Mighty Maithili, monstrous Mandarin

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In case you're in need of some intensely elegiac and panegyric reading material, this lovely volume just might fit the bill:

From the publisher's announcement of the book:

Respected Sir/Madam,

We would like to introduce ourselves as a leading International publishing house specialising upon subjects "International Relations" and "South Asian Studies" since 1999 and have published till date close to 150 titles majorly our list of authors includes Ex Prime Minister of Nepal, Ex Ambassador of Nepal, Legal Advisor of President and so on.

This is to inform you that we have recently published a book by our respected Author Ramawatar Yadav (Former Vice Chancellor Purbanchal University, Nepal).

TITLE : Elegy Written in a Royal Courtyard
A Facsimile Edition of Jagatprakāśamalla's
(Text, Translation, Commentary, Prosody, and Literary and Grammatical Notes)

AUTHOR : Ramawatar Yadav
(Former Vice Chancellor Purbanchal University, Nepal)

ISBN : 9788187393610
PRICE : $ 59.95
PAGES: 230
SUBJECT : Linguistics/Nepal

About the Book

A thoroughly researched facsimile–cum–critical edition of the Newari MS. of a collection of intensely elegiac and panegyric Maithili lyrical songs, Gītapañcaka, of king Jagatprakāśamalla, the book presents an exhaustive literary and linguistic description of the text – the chief highlight being an in–depth analysis of probably the oldest extant hand–written MS. of a bārahamāsā folk–song of the Maithili language composed as early as c. 1662 CE.

About the Author

Two–time Academy Award winner: the Royal Nepal Academy Pāsāng Lhāmu Award–1996 and the Nepal Academy Nepāla Prājñā Bhāsā Puraskāra–2017, the Baïdyanātha–Siyādevī Foundation Maithili Award–1999 and the first Nepal Vidyāpati Maithili Research Award–2011, Professor Yadav has authored four books: Maithili Phonetics and Phonology (Mainz: Selden und Tamm, 1984), A Reference Grammar of Maithili (Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1996), A Facsimile Edition of a Maithili Play: Bhūpatīndramalla’s Parśurāmopākhyāna–nātaka (Kathmandu: B. P. Koirala India– Nepal Foundation, 2011) and Maïthilī Ālekha Sañcayana (1989–2015) (Janakpurdham: Maïthilī Vikāsa Kosa, 2016). Two more of his books are in preparation: Aspects of Maithili: Selected Writings of Ramawatar Yadav, 1976–2017, and Francis Buchanan’s Comparative Vocabularies: Facsimile Edition. Professor Yadav has published a total of more than 75 research papers in journals of language and linguistics in Nepal, India, USA, and Germany; he has also contributed a chapter titled “Maithili” in George Cardona and Dhanesh Jain (eds. 2003) The Indo–Aryan Languages (London & New York: Routledge). Recipient of the British Council Scholarship (1970–71), the Fulbright–Hays Scholarship (1974–79), the British Council Visitor Award, London (1989), Senior Fulbright Visiting Scholar, Council for International Exchange of Scholars, USA (1989), and the Alexander– von–Humboldt Postdoctoral Senior Research Fellowship, Germany (1983–84, 1989, 2000–2001, 2013, 2018), Professor Yadav has also been honored with Mithilā Ratna (International Maithili Conference, Chennai, India, 2008), Mithilā Vibhūti (Vidyāpati Sevā Samsthāna, Darbhanga, India, 2011), and the Pahila Śabdakosakāra Pandita Bhavanātha Miśra Sāhitya Śikhara Sammāna–2017. (Sāhityan.gana, Jhanjharpur, Bihar, India, 22 November 2017).

Waiting for your valuable feedback.

Best Wishes



The reason I have quoted from the publisher's announcement at such length and in such detail is that I wanted to give an indication of the great depth of this Indic vernacular language and how serious the scholarship on it is.

In case you have not heard of it before, Maithili is "an Indo-Aryan language spoken in the Bihar and Jharkhand states of India. In Nepal, it is spoken in the eastern Terai, and is the second most prevalent language of Nepal."  (Wikipedia)

There are more than forty languages in India having a million or more speakers; Maithili has over 50 million speakers in India, plus nearly 4 million speakers in Nepal.  Languages of India that have less than a million speakers number in the hundreds.

As we have seen with Maithili, many of India's numerous language have their own illustrious literary traditions going back centuries or even a millennium or more.  In many cases, they have their own distinctive script.  One need only mention Bengali as an example which has yielded a Nobel prize winner for literature, as well as outstanding film directors, artists, and musicians.

