Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A short adventure

I'm heading off from Kathmandu tomorrow morning to spend a couple of weeks out in the villages where Tam is spoken. I'm looking forward to getting away from the Kathmandu smog and shaking up my routine a little.

I'll be back within two weeks. I've told myself that I need the first trip to be short, so that I can come back and take stock of what I need - but it's really so that I can be back here to catch up with friends and enjoy Tihar, the festival of light, in early November.

If I come across an internet cafe I'll post when I can, otherwise I'll see you all in a fortnight!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A little night music

Friday night, the say before a festival and the locals are partying like it's a two day weekend (which it is!!). The intersection near my guesthouse has been closed and there's a concert going on.

It's nice working to the sounds of live Nepali pop - but hopefully they'll be very Nepali about the whole thing and not let it run too late, I'm even less of a party animal that usual while fieldworking!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

KTM weather

As well as being a great time of year for festivals, this is also my favourite few weeks of weather in Kathmandu. The nights are finally getting cool enough to think about using a blanket, but not so cold you don't want to get out of bed in the morning. The days are sunny and warm, and frequently the sky is getting clear enough for a good view of the mountains that hem the valley.

Combine this with Kathmandu emptying out for the festivities, and a few days without classes or elicitation sessions and even I'm feeling relaxed!

1000th word: It's something good!

Ladies and Gents, it is an auspicious occasion indeed. After 13 months and many sessions, the thousandth word entered into the database is:

lála लाला (n.) - something or someone. N: केहि ; कोहि

Yup! Something was the 1000th word. It certainly won't be the last either.

Four weeks in...

I arrived in Kathmandu exactly four weeks ago today. When you spend every day working with dated data files, and grant money requires you to track your daily spending it's never very easy to forget the date. So far the trip feels to be going at a good pace, it's certainly not dragging but I appear to be getting quite a bit of work done.

Today is also the last day of sessions I'll be doing with A. for the while. It's been a very productive month tying up lots of questions left over from last year (and raising a few more!). I've felt more relaxed this time, I'm sure having a schedule of things to do has made it much easier.

I'll be hanging out in Kathmandu to celebrate Dasain, then taking a quick trip for about 10-12 days to the country. This will give me a chance to sus things out for a longer trip, and clear my lungs of the KTM smog!

But before that I have a few days to chill out and enjoy the relative peacefulness that had descended on Kathmandu for the holiday season.


Dasain is definitely in the air.

Children are on holidays from school, the shopping areas are packed and the newspapers are full of articles about how people have lost the true meaning of the holiday now our lives are so full of meaningless junk (yes, it all sounds too familiar).

Dasain officially started last Thursday and is 15 days of the most important festivities in the Nepali Hindu calendar. Much like Lent and Christmas, for most people the earlier days of the festival aren't that important. The biggest day is the 10th day, where the elders of the family bestow tika (red colouring, rice and yoghurt) on the foreheads of the family. Everyone gets dressed up and eats lots. Fortuntely I've got a family or two to be adopted by for the festivities - and I've got some new threads to pick up as well.

The other important day is the 9th, and to a lesser extent the 8th. These are the most popular days of slaughter and sacrifice. Slaughter? I thought we were drawing parallels between Christmas and Dasain just moments ago. Well, the whole point of Dasain is to honour the Goddess Durga, who saved existence by defeating an evil demon disguised as a buffalo. To keep Durga happy for the year the family slaughter an animal and bless things with it - houses, cars, etc. The standard middle class procedure is for goat, but if you're poor it might be a chicken and large temples receive buffalo for slaughter. The animal is generally eaten by the family afterwards, think of it as killing your own Christmas turkey.

Most Buddhists (and myself) find the mass slaughter rather disturbing. Many of them will visit their local temples over the next few days to pray for the animals being killed. I, on the other hand, will not be visiting anywhere this Saturday.

