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Nr. 82, 18.10.2014  voriger  Übersicht  weiter  REIHEN  SUCHE 

Preserver of languages

Humboldt fellow Netra Prasad Paudyal from Nepal analyses the endangered languages of his home country. This work is not only interesting for researchers; it could help to preserve languages for future generations.


Dr Netra P. Paudyal is an expert in General Linguistics. Foto: Ann-Christine Wimber

It takes Netra P. Paudyal days to get to his objects of research. He has to take a plane to Kathmandu, an eight-hour long bus-ride into the mountains and needs to walk another eight hours. His destination is a secluded village in the Nepalese mountains on the banks of the Madi and Narayani rivers. Here, a few speakers of Darai still exist.

Paudyal is a linguist, based at Kiel University and funded by a Humboldt fellowship. “Not only the long travel time needed to reach the speakers of Darai is complicated”, the 38-year old scientist declares. “Humboldt regulations state that I am only allowed to leave Germany for two weeks!” That is simply not enough time for collecting research material. Paudyal’s main field of research is General Linguistics; he compares the Darai language to other common languages.

The Darai and their ancestral language are somewhat of an enigma. They speak an Indo-Aryan language belonging to the Indo-European family, which is unusual, given their rather Tibeto-Burman appearance. Paudyal has a field assistant situated in Kathmandu who takes trips to the village and records the data. Also, he still has reserve-data he collected while writing his Master’s thesis at Tribhuvan University, Nepal. But it is not sufficient for the current research purpose – analysing the unusual. “Darai is different from the other Indo-Aryan languages”, Paudyal explains. While analysing the languages structure, he found that the verb changes according to the subject and the object. The sentence structure – subject, object, verb – stays the same. But the reflection of the verb varies, taking subject and object into consideration. This is called a threeargument verb.

“My focus is to collect the entire language sample so scientists can use it in the future”, Paudyal explains. Usually, linguists visit their objects of research and only record small samples of data, namely the kind they need for their research. The father-of-two sees himself as a preserver. His data could be used to help create schoolbooks.

Linguistics is a very logical science: Paudyal and his assistant encourage a group of speakers to talk about their everyday life. This is recorded on tape and camera. Afterwards, it is digitalized, transcribed into IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and translated into English and Nepali. Then, dictionaries are written and structures explained. “People in the Tanahu district, where I am currently working, often ask me why I need their language. I educate them on the fact that in the future the language might die, as have a lot of languages, and that it could get revitalized from my work”, the Humboldt fellow says. In that way, Paudyal is also an anthropologist: “I do more of the technical, linguistic part and less anthropology – but I am interested in this field of work as well.”

The choice to become a linguist seems to have been a natural one. Nepali being his mother tongue, Paudyal learned two more languages in early childhood that were spoken in this area as well as Hindi, which was needed to go shopping in the nearby towns. In school, he learned English, and during his PhD he had to learn Chintang, which is an endan gered Nepalese Language.

Paudyal will stay in Kiel until December 2015 – and might learn German on top. What will follow afterwards he does not know. “In modern studies, linguistics has become a very competitive field with very few jobs. I hope to produce something interesting and that another door might open”, states the man from Nepal. The work on the three-argument verb could be a step in this direction.

Ann-Christin Wimber
Languages of Nepal
Nepal is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. A complete linguistic survey has not yet been done in Nepal but the Ethnologue (Lewis 2009) cites 126 distinct languages for Nepal, 124 of which are listed as living. Nepali is spoken as mother tongue by the majority of the total population. All other languages are spoken by a limited number of speakers in various parts of Nepal. Among them, the five Indo- Aryan languages of the central part of the country are at risk of dying out. These are Danuwar, Bote, Kumal, Majhi and Darai, which are classified as Ardhamagadhi languages within the Indo-European language family. Most speakers in these language communities have already been assimilated linguistically and culturally into the modern Nepali mainstream. (acw)
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