Friday, March 25, 2011

Spelling Ash in English Loanwords: Hail Kyanada

This is the sign on Lazimpat road that points the way to the Canadian Embassy. I pass it every day I'm staying in the Lazimpat flat, and the Devanagari rendering of the word 'Canada' above the arrow always strikes me as odd - 'kyaanaaDaa.' The 'y' inserted after the hard 'k' sounds strange to my ears, and I wondered why the Canadian embassy didn't just make it 'kaanaaDaa.'

But if you look carefully you can see this all over the place, especially on the billboards for colleges - the word क्याम्पुस - 'kyaampus' - 'campus'. There are many other English loanwords that have that extra 'y.' Some examples I have found by looking at signs throughout the city are 'pyaaket' for 'packet,' 'byaatri' for 'battery,' 'kyaafe' for 'cafe,' and 'phyaast kyaash' for 'fast cash' (on the instructions for an ATM).

Apparently it has something to do with the 'short a' sound in English, which is in the first syllables of each of those words. This is a lax front vowel that doesn't exist in the Nepali language. Either by convention of sign writers or by their reflection of the way Nepalis pronounce these words, a glide is inserted before a Nepali long 'a' - आ -  to represent it (the Nepali short 'a' - अ - is too far back, I think, and as a 'reduced vowel' it takes the place of the schwa in English loanwords).

So 'pat' becomes something like 'pyawt.' 

Why does that sound like a reasonable substitute? I think what is actually going on is that Nepalis are pronouncing a diphthong - /ia/ - 'kiaanaaDaa,' 'piaaket,' etc. This sounds like and is written as a 'y' sound. This quick diphthong approximates the English 'short a' because it has the effect of bringing the vowels up and forward, closer to the English 'short a.' In Nepali ears it sounds like a good approximation. 

No comments:

Post a Comment