Of course, the other reminder that it's Dasain is the goat being kept somewhere in the neighbourhood that woke me up early this morning with it's pitiful bleating - but I can hardly get too annoyed with it, I know it won't be around to keep me awake for too long.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Language!

Every linguist and their blog have been talking about the media attention regarding the newly discovered language Koro in India (see news article here).

It's great to see language documentation getting some press, even if it's a bit over the top - see Claire Bowen's or Mos's thoughts on the matter.

Lozguistics readers might be interested to know that the 'newly discovered' Koro is in the Tibeto-Burman family, just like Tam. And, just like Tam has only recently come to the attention of linguists.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I'm sitting in the guesthouse garden waiting for my room to be cleaned. I'm sure I could be upset about the fact that it's 1 o'clock and I still can't get back in to my room, but the weather's so lovely today, and I've managed to clear out my inbox a bit so I guess it's not such a waste of a morning.

I've also managed to straighten out some of my tech problems this morning. This involved less technical brilliance on my behalf and more going to buy new gear. While I'm often heard to complain about Thamel and its tourist shops, they do come in handy sometimes!

Assult and Batteries

This field trip I am being assaulted with a constant stream of small scale technological dramas. I'm not sure if this is some kind of karmic retribution for not having any problems on the last trip, but it's all rather frustrating.

There was the initial problem of having to bring the two lap tops. Not that it's really a problem, they stay here in KTM and I don't really have to lug them anywhere. It's just annoying that I have two computers that both do about 85-90% of what I want, and not 100%.

The second drama has been that it appears the power here has blown a couple of my smaller appliances. My wall adapter that serves as a charger for my phone, video camera, and iPod no longer appears to work, although I'm yet to try a power outlet outside of the guesthouse, so hopefully it's just this place that's the problem. This drama is easily solved as there are a few camera shops in Thamel so I'll just have to fork out some money and pay tourist dollar.

The annoying thing to have blown is the charger pack for my rechargeable batteries. I try to use rechargeable batteries to limit the number I go though - especially because it's not safe to leave them here for disposal and I have to lug them home. Now not only am I potentially stuck with a lot of unrechargable rechargables but I'll still have to buy disposables too.

The most annoying thing to date has been that the battery in my video camera has been beginning to play up. I thought this was just a problem I was having, given that it hasn't been used a lot in the last 9-10 months. According to the internet though, I am not alone when it comes to battery problems for this brand.

I'm not going to name names. I haven't bothered to spill brand names when things work so it's not fair for me to only give negative reviews of tech on this site. Suffice to say though that if you're ever looking for a simple to use video camera drop me a line and I might suggest a brand to not buy. Fortunately I have an older model where you can still access the battery pack. Even better, the pack can be replaced with disposables. Obviously this isn't an ideal situation, especially given the problem above, but it means the show can go on.

I don't want to be too optimistic and hope this is the end of the troubles, but I am glad that I'll hopefully sort most of them out before being much more isolated from the city!

Desh: A film review

As promised, a review of this morning's cinematic entertainment. Although, to be fair, I do judge Nepali films on very different criteria to most other films. For example, the more ridiculous or inexplicable a plot point is the better. Need to move the film along? Suddenly the lead character has a little sister who dies a horrible death. Two characters make inadvertent but potentially lustful eye contact? Time for a song! Crazy dancing and multiple scenic locations for no narrative reason added for free.

My summary of the plot is potentially not very accurate, given my Nepali is not quite up to the more intricate parts of the film.

A young boy is traumatised when is father is killed at war (the death scene eerily reminiscent of early Monty Python, although I don't think it's a deliberate homage). It is his grandmother who leads the child to follow the way of the pen and not the sword (in some very transparent visual cues) and so he becomes a journalist (and thankfully we miss a large chunk in the middle of his life and find he has grown up to become Rajesh Hamal, god of Nepali cinema.

Now, I'm a little hazy here. It appears that he is a journalist, but he spends a lot of time hanging out with university students. I'm not sure if they're trying to pass an indeterminately middle aged man off as a university student but if they are then having him carry a leather satchel at all times (all times!!)is not very convincing.

