Friday, December 3, 2010

लूक's Adventures

I just had some official Fulbright business cards printed. One side is in English and the other side is Nepali. My favorite part of the whole process of printing them was the fifteen minute debate about how my name should be spelled in Nepali.

"You should probably spell it ल्युक (lyuk)" I was told.
"Some people pronounce it that way, but I don't. What's wrong with लुक (luk)?" I asked.
"People will think that you've written the English word 'look' on the card."

Which is very true. When I am introduced to an English-speaking Nepali, 9 times out of 10 they will make a comment about how my name means "to see." In Nepali-English the two words are pronounced identically, and it is difficult to convince people that the two sounds are very different in my ears. It is a testament to the confusing variety of English vowel sounds.

In fact at one point I did an impromptu lesson to 10th graders intended to teach students English vowel distinctions (I had just read this post from the Language Log). It involved some repetition of the sentence "Look at Lucky Luke."

What is even closer to my name in terms of the sounds of the word is the root of the Nepali verb luknu, which means 'to hide.' The low-form imperative is pronounced exactly like my name: luk. For example, there is a joke I heard in Tangting about a foreigner who hires two Nepali guides to go tiger-hunting with him even though he does not have enough ammunition and the area is too dangerous for hunting. Eventually the foreigner sees a tiger and yells "A tiger! Look!" So the Nepali guides follow his instructions by throwing down their rifles and climbing up a tree.

Also, there is the Nepali version of Hide-and-Seek, called luka maari ('hide and kill'). The game seems almost identical, except a hiding person can run up behind and tag the person who is it. Incidentally, the person who is it is called 'dhum,' I think, which today is considered an offensive term for a low-caste person. Although calling somebody "it" is not exactly a compliment, is it? Anyway, in terms of blatantly offensive things children say while playing schoolyard games, this can't hold a candle to the American "Smear the Queer" or the original words to "Eenie Meenie Minie Moe." Children do seem to pick up on the prejudices of their elders, don't they...

What was I talking about again? Oh, right, business cards. Well, eventually we looked up a Hindi version of the Bible and saw that the Gospel of Luke in Hindi is the Gospel of लूका or "Luka." So the spelling I settled on is the one you see in the post title, with the "long u" instead of the "short u" (there is no difference in spoken Nepali, only in written Nepali, but it will hopefully suggest a length distinction so that people will stop calling me "Look-Over-There!").

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