In stark contrast, China is said by "the authorities" to have only one Sinitic language, of whom approximately 1 billion out of a total population of around 1.4 billion are supposedly Mandarin speakers and 370 million or so speak other varieties of that allegedly single Sinitic language, leaving only roughly 30 million to account for the hundreds of non-Sinitic, "indigenous" languages such as Achang, Ai-Cham, Akha, Amis, Atayal, Ayi, Äynu, Babuza, Bai, Baima, Basay, Blang, Bonan, Bunun, Buyang, Buyei, Daur, De'ang, Daerung, Dong, Dongxiang, E, Chinese Pidgin English, Ersu, Evenki, Fuyü Gïrgïs, Gelao, Groma, Hani, Hlai, Ili Turki, Iu Mien, Jingpho, Jino, Jurchen, Kanakanabu, Kangjia, Kavalan, Kim Mun, Khitan, Korean, Lahu, Lisu, Lop, Macanese, Manchu, Miao, Maonan, Mongolian, Monguor, Monpa, Mulam, Nanai, Naxi, Paiwan, Pazeh, Puyuma, Ong-Be, Oroqen, Qabiao, Qoqmončaq, Northern Qiang, Southern Qiang, Prinmi, Rukai, Russian, Saaroa, Saisiyat, Salar, Sarikoli, Seediq, She, Siraya, Sui, Tai Dam, Tai Lü, Tai Nüa, Tao, Tangut, Thao, Amdo Tibetan, Central Tibetan (Standard Tibetan), Khams Tibetan, Tsat, Tsou, Tujia, Uyghur, Waxianghua, Wutun, Xibe, Yi, Eastern Yugur, Western Yugur, Zhaba, and Zhuang (Ethnologue lists 299 living languages for China).

Long-term readers of Language Log will know that I don't for a minute believe that there are a billion speakers of a single Mandarin language nor that there is only a single Sinitic language in China.  China has as much linguistic variety as India, but the written traditions of the non-Mandarin, non-Literary regional and local Sinitic languages have been stillborn throughout history.  The assertion that Sinitic (Hànyǔ 漢語 / 汉语) is a single language and the belief that Mandarin is a "dialect" within it are quirks of a classification scheme that is peculiar to China and is not applicable to languages elsewhere.

To what may we attribute this radical discrepancy between the situation in India and in China?  I have a simple answer:  China relies on a morphosyllabic script for its written language, whereas India is blessed with a plethora of alphabetic scripts to write its many vibrant national, regional, and local languages.

Returning to Maithili, with which we began this post, the prepublication remarks of two correspondents are pertinent.

Deven Patel:

Maithili is an intriguing case of a marginalized Indian language — with a long classical history — attempting to modernize and distinguish itself from Bengali / Bihari, etc.

Bijuli Prasad:

Anything similar for Bhojpuri?

[h.t. Mark Liberman; thanks to William Page]


  1. Y said,

    April 12, 2018 @ 5:39 pm

    The Ethnologue list you quote includes Taiwan, for better or worse.

  2. Jen in Edinburgh said,

    April 13, 2018 @ 10:25 am

    I don't suppose anyone has actually read the Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard these days, so it's interesting that the title is still famous enough to use in that way.

  3. Barry Cusack said,

    April 13, 2018 @ 11:36 am

    Jen in Edinburgh:
    It might be unwise to think that Gray’s Elegy is so unknown.
    I do not read eighteenth-century poetry normally, but I know that my mother (born 1920) had at one time the Elegy off by heart, having, I presume, learnt it in her Irish convent school. She would occasionally quote from it when I was a child, causing me, later, to look it up.
    Also, there is a graveyard very near the (Lyndon B) Johnson ranch in Texas; on one of the gate pillars, the first two lines of the Elegy are written on a brass plaque. On my visit there many years ago, my wife and I were walking past the pillar, remarking on the lines as written. At that very moment, two cows ambled along the grassy meadow between the Pedernales River and the graveyard: the lowing herd was illustrating the text.
    For these reasons, one person at least, and surely many others with similar tales to tell, are fully familiar with this delightful poem.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    April 13, 2018 @ 11:56 am

    @Barry Cusack

    Thank you for the lovely evocation of Gray's Elegy as it materialized before the eyes of you and your wife on a grassy meadow next to the Pedernales River years ago.

  5. Chas Belov said,

    April 14, 2018 @ 3:12 am

    @Barry Cusack: Do you speak Pittsburgh English by any chance? "off by heart" drove my Philadelphian father crazy and I was chastised for using that Pittsburghism in my youth.

  6. Barry Cusack said,

    April 15, 2018 @ 5:00 am

    Chas Belov:
    Funny you should point that out. As I was writing, it occurred to me that “had it off by heart” was perhaps not a current BrE idiomatic form. More usually we might say: “knew it (off) by heart”; or “could recite it from memory” as a more elegant version. “To have sth off by heart” may be more common in Irish-English. And they did seem to do a lot of “having things off by heart” in that country in the second half of the 20th century, if my Irish cousins were anything to go by. Pittsburgh English? Not guilty!

  7. Chas Belov said,

    April 15, 2018 @ 8:18 pm

    @Barry Cusack: Thank you for the detailed response. Supposedly some of the characteristic Western Pennsylvania grammar comes from Scots-Irish, so "off by heart" as opposed to "by heart" could have that as a source.

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