English in Nepal: Phonology of Nepali English ?

Manuka Adhikari



Every language has individual phonological system that doesn’t match to another language. English language is also one example which has gained the identity of international language. Every citizen from non English speaking countries dreams to master on this language but due to their mother tongue influence they hardly get mastery over this as the native speakers do. Therefore, there occurs a variety of pronunciations of English which is also called British English, American English, Indian English etc. This paper talks about the pronunciation of Nepali English if it is similar to RP. The paper compares and analyses the phonology of RP and Nepali English. The main purpose of this study is to explore the influence of Nepalese phonemes in the use of English segmental and suprasegmental sounds. For this I purposively selected the English speeches delivered by two Nepali native speakers. The results were analysed by applying negative phonological transfer theory which tells that the pre-occupied native knowledge, i.e. Nepali hinders the acquisition of second language i.e., English. After the analysis, I came to know that English phonemes are highly influenced by the Nepali phonemes; therefore, Nepali English has Nepali like pronunciations. It means they differ from the Standard English pronunciation.


Keywords:Nepali English, RP, negative phonological transfer, segmental and suprasegmental phonemes



English is owned by not any particular group of people or any country. It is a language and people can use it according to their knowledge about it. There are varieties of English spoken all over the world such as British English, American English, and Indian English etc. However, the alphabet is same their phonology may vary from one other. This study is related to the phonology of Nepali English where I tried to investigate the phonemes whether they are uttered according to RP. For this, I purposively selected two sets of English speech videos from YouTube which were delivered by the Nepali native speakers. The findings were drawn and analysed by applying language transfer theory and concluded the study.


English language has become one of the international languages (Penny, 2002) in this world. It is one of the most used languages of the world after Chinese language (Chan, 2016). This language is being given first priority in Nepal and has been teaching as one of the compulsory subjects in school. Nowadays, in our context, this language has become a prestige marker for many people. They think that, if they can use and talk in English fluently, many gates of opportunities open for them, thus, their further life will become safe and happy. Furthermore, English has changed its status in Nepal for last several decades. English had been in use in Nepal not for a long time, it was only adopted as a foreign language into the formal education system during Rana regime (Giri, 2015). Now it’s been used in many sectors such as in business, education, and media and so on as an obligatory tool for communication and has gained the status of only official language for wider communication.

English has become so much popular in Nepal although it is not the native language of Nepalese people. In the term of Kachru (2006) Nepal lies in the expanding circle of concentric centre of the world English where this language is gradually gaining the prestige of standard and compulsory use in today’s international market (Kachru, Kachru & Nelson, 2006).

English in Nepal

The status of English in Nepal has not a long history. It was officially started in twentieth century when Nepal was ruled by the Rana Prime ministers. However, some educationists claim that English has been used from the Malla time as king Pratap Malla was found writing poems in English (Awasthi, 1995 as cited in Giri, 2015, p.100). Moreover, the traders of that time with Tibet and North-East India were said to use some form of English as a lingua franca to carry out their business transactions (Hodgson, 1864 as cited in Giri, 2015, p. 94). Later, English was adopted as a foreign language into the formal education system during Rana dynasty. In recent years this language has become an inseparable part of life for the Nepalese people. It is used as an additional and primary language in many socio-economic and educational sectors in Nepal. According to the population monograph (2014) Nepal has 0.01% population use English as their first language. More than this, in many educational institutions and universities it has been used as a medium of instructions. But, still Nepali people use English differently, neither are they properly following RP nor any one specific variety of accent. My focus in this paper is particularly in phonology of English spoken by Nepali native speakers.

