sheng Bao, Line Today and feature articles in the HK Economic Journal and Sing Tao Daily.

HKU’s Annual Review for 2019 also mentioned the Nubri project!

The eye clinic was a collaborative effort between the University of Hong Kong and Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology.