Belhare

Authored by: Balthasar Bickel

The Sino-Tibetan Languages

Print publication date:  December  2002
Online publication date:  May  2006

Print ISBN: 9780700711291
eBook ISBN: 9780203221051
Adobe ISBN: 9781135797188

10.4324/9780203221051.ch34

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Abstract

Belhare is a Kiranti language spoken by about 2000 people living on the Belhara (written Belahārā) hill, one of the southern foothills of the Himalayas situated in Eastern Nepal (Dhankuṭā district; Kośī zone; 87° 18′ E and 26° 57′ N; c. 1150 m above sea-level). The Belhare are culturally closely related to the neighbouring Athpare community of Dhankuta. This ethnic affiliation leads speakers to refer to their language also as ‘Athpare’, although differences in morphology make the two languages mutually unintelligible for practical purposes. In terms of religion and mythology, the Belhare and Athpare are distinct from both the Rai and the Limbu traditions, but in most other respects they share the general Kiranti patterns of shamanist ancestor worship and a high degree of social compartmentalization. The Belhare are virtually all farmers, and a series of food taboos brings about a high degree of subsistence and a strong reluctance to travel. Partly as a result of this, language maintanence is relatively high, and most children still learn Belhare as their first language. Nevertheless, speakers are all bilingual in Nepali, and Belhare discourse is rife with code-switching, borrowings, and stylistic calques. Apart from occasional variation in morphophonology (e.g. ŋka-chi vs ŋke-chi for ‘we two’), Belhare is internally homogenous; its closest relatives are Chilling and Athpare (on Kiranti subgrouping, see Chapter 31 (Ebert) this volume).

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