|10,000 (2011 census)|
Yolmo (Hyolmo), or Helambu Sherpa, is the native Tibeto-Burman language of the Hyolmo of south-central Nepal. Yolmo is spoken predominantly in the Helambu and Melamchi valleys in northern Nuwakot District and northwestern Sindhupalchowk District. It has a high level of lexical similarity to Sherpa (61% lexical similarity) and Standard Tibetan (66% lexical similarity). The language is spoken mostly by older adults, with the younger generations having largely shifted to Nepali, though the language is being maintained for religious practices.
Yolmo does not have a written tradition although there are incipient attempts in Nepal to write the language in Devanagari. Two recent dictionaries write Yolmo in Devanagari and give a Romanisation as well.
There has been an attempt in recent years to introduce a written form of various Sherpa languages and dialects (including Yolmo/Helambrum Sherpa) that is based on Tibetan script. Yolmo, as well as other variations of Sherpa language, is related to a Tibetan dialect spoken in the eastern Tibetan Kham province in the 15th century, but has developed independently for nearly 500 years. There are many regional differences and many dialects have absorbed words from the Nepali and English language. Dialects include the variety spoken in Helambu, as well as Lamjung, Ramechhap and Ilam.
Some community leaders are supportive of a written script for the Yolmo language despite low literacy rates amongst Sherpa people. Younger generations are more likely to use Devanagari script. Neither the Devanagari nor the Latin alphabet adequately represent certain Yolmo sounds. Devanagari is used for modern Nepali. This adds to the Nepalization and loss of Yolmo as well as Sherpa linguistic culture in general.
Helambu is the traditional homeland of the Yolmo people and the upper Melanchi Valley is occupied by them as well. The total population of Yolmo in Melamchi Valley was 4577 in 2002. Their main settlements are Melamchi Ghyang, Tarke Ghyang, Nakote, Kangyul, Sermathang, Norbugoun, Timbu, and Kutumsang. Melamchi Ghyang, Tarke Ghyang, and Sermathang are the most densely populated areas. They are religiously Buddhist and the whole Helambru region is rich with religious structures as well as monuments. The majority of the larger Yolmo Sherpa villages can be considered to be temple villages which contain ghyangs (socio-religious institution of Yolmo community) and have an established religious routine and community obligation to maintain these facilities. The larger gomba complexes, like the Melanchi ghyang, are artistic, architectural wonders enriched with frescos, thankas and ancient texts of great historical value.
Traditionally the Yolmo people were herders and traders. It wasn't until recently when they started to rely on tourism, waged labor, as well as work abroad for income. They currently practice a combination of mixed agriculture involving livestock herding, hotel management, restaurants, and trading. Being a mountainous environment there is marginal land that yields low productivity. The name 'Yolmo' is derived from the Tibetan language and is defined as a 'place screened by snow mountain or glaciers'. The original settlers arrived in the Kyirung region of Tibet by the 18th century which is a 3-4 day trek from Helambru. When a Tamang community fled from Tibet they had no Lama to perform ritual ceremonies of the Buddhist and Tibetan traditions whenever someone from their community died. Yolmo Lamas were invited into the community in order to fulfil the purification ceremonies. This has created a ritual dependency between the Tamang Community and the Yolmo people. This adds to the belief that the accumulation of the Yolmo people in there various locations didn't happen all at once but sporadically over multiple decades and generations.
There are 36 consonants in Yolmo, which are summarized in the table below. The form is given in IPA and then to the right in brackets is given the form more frequently used in Roman orthography if different.
|Voiceless stop||p||t||ʈ||c (ky)||k|
|Aspirated stop||pʰ (ph)||tʰ (th)||ʈʰ (ʈh)||cʰ (khy)||kʰ (kh)|
|Voiced stop||b||d||ɖ||ɟ (gy)||ɡ|
|Aspirative affricate||tsʰ (tsh)||tɕʰ (tɕh)|
|Voiceless liquid||r̥ (rh)|
|Voiceless lateral||l̥ (lh)|
There are five places of articulation for vowels, with a length distinction for each place of articulation:
|High||i iː||u uː|
|Mid||e eː||ɔ ɔː|
Yolmo has lexical tone. Hari indicates there is a four tone contrast but acoustic evidence indicates that there are likely only two tones; low and high. Low tone words can be marked with breathy voice, but this is not always the case. Tone is marked using acute and grave accents over the first vowel of the word, with acute used for high tone and grave used for low tone, some people use unmarked for high tone and indicate low tone with a following h, for example puh for 'son' below. Below are some examples of tone minimal pairs:
pú 'body hair'
Tone is predictable in some environments. It is always low following voiced stops and affricates, and is always high following all aspirated stops, affricates and voiceless liquids. The verbal negator prefixes ma- and me- both have low tone, however if the following root has high tone it will not change tone because of the preceding low suffix.
