Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When a Language isn't a Language

This post is a bit of a long'un, and is something of a summary of stuff that's been happening over the last three weeks or so, regarding the status of the language I'm working on. I thought I would wait til I had a better handle on the situation before sharing it all.

Before coming to Nepal, I had read a lot about a couple of languages in particular. One is a relatively large language spoken in an area north of Kathmandu, we'll call it Y. for now. The other is very closely related, spoken by a small population - around 1000 people - 100 km east of the Y. area - the story is that about 5 generations ago they left the Y. area, and went into paper making.

When L. found me a K. speaker I was quite excited, as no work had been done with anyone from this language for about 30 years (which reminds me, I'll blog later about the politics of working with speakers). In the first few sessions, what A. told me lined up with what was said about K.; 500-100 speakers, related to, but slightly different to Y. and a family history of paper making. Only thing is, a week or so later when I brought a map of Nepal with me, she lives in a village 100 km WEST of the original area.

So here I was with a language that was what it was, but it also wasn't. Quite how the other group of K. speakers (which is undoubtedly not the same language/dialect) came to such prominence, and this group remained unknown, even to people who have worked with Y for many years, remains one of those curiosities of a country of itinerant polyglots. Both groups likely migrated out of the Y. speaking area at the same time and took to the same occupation, and thus their groups and their language were given the same name. Still, it's a rather cool parallel.

As it is, all reports indicate that this language is very very closely related to the language it split from. Also, the name K. is not going to remain, as it's related to an occupation that is a low-caste occupation, so people are a bit hung up about it. I'll continue to refer to it as K. for blogging purposes, but that will change in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating!

    This blog is great, Lauren. I follow it eagerly. Keep it up!