The Fascinating Story of Seke, a Rare Language Spoken in New York and Nepal
What is Seke and why is it important?
Seke is a language that you may have never heard of, but it is one of the most fascinating and endangered languages in the world. It is spoken by only about 700 people, mostly in the remote Himalayan region of Mustang in Nepal, but also by a small community in Brooklyn, New York. Seke is a treasure trove of cultural and linguistic diversity, but it is also facing many threats and challenges that could lead to its extinction. In this article, we will explore what Seke is, where it comes from, what makes it unique, why it matters, and how you can learn more about it and support its survival.
Seke is a rare and endangered language spoken by a few people in Nepal and New York
Seke belongs to the Tibeto-Burman language family, which includes languages such as Tibetan, Burmese, Nepali, and many others. It is one of the many languages spoken in Mustang, a former kingdom that is now part of Nepal. Mustang is known for its stunning landscapes, ancient monasteries, and rich cultural heritage. However, it is also one of the most isolated and underdeveloped regions in Nepal, with limited access to education, health care, and economic opportunities.
Seke has four dialects, named after the four villages where they are spoken: Chhairo, Marpha, Tukuche, and Syang. Each dialect has its own distinctive features and vocabulary, but they are mutually intelligible. Seke speakers also use Nepali as a lingua franca with other ethnic groups in Mustang, as well as English or Hindi with outsiders.
Seke means "golden language" in the local mythology, which says that it was passed down from people living in the snowy peaks of the Himalayas who settled in Mustang. According to legend, the land of Mustang was formed from the heart and innards of a demon defeated in battle by a Buddhist monk.
However, Seke is not only spoken in Nepal. There is also a small but vibrant community of Seke speakers in Brooklyn, New York. They are part of the larger Nepalese diaspora that migrated to the United States in search of better opportunities and security. Most of them arrived in the 1990s or 2000s, fleeing from the civil war or the earthquake that devastated Nepal. They have formed a tight-knit network of families and friends who share their language, culture, religion, and food. They also maintain close ties with their relatives and friends back in Nepal through phone calls, social media, and remittances.
However, Seke is also one of the most endangered languages in the world. According to UNESCO, it is classified as "definitely endangered", which means that children no longer learn it as their mother tongue in the home. There are many factors that contribute to this situation, such as:
The dominance of Nepali as the official language of Nepal and the language of education, media, government, and business.
The lack of written materials, documentation, and standardization of Seke.
The low social status and economic marginalization of Seke speakers.
The migration and assimilation of Seke speakers to urban areas or foreign countries.
The influence of other languages such as English or Hindi.
As a result, many Seke speakers are losing their fluency or switching to other languages. This poses a serious threat to the survival and transmission of Se Seke is a valuable source of cultural and linguistic diversity
Despite its endangered status, Seke is a language that deserves to be celebrated and preserved. It is a window into the rich and unique culture of the Seke people, who have a long and proud history of living in harmony with nature and their neighbors. It is also a treasure trove of linguistic diversity, with features and expressions that are not found in any other language.
The rich and unique traditions and expressions of Seke culture
Seke culture is influenced by both Tibetan Buddhism and the local animist beliefs. Seke people practice various rituals and festivals throughout the year, such as Losar (the Tibetan New Year), Lha Phewa (the worship of mountain gods), and Yartung (the horse racing festival). They also have a strong oral tradition, with stories, songs, proverbs, and riddles that reflect their values, wisdom, and humor.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Seke culture is the use of honorifics and kinship terms. Seke speakers use different forms of address and reference depending on the age, gender, status, and relationship of the person they are talking to or about. For example, they use -la or -pa as suffixes to show respect or affection, such as ama-la (mother) or phurba-pa (friend). They also use different pronouns for different levels of politeness, such as nga (I), ngai (we), or ngala (we respectful). They also have a complex system of kinship terms that indicate the relative position and role of each family member, such as phupu (father's sister) or nyima (son's wife).
The potential contributions and benefits of Seke to the global community
Seke is not only important for its speakers, but also for the global community. It is a source of knowledge and insight that can enrich our understanding of the world and ourselves. It can offer us different perspectives and solutions to the common challenges and opportunities that we face as human beings. It can also inspire us to appreciate and celebrate the diversity and beauty of life.
Some of the areas where Seke can contribute and benefit the global community are:
Ecology and environment: Seke speakers have a deep connection and respect for nature, which is reflected in their language and culture. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience on how to live sustainably and harmoniously with their surroundings. They can teach us how to protect and conserve the natural resources and biodiversity that we depend on.
Health and well-being: Seke speakers have a holistic approach to health and well-being, which incorporates physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. They have a rich repertoire of traditional medicine and healing practices, such as herbal remedies, massage, acupuncture, meditation, and prayer. They can teach us how to prevent and treat diseases and disorders, as well as how to enhance our happiness and peace of mind.
Art and creativity: Seke speakers have a vibrant and diverse artistic expression, which includes music, dance, poetry, painting, sculpture, and handicrafts. They have a unique aesthetic sense and style that reflects their identity and values. They can teach us how to express ourselves creatively and authentically, as well as how to appreciate and enjoy the beauty and joy of art.
The efforts and initiatives to preserve and promote Seke
Fortunately, there are many efforts and initiatives to preserve and promote Seke, both in Nepal and in New York. These efforts and initiatives involve various stakeholders, such as Seke speakers, linguists, educators, activists, and organizations. Some of the examples of these efforts and initiatives are:
The Endangered Language Alliance (ELA), a non-profit organization based in New York, has been working with the Seke community in Brooklyn since 2010. They have conducted linguistic documentation and analysis of Seke, as well as language classes, workshops, events, and publications. They have also created a website and a YouTube channel that showcase Seke language and culture.
The Nepal Language and Cultural Foundation (NLCF), a non-governmental organization based in Kathmandu, has been working with the Seke community in Mustang since 2012. They have conducted language surveys, awareness campaigns, teacher training, and curriculum development. They have also established a community radio station and a cultural center that broadcast and promote Seke language and culture.
The Himalayan Languages Project (HLP), a research project based at the University of California, Berkeley, has been working with the Seke community in Nepal and New York since 2013. They have conducted linguistic documentation and analysis of Seke, as well as language revitalization and education programs. They have also created a digital archive and a dictionary of Seke.
How can you learn more about Seke and support its revitalization?
If you are interested in learning more about Seke and supporting its revitalization, there are many ways and opportunities to do so. Here are some suggestions:
The resources and tools available for learning Seke
If you want to learn Seke or improve your skills, there are some resources and tools that you can use, such as:
The ELA website and YouTube channel, which offer videos, audio recordings, texts, and images of Seke language and culture.
The HLP digital archive and dictionary, which offer texts, audio recordings, images, and metadata of Seke language and culture.
The NLCF website and radio station, which offer news, information, programs, and songs in Seke language and culture.
The language classes, workshops, events, and publications offered by ELA, NLCF, HLP, or other organizations.
The organizations and groups involved in Seke advocacy and education
If you want to support Seke advocacy and education, there are some organizations and groups that you can join or donate to, such as:
The Endangered Language Alliance (ELA), which works with endangered language communities in New York and beyond.
The Nepal Language and Cultural Foundation (NLCF), which works with endangered language communities in Nepal.
The Himalayan Languages Project (HLP), which works with endangered language communities