In Quest of Mahākirāntī

© George van Driem, 1992

The Kiranti languages are native to eastern Nepal, an area known as the Kirant. The Kiranti languages are Tibeto-Burman languages featuring complex verbal agreement morphology. This partially autobiographical article recounts how after the author had completed the grammars of two Kiranti languages, Limbu and Dumi, he began to work in areas just east of the Kirant. In Bhutan, Darjeeling and the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, he had hoped to be able to find a language or group of languages which was either Kiranti or closely related to Kiranti. Whilst conducting the First Linguistic Survey of Bhutan in the service of the Royal Government of Bhutan, he discovered two hitherto unknown Tibeto-Burman languages, both with elaborate verbal agreement systems. Neither language, however, turned out to be a Kiranti language. The Black Mountain language is an East Bodish language, and Gongduk appears to be a group on its own within Tibeto-Burman. The author provides a list of the languages of Bhutan and briefly characterizes their genetic affinity and geographical distribution. Then, he turns to Dolakha Newar, a language not spoken in Bhutan but in central Nepal. On the basis of Carol Genetti's (1990) doctoral dissertation on Dolakha Newar, the George van Driem conducted an analysis of the Dolakha Newar verbal agreement system and compared the semantically defined morphemes and their relative position in the affixal string with the conjugational morphologies of other Tibeto-Burman languages, including those of the Kiranti branch (1993f). Highly specific morphological traits point to the existence of a group, consisting at least of Newar and the Kiranti languages, which constitutes a genetic subgroup within Tibeto-Burman. Here this group is christened with the name Mahakiranti. The article concludes with the words: ‘I sought in the East but found in the West’.