It’s true – Yoda speaks Nepali!

by Dave on November 26, 2009

Dave's Phrasebook

Personally, I enjoyed the storyline in "Spanish" better.

KATHMANDU – I’ve been soooo busy studying Nepali that I haven’t had *any* time for blog posts! Actually, that’s a bald-faced lie. My Nepali studies and my blogging have both been lagging as I – well – I’m not sure what I’ve been doing with my time.

The good news is that we now have a Nepali instructor who comes to the house twice a week. The bad news is that Gayatri probably isn’t big enough (she ┬ástands 4′ 6″ in heels) or mean enough (she just laughs like Tinkerbell whenever I try to speak Nepali).

However, I made an interesting discovery on page 17 of my Lonely Planet Nepali phrasebook (yes – I’m only on page 17 – quit it with the pressure already). “Nepali word order is subject-object-verb”. Simply put, everyone in Nepal speaks like Yoda. Or Yoda speaks like everyone in Nepal.

So what means this? Well, if you say “Yoda is a Jedi.” in Nepali, the most direct translation will sound like “Jedi Yoda is”. At least, that’s how I’m interpreting it although I’m sure this this post will generate a dozen angry comments from professional Nepali linguists. Maybe they’ll even organize a bandh outside our house.

Which brings us to the topic of manners and language. The Nepali people are the most gracious hosts, but Kathmandu is the Big Smoke in Nepal and sometimes the local manners play that way. Granted, people here don’t yell at each other – they like to honk instead. And when someone does something wrong, like running a red light, jay-walking, stealing your seat on the micro-bus or extorting an unreasonable cab fare, the perpetrator usually goes silent and averts his or her eyes, assuming a sort of 100 yard gaze that says “I don’t see you …” while everyone else glares and grumbles under their breath. Very Toronto!

Even people with the best manners use Nepali more like a hammer than sandpaper. Despite the fact that spoken Nepali can sound very melodic, it’s normal practice to truncate sentences to a minimum of words, sometimes giving informal conversations between friends a machine gun quality. Telephone conversations are probably the worse. Although the phone system here is clear and reliable, one party is usually shouting into a cell phone from a noisy street corner, surrounded by honking buses filled with barking dogs and crying babies. Inadvertently, conversations become shouting matches punctuated by desperate howls of “hazur, hazur?” – the Nepali combination of sorry, pardon and “whaaat?”.

The insertion of random English vocabulary also makes things more interesting. Saying things like “I’m sorry”, “Excuse me” and “Thanks you” in Nepali consumes a little too much air for many of the citizens of Kathmandu so they often choose to use English equivalents instead. Words like “business” and “fast track” are considered part of the normal vocabulary and have their won Nepali pronunciation.

Despite the fact that so many people speak some English here, Annalise and I are both trying to learn enough Nepali to get by. When so many people greet us so openly with a friendly “Namaste” and a smile, it just seems like the right thing to do. Annalise is a far more diligent student who studies and practices every day, but I admit I’m both lazy and talentless when it comes to language. But give it a few weeks and maybe I’ll be able to answer the phone, order a buff pizza or haggle with a cab driver. My really goal is to use the word “rham-rho” in a properly formed sentence. It sounds real tough (but it actually means beautiful).

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