Nepali Nuances – IV: Making Perfect Sense out of Nonsense

-Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal

Grammarians say that a verb’s job is to complete a sentence. In other words it is impossible to make a correct sentence without using a verb. However, we, the Nepali speakers, don’t just use verbs but also give them such leverage that they bestow an effervescence that is unique to our language. I had previously mentioned that one has to be ‘with it’ to fully understand the nuances and the complexities of the Nepali language and I recall an incident when an Australian friend of mine, who had married a Nepali girl and had been with Nepali speakers for two months, telling me, “Dāi, Nepali ekdamai sajilo rahechā for I have found the ‘operative’ word and the term is ‘nose’. All I have to do is say ‘bus-nose, uth-nose, khā-nose, jā-nose, khel-nose, lekh-nose etc and my job is done.” A year later he had a totally different opinion. It is difficult for them to understand how we make complete sense out of sheer nonsense. Take for example the two simple verbs with completely opposite meanings, ‘uthnu‘ (to stand) and ‘basnu‘ (to sit) and now join them to obtain ‘uthi basnu‘ and we get ‘keep on standing’. Similarly we have ‘pakri‘ (to catch) and ‘chhōrnu‘ (release) and the combination ‘pakri chhōrnu‘ would imply an intention to definitely catch or arrest. For most westerners these are miles above their cerebral cortex.

But it is not just a case of two opposite meaning words making a stronger sense. A simple verb can have five, six or even more meanings. Here we shall consider only two of the many versatile ones.

Mārnu‘ is the verb meaning to kill, beat, or strike e.g., ‘mānchhe mārnu‘ (to kill a person) and ‘māyā mārnu‘ (to kill love/pity i.e. to forget). Now consider ‘angālo mārnu‘ and we get the meaning to embrace, ‘tālā mārnu‘ would imply to lock and ‘thappari mārnu‘ (thappar = slap, slapping) would be a peaceful gesture of clapping hands. The meaning ‘to kill’ could possibly be loosely inferred to in ‘thakai mārnu‘ (to rest) in that one would be metaphorically killing tiredness and stretching the same logic a little further ‘palaiti mārnu‘ would be to kill any intention to walk. ‘Pa‘ is the Nepali for leg and ‘latta‘ stands for matting and when the legs are matted together, in the sitting posture, it is a clear sign of being firmly seated or ‘palaiti mārayko‘.

The other verb is ‘lagāunu‘ or to wear as in ‘lugā lagāunu‘ (to wear clothes). But there is nothing to put on in ‘thes lagāunu‘ for the term translates as ‘to cause to trip’ and should you be told to ‘dhār lagāunu‘ you would be sharpening a knife or giving an edge to the creases of your trousers. My Aussie friend just could not get to the point of accepting that ‘bhāg lagāunu‘ meant ‘to divide’ and neither could he accept that to put the blame on someone we say ‘dos lagāunu‘. I guess he will have much more difficulty in understanding and accepting the phrase ‘māyā lagāi chhāryo‘ (love, wear, and abandon) but that is what he exactly did, and of all the people, to a Nepali girl.

2 thoughts on “Nepali Nuances – IV: Making Perfect Sense out of Nonsense

  1. Rahul

    Its a beautiful article.
    Never did I realize Neapli was such a complex language, seems like easiest thing in da world to do is to rattle of in Nepali.

    Respect to you Mr. Wangyal.



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