You are looking at posts that were written in the month of May in the year 2011.
Posted on May 20th, 2011 by Miranda.
While I was trekking in Langtang last week (it was great!), we sort of adopted another group’s guide for a couple days. He was a cheery guide from the east of Nepal. His business card lists the languages he speaks as English, German, and Korean. I spoke Nepali with him, and I’m sure he at least understands Hindi from watching films and TV. His first language is Bantawa Rai, the largest of the Rai group of languages from eastern Nepal, but he grew up close to the Puma (Rai) community, so he also speaks Puma.
I was surprised to hear that. The last census (2001) counted 4,310 speakers of Puma, which was the subject of a big documentation project a few years ago. It’s likely that the last census under-counted the number of speakers, but it’s still a very small language. Ethnologue says that the language is mostly spoken by adults – this trekking guide is in his 20s, though, so it can’t be entirely old speakers.
In a census, though, this trekking guide I met would probably have counted as a Bantawa speaker (371,000 speakers in the last census) and not as a speaker of Puma. Nepal is a country where many people speak many languages, including their own first language and the languages of neighboring ethnic groups, and where many of the small languages are endangered. But if there are second-language speakers of those endangered languages, just how endangered are they? Does the monolingual mindset of many of the people making noise about endangered languages obscure ground realities where there may be few first-language speakers of a language, but a much larger number of speakers who identify with another linguistic group. What would a significant number of second-language speakers of an endangered language mean for the endangerment status of that language?
(Please excuse a moment of language nerd-ery)
We talk about verbing nouns in English, and we do it all the time. For example, Language Log has been talking about using ‘back burner’ as a verb:
Two years ago, Obama tasked CIA Director Leon Panetta to prioritize the hunt for the 9/11 mastermind, a response to the perception that the Bush administration had allowed the hunt for bin Laden to back-burner.
But I hadn’t noticed this in Nepali before. Until today, while reading the Nepali Times, I saw this great line:
“Bideshinu rahar hoina, badhyata ho,” sums up Surya Man Lama, 21, a private-college graduate. That is the general refrain up and down the line: we don’t like to go abroad, we are forced to.
Unless I’m mistaken in my language knowledge (always a strong possibility), this is an example of Nepali noun-verbing. Bidesh means foreign country – to break it down further, desh is country (as in Bangla-desh, or the term Deshi for someone from India or South Asia), and bi-desh is out of the country. -nu is the ending for the infinitive of a verb. The -i makes it a causative (I believe). So the word bideshinu is something like ‘foreign countrying’: “We don’t choose to foreign-country, we are forced to”