Yolmo is a verb-final language and is Subject-Object-Verb.
ŋà=ki tó sà-sin 1sg-erg rice.cooked eat-pst 'I ate rice'
Adjectives usually come after the noun so 'small child' would be pìʑa tɕhómbo (lit. 'child small'), but some people will place them before the noun, especially in casual speech.
The noun phrase in Yolmo consists of an obligatory noun or pronoun, and may also include a determiner, case-marker, numeral classifier, number marker or focus marker.
|First person||ŋà||òraŋ/ùu (inclusive)
|Third Person||(masc.) khó
The first person plural form òraŋ is more frequent in the Western dialects while the form ùu is more frequent in the Eastern dialects. Dual forms can be created by adding ɲíi to the plural forms, although it is optional.
The plural marker in Yolmo is =ya. Plural marking is optional if the number is clear from context or if an overt number or adjective is used with the noun.
Yolmo uses post-positional suffixes to mark the case of nouns. Similar to other Tibetic languages, Yolmo case markers often have multiple functions. Below the cases are listed alongside their function:
|=ki||genitive, ergative, instrumental|
|=la||locative, allative, dative|
The case-markers are phonologically bound, with the =ki form becoming voiced in some environments. Where the noun has a plural marker the case-marking suffix comes after the plural- marking suffix.
There are three main types of verbs in Yolmo, lexical verbs, auxiliary verbs and copula verbs. The lexical verbs inflect for tense, aspect, mood and evidence and can take negation.
yèken/yèba (past tense)
Equation copulas are used to link to noun phrases, while existential copulas are used for functions of existence, location, attribution and possession. The egophoric and perceptual are evidential distinctions, while the dubitative is used for reduced certainty. The general fact form is used for uncontroversial and universally known facts. Different varieties of Yolmo prefer different forms of the egophoric as the default; In Helambu they prefer yìn, in Lamjung yìmba and Ilam yìŋge. yèken/yèba are past tense forms of the existential. Some copula verbs can also be used as verbal auxiliaries, where they contribute evidential, tense or epistemic information.
mò sà tè-ku dù she eat aux-ipvf AUX 'she is eating'
A subset of the copulas can also be used as verbal auxiliaries; yìn,yè, yèken and dù. These contribute evidential information and for yè/yèken also some tense information. As you can see in the example above the dù copula is being used as an auxiliary, so they can co-occur with the other auxiliaries.
There are a number of verb suffixes that are used to mark aspect, these broadly fall into categories of imperfective and perfective.
Mood is marked with a number of different suffixes. These attach to the lexical verb and are listed below:
Hortative -ka or -tɕo
It is worth noting that there is a small class of irregular imperatives; sà- 'eat' becomes sò.
Negation is marked on lexical verbs with the prefix mà-. Copula forms have slightly irregular forms so they are listed in the table below:
yèken/yèba (past tense)
The ló reported speech marker is part of the wider evidential semantics in Yolmo, which are also found in the copula verbs above.
Yolmo has a set of lexical distinctions used for people of higher social status, particularly Lamas. Honorific lexicon can include nouns, verbs and adjectives. In the table below are some examples including normal lexical forms, the honorific forms and the English.
|Regular form||Honorific form||English|
|Khyoro min kang hin ? / Khyoro minla kang si ?||What is your name ?|
|Nye min Lhakpa hin. / Nye minla Lhakpa siwi.||My name is Lhakpa.|
|Khyoro khangba keni hin ? / Zimkhang keni hin ?||Where is your house ?|
|Nye khangba yambula hin.