As we all know the fact that English has been used as an international language and the most-used lingua franca (Crystal, 2003) in this world. It is creating its own space and has got the supremacy in every country of the world. English language is not the private property of any particular linguistic group, i.e. it is owned by none (Carr & Honeybone, 2007). However, the British think they are the initiator of the language; therefore, the pronunciation should be like they do. It is true that the British colonial culture helped to spread English all over the world, especially in those places which were occupied by the British. But now, it has become a global language and one of the wider used means of communication (Davies, 2009). Hence, the people have their own varieties of English which is different than the RP, for example, American English, Indian English, Australian English and Scottish English and so on. Some of the phonological processes of this Englishes may vary from each other due to the geographical or socio cultural differences. Among these varieties Nepali English is one which also has different phonological structure in comparison to RP. I have tried to identify the pronunciation of Nepali English whether it is like RP. I also tried to find the reason why the pronunciation is not like RP through the application of language transfer (Gass & Selinkar, 1993) theory.

The theoretical underpinnings of Language transfer is when a learner already knows his/her own language well and those pre-knowledge of their mother tongue either interfere or assistor does not influence while learning or acquiring the second language. There may be positive or negative or zero influence of learners’ mother tongue in learning the language. If mother tongue supports and facilitates learning second language, there may be positive transfer. Similarly, if native language hinders the learning of L2 there may be negative transfer and if mother tongue neither helps nor hinders the learning process, it is called zero transfer. But in this study I have applied the negative phonological transfer (Fan & Yongbing, 2014) approach to analyse the findings.

Any learner, learning the second language is already equipped with the phonological and grammatical system of his/her own mother tongue. When they encounter with the phonemes in second language which sounds like in their mother tongue, they take it mistakenly and pronounced like in their mother tongue, for example: a Nepali native speaker while learning English phonemes /f/ /v/ /ʃ/ /dƷ/ they often utter it like in their mother tongue. Likewise, the suprasegmental features like stress, length, intonation, juncture etc are not properly maintained in Nepali language; therefore, while they use English language, such features get often ignored by them. These things occur in practice because of the negative phonological transfer of Nepali phonemes to English phonemes.

English and Nepali are two different languages whose phonology systems absolutely differ from each other. However some phonetic symbols match with one another. In English there are altogether 44 segmental phonemes, among them 24 are consonant sounds whereas in Nepali there are only 38 segmental phonemes among which 29 are consonant sounds (Kandel, 2010). In Nepali we have only two fricative sounds /s, h/ and more (16) stop sounds. Besides these contrary features, both languages share some common phonological features such as in both language phonemes are produced with pulmonic egressive airstream mechanism and described on the basis of voicing, place of articulation and manner of articulation. Similarly, the articulation of nasal and some plosive sounds are identical in both languages, for example: / p b t d k g m n ŋ/. Furthermore, some sounds are phonemic in Nepali but allophonic in English, e.g.:/pǝl/– moment, /phǝl/– fruit (Nepali)

/pæn/  and /phæn/- pan (English)

Let’s see the consonants inventory of English and Nepali language in the following table:

Table 1.

Nepali Consonants Inventory

Manner of articulation Place of Articulation
Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosives p  b

ph  bh

t  d

th dh

t˳  d˳

th˳ dh˳

k  g

kh gh

Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative s H
Affricate c  j

ch  jh

Lateral l
Trill r
Semi-vowels W Y

Table 2.

Nepali Vowels

I- Inar (well) e- ek (one) a (A)- ama (mother)
ǝ- ǝlchI (lazy) ɒ- ɒlʌn (‘milk’ in Eastern Nepali dialect) ʊ- ʊt˳ʌr (answer)

(Kandel, 2010)

Table 3.

English Consonant Inventory


Table 4.

English vowels

Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study is to explore the influence of Nepalese phonemes in the use of English segmental and suprasegmental sounds which occur in different phonemic environment in connected speech.


As I am analyzing the phonemes of Nepali English in comparison to Standard British English (RP), I purposively selected two recorded sets of English speech texts delivered by two Nepali native speakers in different circumstances. The first one was an award acceptance speech delivered by a famous Nepali actress in an award ceremony and the other was the interview of former Nepali Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal which was interviewed in DD News television, India. I went through the recorded text and listened them thoroughly. Then, I noted down the segmental and suprasegmental phonemes which were not pronounced properly. After this I compared them with the RP and found some differences. I discussed the reasons of those differences in discussion section.

