Saturday, January 8, 2011

Devanangreji IV: Sign Phonics!

(Previous entries herehere and here)

जयसवाल फलफुल एण्ड जुस फ्रुट सेन्टर
ja-ya-sa-waa-l pha-l-phul-l e-nd ju-s phru-t se-nta-r
Jayasawal Phalphul and Juice Fruit Center

This shop in Jayasawal is called the "Jayasawal Phalphul and Juice Fruit Center." Like the advertisement above it, the sign mixes vocabulary in English and Nepali. "Phalphul" is Nepali for fruit, so the sign actually says "Jayasawal Fruit and Juice Fruit Center." The fact that the word "fruit" appears as a loanword only in the context of the other English loanword "juice" seems to indicate that while selling fruit is a traditional Nepali activity, selling fruit juice is a more modern, commercial activity (as the Mickey Mouse advertisement above, which is also for fruit juice, emphasizes).

First of all, I like the phrase "Shirting, Suiting, & Tailoring Center" on the Machhindra Tailors sign. Is that also a British usage, or is it Nepali-English?

Secondly, here you can see a very common pattern for storefront signs in Kathmandu Valley: Nepali name + English words, written in Devanagari characters and English characters: "मच्छिन्द्र टेलर्स Machhindra Tailors" and "Machhindra Stationary and Books मच्छिन्द्र स्टेशनरी एण्ड बुक्स." The word 'tailors' is spelled with the characters for 'te-lars' instead of the more phonetically accurate 'te-larz' (or rather 'te-larj'). This is to match English spelling I guess. In other places in Patan I've seen the opposite  approach written in English letters: "Ritaz Beauty Parlor."

Also, underneath the Machhindra Stationary and Books sign is written, only in Devanagari, "रिचार्ज कार्ड पाइन्छ" or 'ri-cha-rj ka-rd paa-i-nchha' - "Recharge Card is-available."

What is interesting here is that I think most Nepalis use a non-rhotic variety of English for loanwords, meaning that they copy the British in taking out the r in words like 'recharge' and 'card.' But the spelling is still reflected in the Devanagari. I'm told the word 'car' is also spelled कार (kaa-r) even though it is pronounced 'cah.'

In other words, we have managed to get the illogical spelling of our own language exported into a different language with a different script. Fun!

ललितपुर उडकार्भिङ  उद्योग
la-li-t-pu-r u-d-kaa-rbhi-ng u-dyo-g
"Lalitpur Udkarbhing Udyog"

English has more consonant clusters than Nepali, so English-language Devanagari is sometimes identifiable as English even before you read it. You see lots of half-characters that represent consonant clusters. This sign confused me for a few minutes: "Lalitpur" is the name of the district, and "Udyog" is the Nepali word for "industry," but the middle word looks like English. Usually when a word ends with the characters for "-ing" you know that that word has to be English. 

I would have figured out what "Udkharbhing" means a lot quicker if I had just looked down ten feet and seen what was actually going on in the shop itself. It is an English word, but it definitely reflects Nepali-accented pronunciation rather than English spelling conventions. 

1 comment:

  1. That is hilarious about "Udkharbhing". It would have also been funny if you pretended not to know, and presented all kinds of research about possible meanings. If it were me, I would have only noticed the carpenters in the photo once my mouse was hovering over the "Post" button.