© Mark Turin, September 13-15, 1999
Kathmandu, Nepal

The Himalayan Languages Symposium is an annually convening, open forum for scholars and students of Himalayan languages. Linguists as well as specialists from kindred disciplines such as philology, history, prehistory, anthropology and archaeology are welcome to make their contributions to the study of Himalayan languages and language communities. The notion of a greater Himalayan region is intentionally panoramic, and presentations at the Himalayan Languages Symposia have covered languages of Sichuan, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Assam and adjacent tracts, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Indian Himalayas, the Burushaski language, and the Nuristani languages of the Hindu Kush. The Himalayan Languages Symposia are devoted to the study of the languages and language communities which make up the complex tapestry of the Indo-Chinese borderlands, the culturally rich and vast territory which typologically straddles both Indosphere and Sinosphere.

The permanent secretariat for this annual Symposium is maintained by the Himalayan Languages Project at the Universiteit Leiden. Previously, the Himalayan Languages Symposium has convened at Noordwijkerhout (the Netherlands), Santa Barbara (USA) and Pune (India).

This year, for the first time, the symposium was held in Nepal, in the very heart of the Himalayas and the home of lesser-known indigenous languages which are in urgent need of documentation and analysis. It was a rare opportunity for scholars from East and West to exchange their views and establish closer contacts for future research.

This year’s symposium boasted a wide range of sponsors including the Vice Chancellors of Tribhuvan University and the Royal Nepal Academy, the Mayors of both Kathmandu and Lalitpur (Patan, Nepal), The Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports (Kathmandu, Nepal), ICIMOD (The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Nepal) and the Kathmandu Office of the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University. The Chairman of the Organising Committee was Professor Tej Ratna Kansakar (Central Department of Linguistics, Tribhuvan University).

The 5th Himalayan Languages Symposium was organised in tandem with the 20th Annual Conference of the Linguistic Society of Nepal. Whilst the two events were not strictly distinguished, the joint arrangement enabled participants to attend a wide variety of presentations relating to both scholarly forums. The regular sessions of the symposium on the second and third days ran parallel to those of the Linguistic Society of Nepal.

Participation in the symposium was the most international and wide-ranging to date, with contributors and observers from Nepal, Bhutan, China, Tibet, India, Australia, Japan, France, Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States of America. It is both a credit to the Organising Committee of this year’s symposium as well as a sign of the high standing of the event that 48 scholars were able to attend and present their findings along with many other observers.

A few factors made this year’s conference extremely successful. The first factor was the presence of many South Asian scholars and research students, many of whom presented papers on endangered languages. On account of the high cost of intercontinental travel, many of these graduate students had not attended the Himalayan Languages Symposia before and were presenting their original research for the first time, a unique opportunity to receive feedback from senior scholars in the field. The other factor was the pledge of funds from Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur Campus, Kathmandu, to contribute to the publication of the proceedings. The proceedings from earlier symposia are at present in press or in the final stages of being edited, and, together with this year’s published proceedings, will constitute a veritable resource for students of Himalayan languages and linguistics in the future when many of the languages being described may already have died out. The suggested title of the collection is Themes in Himalayan Languages and Linguistics, and will be jointly edited by Tej Ratna Kansakar and Mark Turin.

Mark Turin, Himalayan Languages Project, CNWS