Kenidi? / Keniphepki?
|My house is in Kathmandu.
|Nga skulla diwi.||I'm going to school.|
|Cho baje kyasung ?||What time is it now ?|
|Dash baje kyasung.||It is ten o'clock.|
|Lo cho lepki ?||How old are you ?|
|Lo khaljik tang nga lepkiwi.||I am 25 years old.|
|Tama khyurung ?||And you ?|
|Di kang hin ?||What is this ?|
|Di kitap hin.||This is a book.|
|Phokiti kang hin ?||What is that ?|
|Phokiti naksha hin.||That is a map.|
|Tasam khyurung kangki ?||What are you doing nowadays ?|
|Nga tasam treking laka kiiwai.||I am working in Trekking.|
|Nam lemu chungsung.||The weather is nice.|
|The weather is nice.||I'm hungry.|
|Komba lasung.||I'm thirsty.|
|Kanisu pheu ? / Kanisu wau ?||Where do you come from ?|
|Thangbu ? / Thangburang ?||How are you ? / Are you fine ?|
|Las, thangburang.||Yes, I'm fine.|
|Sherpa||Sherpa (Roman)||English||Sherpa||Sherpa (Roman)||English||Sherpa||Sherpa (Roman)||English|
|གཅིག||chig||1||ཁལ་གཅིག་དང་གཅིག||khalchig dang chig||21||ཁལ་ཉི་ཤུ།||khal nyi shu||400|
|གཉིས།||nyi||2||ཁལ་གཅིག་དང་གཉིས།||khalchig dang nyi||22||ཁལ་ཉི་ཤུ་དང་ལྔ།||khal nyi shu dang nga||500|
|གསུམ།||sum||3||ཁལ་གཅིག་དང་གསུམ།||khalchig dang sum||23||ཁལ་སུམ་ཅུ།||khal sum chu||600|
|བཞི།||zhi||4||ཁལ་གཅིག་དང་བཞི།||khalchig dang zhi||24||ཁལ་སུམ་ཅུ་དང་ལྔ།||khal sum chu dang nga||700|
|ལྔ།||nga||5||ཁལ་གཅིག་དང་ལྔ།||khalchig dang nga||25||ཁལ་བཞི་བཅུ།||khal zhib chu||800|
|དྲུག||drug||6||ཁལ་གཅིག་དང་དྲུག||khalchig dang drug||26||ཁལ་བཞི་བཅུ་དང་ལྔ།||khal zhib chu dang nga||900|
|བདུན།||dun||7||ཁལ་གཅིག་དང་བདུན།||khalchig dang dun||27||ཁལ་ལྔ་བཅུ།||khal ngab chu||1000|
|བརྒྱད།||gyed||8||ཁལ་གཅིག་དང་བརྒྱད།||khalchig dang gyad||28|
|དགུ།||gu||9||ཁལ་གཅིག་དང་དགུ།||khalchig dang gu||29|
|བཅུ་ཐམ་པ།||chuthampa||10||ཁལ་གཅིག་དང་བཅུ་ཐམ་པ།||khalchig dang chuthampa||30|
|བཅུ་གཉིས།||chunyi||12||ཁལ་གཉིས་དང་བཅུ་ཐམ་པ།||khal nyi dang chuthampa||50|
|བཅུ་བཞི།||chubzhi||14||ཁལ་གསུམ་དང་བཅུ་ཐམ་པ།||khalsum dang chuthampa||70|
|བཅུ་དྲུག||chudrug||16||ཁལ་བཞི་དང་བཅུ་ཐམ་པ།||khalzhi dang chuthampa||90|
|བཅོ་བརྒྱད།||chobgyed||18||ཁལ་ལྔ་དང་གཅིག||khal drug dang chig||121|
|བཅུ་དགུ།||chudgu||19||ཁལ་བཅུ་ཐམ་པ།||khal chu thampa||200|
|ཉི་ཤུ། / ཁལ་གཅིག||nyishu / khalchig||20||ཁལ་བཅོ་ལྔ།||khal cho nga||300|
- Yolmo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Helambu Sherpa". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- Also rendered Yholmo, Yohlmo, Yohlmu Tam, Yol-mo, Ölmo
- Hari, Anne Marie (2010). Yolmo Sketch Grammar. Kathmandu: Ekta Books.
- Endangered Languages Project
- Hari, Anne Marie; Lama, C. (2004). Yolmo-Nepali-English Dictionary. Kathmandu: Central Dept. of Linguistics, Tribhnvan University.
- Gawne, Lauren (2010). Lamjung Yolmo - Nepali - English Dictionary. Melbourne: Custom Book Centre, The University of Melbourne.
- Sherpa, Lhakpa Doma; Sherpa, Chhiri Tendi; Krämer, Karl-Heinz; Sherpa, Pasang (2006). Sherpa conversation and basic words. Ratna Books.
- Pokharel, Binod (2010). "Adaptation and Identity of Yolmo". Occasional Papers. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
- Gawne, Lauren (2013). "Report on the relationship between Yolmo and Kagate" (PDF). Himalayan Linguistics. 12(2): 1–27.