Anyway, he hangs out with Uni students, who are all apathetic about Nepal and plan to go overseas to study. He incites some kind of national pride in them, but they get a little carried away and are misdirected by some villains (you can tell they're villains, their eyes are funny). The students incite a bandah (this is one of the more believable plot points).

The bandah is a success! But the younger sister of the main student leader is killed after they're unable to get her to a hospital because of said bandah. This is the price the student leader has paid for his misdirected enthusiasm! But it's ok, the journalist is here with some kind of dossier, which they use against the villains (what's in the dossier? I have no idea, but the over is red and has Ganesh on it...). The students become reporter to out the villains, and then like all good Nepalis, form a political party. At a massive rally for their new party Rajesh Hamal is shot in the stomach in as assassination plot. Does he go to hospital? No, he hides the wound with his ever present satchel until it's too late and his friends must leave him to fall over and die, but not before his nephew appears so he can pass on the pen to the future generation, thus ensuring his legacy, and violently collapsing about six seconds before the credits.

In between there's a love story, some dancing, and a boy sets an evil man on fire and kills him in retribution for the loss of his family and no one reports this matter to the authorities. It all makes perfect sense...

Check out the poster, and a music clip from the film here.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Morning Movies

Only in Nepal is it considered completely normal to arrange to go to the cinema for an 8 am screening. Not sure what we're seeing but I'll be sure to give you a review this afternoon!

Friday, October 8, 2010


That is the number of entries I currently have in my Tam lexicon!

So in the next couple of weeks, with the rate I'm collecting data, we should hit 1000 individual words in the lexicon (not including personal names, village names and some borrowed terms). What will it be? Hopefully something amusing! Stay tuned and I'll let you know when it happens!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Relatively excited

I'm rather excited after today's session because during an elicitation task A. produced some awesome, spontaneous relative clauses. A relative clause in English would be something like:

The man who is wearing glasses.

They're generally hard enough to elicit in forced constructions, and it's not often you get some good, clear natural examples. Today we were working through some video stimulus created by the rad people at MPI, which had about 60 short videos of people 'putting' - putting hats on heads, water in cups, books on shelves, napkins in exhaust pipes, apples in socks... all a bit strange but a nice break from the usual routine.

A. used some great relative clauses to describe some of the people - including the man who is wearing glasses that I described above. Although, it probably translates better from Tam to say something like 'the glasses wearing man'.

Yup, I know, probably not much to get excited about you might think - but then it doesn't take much to make a session satisfactory!

Half way throught the week...

In trying to be positive about the 6 day working week in Nepal, the only thing I can come up with is that half way thought the week happens on a Tuesday night, a whole half day earlier than for you five days a week lot.

Not only am I comfortably transitioned to the second half of the week, but I'm beginning to transition to the second phase of my field work... I'm almost wound down asking questions about things I had to chase up from last trip. That's not to say I now understand things perfectly, I'm just moving on to more naturalistic narratives, conversations and things like that - certainly makes a nice change!

Sunday, October 3, 2010


In the battle between the Kathmandu pollution and my airways the coarse unrefined smog that passes for breathable atmosphere has finally won out, and I have been left a coughing, spluttering, voiceless mess.

Am really looking forward to a visit to the countryside in a couple of weeks!

Friday, October 1, 2010

New Month

Happy October!

I've found today's date extra amusing for data collection...

Every day when I record I upload these recordings to my computer. There I keep track of all the meta data (date, place, speakers, content - all very important stuff).

One very important thing with lots of files is keeping naming conventions consistent. My system is to put the date, backwards to keep everything in order, and the file number, because often I'll make more than one recording across a day. And so perhaps now you know why I'm so amused by today. Yup, doesn't take much to keep me amused - the first file recorded today I got to name:


Am also greatly looking forward to Sunday week...