Result and Discussion

When I went through the speech I came to know about various differences that frequently occurred in the pronunciations of Nepali natives. They tried to utter the words as exactly as English native speakers pronounced but due to their native language influence, they could not. The main differences were found when they produced the fricative sounds and some suprasegmental features such as length, stress, intonation and tone. Those findings are displayed and discussed below.

The first variation that was noticed was among RP and Nepali English was the use of /a:/ sound at the world final position. The vowel /a:/ in RP doesn’t occur in world final position instead /ǝ/ usually occurs and pronounced. While I went through the recorded text, I found that the word ‘formula’ was pronounced as /fǝrmʊla/ instead /fɔ:mjulǝ/. More than this the long vowel /a:/ was uttered as /a/- the short one because in Nepali only single /a/ sound exists and the length of the sound doesn’t bring any changes in its meanings. Therefore, the Nepali speakers don’t notice whether the sound should be long or short.

Similarly, the insertion of /I/ sound before sp, st and sk clusters was the common practice among the Nepali speakers. While they produced the words ‘speechless’, ‘star’ and ‘school’ they inserted the vowel /I/ before these clusters and uttered as /IspIcles/, /Istar/, /Iskʊl/respectively. It happened because there are no such word initial clusters in Nepali language and due to the influence of their mother tongue they inserted /I/ sound to make them easy to produce the utterances. But in RP such clusters are commonly used as world initial clusters. Besides this, I also found the variations in the production of /r/ sound. In RP the sound /r/ is not usually uttered when it occurs in word final position and after the consonants but when it is present in intervocalic positions, it is pronounced. On the contrary, I found the production of /r/ in each and every position by the participants. For example, the words ‘related’, ‘party’ and ‘super’ were pronounced as /rIleted/,  /partI/, and /sʊpǝr/respectively. It indicates that the sound /r/ in Nepali occurs in every syllable position and it is produced as a complete phoneme.

Another most important variation is the production of the fricative sounds by Nepali speakers. In Standard English there are altogether 9 fricative sounds but in Nepali, there are only two fricatives: /s/ and /h/ and other sounds are produced as the plosive. Besides, the English labio-dental fricatives /f/ and /v/ are found to be produced as bilabial plosive /ph/ and /bh/ as in ‘fifty’/phIptI/. In this pronunciation there also occurs the process of partial assimilation. The second fricative sound /f/ gets changed into the bilabial sound /p/ due to the influence of the following sound /t/.  Likewise, the palato-alveolar /ʃ/ was replaced by alveolar /s/because there is only single /s/ exists in Nepali, e.g. accomplish /ǝkǝmplIs/was pronounced replacing the final /ʃ/ by /s/. Here are some more examples of fricative sounds that were changed into plosive in Nepali English. The words ‘family’, ‘thing’, ‘exactly’ and ‘there’ were pronounced as /phæmIlI/, /th̥Iŋk/, /ekjæktlI/, /d̥Iyr/ instead of /fæmIlI/, /θIŋk/, /IgzæktlI/, /ðɛǝ(r)/ respectively. Apart from these, in Standard English there are the different pronunciations for long and short phonemes and they also bring changes in meanings but in Nepali, as mentioned above, there is no such variations and pronounced only the short forms. Such variations were also found in my study. In the following words the long vowels /i:/ and /a:/ were pronounced as /I/ and /a:/, for example: speech /IspIc/ instead of /spi:tʃ/, party/partI/ instead of  /pa:tI/ andbelieved /bIlIbhd/ instead of /bI’li:vd/.

Regarding the vowel sounds, in Standard English there are altogether twelve monophthongs and among them five are long and remaining are short vowels. Two varieties of  [I]-  /I/  and /i:/, two varieties of [u]- /u:/ and /ʊ/ and three varieties of [ǝ]- /ǝ/, /ʌ/ and /ɜ/ exist in RP. On the contrary to it, only single varieties were found to be pronounced in Nepali English. Only /I/, /ʊ/ and /ǝ/ were pronounced and replaced the other varieties. In the following words, only the single /ǝ/ was pronounced by the participants: accomplish /ǝkǝmplIs/ instead of/ǝ’kʌm’plIʃ/, inter /Intǝr/ instead of /In’tɜ:(r)/, about /ǝbaʊt/ instead of /ǝ’baʊt/.

