Colloquial Nepali is a reprint of an excellent introduction to spoken Nepali. Written by a British instructor of Nepali in the Indian Army (before Independence), the book was first published some fifty years back. But it still remains a very useful primer on the colloquial idiom of Nepali, for, while the formal and written variety of the language has received a great deal of attention from scholars, there is much less literature devoted exclusively to the spoken form even today.
Based on the Grammar-Translation method that happened to be the standard pedagogy during most of the 20th century for foreign language teaching, the book deals with all the three aspects of language—sound, structure and lexicon. As any linguist knows, the phonetic and grammatical organization of a language changes very little with time. Only its vocabulary changes and enlarges to reflect the cultural development of its speakers. However, the vocabulary that the author uses in his examples, and the word-list at the end of the book, consist words of everyday use, most of which have little chance of going out of currency.
The first few chapters are devoted to the phonetics of Nepali sounds followed by lessons on grammar (along with English-Nepali translation exercises). Finally there is an extremely useful list of more than 1500 commonly used words in Nepali with, of course, their English translations. The author has not forgotten to introduce the learner to some of the more frequently used idioms and slang in Nepali.
Avery useful teach-yourself book on spoken Nepali.
The sixty lessons contained in the following pages have been compiled from notes prepared by me when employed as Nepali Instructor with the Gurkha Brigade during the Second World War Many forms of the Nepali language exist in India and Nepal including firstly, a very cultured and pure form found in the central valley, sometimes termed the Court language, containing high-sounding phrases many of Sanskrit origin secondly, a form found in eastern and western Nepa4 and lastly, an extremely impure form of speech, being a regimental language containing at least 6o% pure Hindustani words and construction, evolved for parade purposes. The form found in eastern Nepal slightly differs from, and is purer than, the western form.
My object in these pages is to put before the student a simple form of the language as spoken in eastern and western Nepal that is, a pure form of the language as used by the young soldier or recruit in any Gurkha regiment. It would obviously be futile, indeed impossible, to attempt to teach the mixed language known as line bat “referred to above. The young soldier does not know this form but gradually learns it on parade or at the orderly room but immediately reverts to his own speech when off parade. It varies considerably in different regiments and is certainly not standard. Regiments and individual Gurkhas domiciled in the Punjab, for instance, have included quite a number of Punjabi words and expressions in their speech. I am moreover convinced that ft is highly desirable that officers should be able to speak a language which appeals to their men and which they really understand, and not merely a mixed language chiefly confined to the more senior Gurkha ranks, and even then only employed by them when speaking to non-Gurkhas in the fear that if they were to speak their own language they would not be understood. Where the eastern form is at variance with the western a note has been made to that effect.
As regards the general lay-out, the book consists of sixty lessons including certain lessons set aside for revision. Each lesson is designed to include sufficient work for one hour’s study and at the end of a large number of lessons test sentences are given. The English sentences should be translated by the student without reference to the Nepali translation, in each case given after the English. The Nepali translations should then be used as a key by the student, enabling him to correct his own work, Many notes and explanations are included with these translations. Throughout the book, where alternative Nepali forms exist, they are shown in brackets. In the vocabularies and sentences, in many cases, references are made to the lesson in which the particular phrase or word will be found explained. In the English-Nepali vocabulary the letter “v” indicates “verb”. The letters “tr.” and “intr.” in brackets after a verb indicate “transitive’’ and “intransitive” and are only inserted when a doubt might arise. At the beginning of the majority of lessons a vocabulary is given of words to be used in the lesson or test sentences. If however a word or phrase is explained in a lesson it is not included in the vocabulary for that lesson and words once included in these vocabularies or explanations are not repeated at the beginning of subsequent lessons.
I cannot lay too much stress on the importance of really mastering the sounds explained in Lessons 2 and 3 before going on to other lessons. The learning of a language is the acquisition of the spoken utterance and unless a student can really acquire these sounds which may be quite strange to him he cannot hope to speak the language in an accent readily understandable by the young soldier. Indeed, his failure to imitate the exact sounds will always handicap him and will tend to prevent him from attaining any real fluency. I have found that in the teaching of foreign languages the importance of precise sound is sometimes not sufficiently stressed. The long “a”, for instance, is often dismissed by the explanation that it represents the sound of the “a” in the English word “father”. In point of fad it bears little resemblance to that sound. Its precise sound will be found explained in Lesson 2. Similarly the short “a” sound bears little resemblance to the “u” sound in the English word ‘but” and really has no corresponding English sound, though the “if’ sound in the English word “dirt” comes very close to it. There are of course many other sounds not included in Lessons z and 3, but as they approximate to similar English sounds they have not been mentioned. No attempt has been made to explain the difference between the sound of the hard “d”, “1’, and “1” and their soft counterparts as it is considered that this can only be acquired by practice after hearing the sounds actually uttered. The cardinal importance of making syllables end on vowel sounds, as fully explained in Lesson 2, should never be lost sight of. It is the key o acquiring the correct accent. Many students have told me that the realisation and practice of this important rule has helped them more than anything else to speak the language reasonably well.
In conclusion it must be explained that consequent on variations in the language the rendering of some Nepali words in the Roman script is more or less arbitrary. As an example, the Nepali word “man”.—’ ‘in” is pronounced “ma” in many parts of the country, and the word “manthi”- “above”, “on” is often rendered “math?’. By repeated checking of both manuscript and typescript every effort has been made to ensure that, as far as these pages are concerned, precisely the same rendering of the same word is always employed. If however any slight variance is found, as for instance, in the employment or otherwise of the nasal “n” in a certain word, I am confident that it will be realised that thousands of accents have had to be carefully checked and it is always possible that one or two may have been missed.
If this book helps to further understanding and sympathy for the Gurkha, both in the Army and in civil life, I shall be satisfied that my labours have not been in vain.
My thanks are due to Capt. J. Miller, late 2nd K. E. VII’s O. Gurkhas for the help he gave me in tabulating the vocabularies, and to my wife for her invaluable help in typing the manuscript without which the production of the book would have been impossible.
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