The above are the result regarding segmental phonemes, now here are some findings related to the suprasegmental features. In RP, altogether seven types of suprasegmental features are in practice, namely- length, stress, intonation, tone, pitch, tempo, juncture and rhythm. While I went through the speech, I found the use of only some features of intonation and tone. Other features were not in practice. Length and stress were completely ignored and the utterances were pronounced like they were delivering speech in Nepali language. Length was denied because in Nepali it doesn’t bring any phonemic variation in the syllables but it contrast in Standard English. For example:

/bǝsǝ/ vs /bǝ:sǝ/ -sit (Nepali)

sit /sIt/ (verb) vs seat /si:t/ (noun) (English)

Similarly, stresses were also not properly applied in the speech as there was the influence of syllable timed language, Nepali. In RP the two syllabic nouns always get stress on the first syllable as in carrot /‘kærǝt/, father /‘fa:ðǝ(r)/, Monday /‘mʌndeI/. In contrast to it, the verbs having the same syllable number get stress on the second syllable as in present /prɜ‘zǝnt/, defect /dI‘fɛkt/, object /ɒb‘dƷɛkt/. But in the speech the stress was not given emphasis and uttered the words in generic way.

In Standard English, there are four types of intonation patterns namely glide-up, glide-down, the dive and take off. They are applied to serve different communicative functions and provide different meanings. But in Nepali English, only the glide-up (rising) intonation was applied properly. It was found that only for the statement which expressed the excitement; the rising intonation was used as inI’m feeling kawesome and truly kspeechless. It happened because in Nepali language too, the excitement and anger are expressed with high tone. More than this, the words which should be given more emphasis were produced in high tone with stress: confi’dently, primary ‘task, oppor’tunities, re’view the ‘historyand so on.

The above mentioned findings indicate that Nepali English is highly influenced by the phonemes of Nepali language. The speakers were found to have used more Nepali phonemes rather than English. Suprasegmental features except intonation were totally ignored and uttered the utterances in generic linear way. Stress or tone was applied only in two situations: to express excitement and to emphasis the meaning of the word. Though English is a stress timed language, the stress was not given more importance in the utterances because Nepali is syllable timed language and only syllable got emphasis while producing the utterances.


It is a well-known fact that every language has its own phonological system. However, some varieties of languages can share some similar features of phonemes. If we analyse them in detail, we may find the differences but the common users of the language use them in a similar way. Phonemic similarities among languages are the main reason for having negative phonological transfer in language. English and Nepali languages have some phonemes which share some common features. Although the features are similar, they appear in different phonological environment. While using the language, the language users cannot analyse these differences and produce the phonemes more or less the same in both languages. As we noticed in result section, the fricatives of English were pronounced as plosive by Nepali speakers. It is one of the examples of Negative transfer. The familiar phonemes made them easy to learn English language but they uttered the phonemes differently. Similarly, Nepali is a syllable timed language. It emphasizes on forming syllables rather than on stress. As a result, such knowledge of the speakers led them use English in another way.

The above mentioned reasons are made only on the theoretical basis. Practically, any language generates the general understandable meanings or it is understood by the listeners; however, it does not necessarily emphasize on the standard use of that language. The same thing is applied in Nepali English (Giri, 2015) as well, i.e. whatever varieties of phonemes are used by the speaker the listeners understand its meaning and response accordingly, after all such pronunciation also represents a variety of English language.



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The author is currently an MPhil research scholar in English Language Education at Kathmandu University School of Education. She has been teaching English for more than seven years in different schools and colleges of Kavre district. Recently she is a lecturer of English Language at Tejganga Multiple Campus, Panauti, Kavre.



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