You can learn a lot about a culture from its language(s). I have the most wonderful Christian Nepali teacher. Our lessons are not only an opportunity for me to attempt to learn Nepali but a varied and exciting discussion time about culture and faith.
Here are two language points we’ve discussed recently that have caused me to stop and think.
Choosing to worry?
There are two ways to say that you are worried about something in Nepali. The first is to say that you are struck (lagyo) by worry, and this is a short term feeling when you hear bad news. You can’t control feeling worried like this; it is inevitable.
The other way to express worry is by saying you do (garnu) worry; this is long term worry. My Nepali teacher tells me that worry like this is a choice; you can switch this type of worry on and off.
I feel that our English language/cultural understanding of worry is much more powerless. We talk about worrying as if we have no choice in it; we’ll worry for hours/days/weeks without acknowledging our agency to change our outlook. (I realise that depression and its associated worries are different, but I’m referring to everyday worrying).
The two types of worrying reflected in the Nepali language are fascinating. There’s not much we can do about sudden situations that make us anxious, but in the long term, we can perhaps choose whether to worry or not. This choice aligns more closely with Jesus’ instruction in Luke 12:22 not to worry. He’s telling us we can choose not to worry and instead put our faith in Him. The English language seems to deny us this option.
What type of love?
The second language point highlights embedded patriarchy in Nepal’s language and society. As with many languages, there are various words for love. Maya is the human sort of love that couples and families feel for each other. Prem is the unconditional agape love that God has for us. Prem is superior to Maya love.
Consequently, it’s telling that Prem is a boy’s name and Maya is a girl’s name. Right from birth, boys are loved more.
There’s plenty more about patriarchy in Nepal in my forthcoming book ‘Come with me to Kathmandu: 12 powerful stories of women’s courageous faith in Nepal’, including an account of infanticide following the birth of a girl. I remain shocked and devastated by everything her mother went through.
Keep on learning
Every day, I learn more and more about Nepal’s language and culture. I hope these insights have helped you think about the role of language in your life. Please pray for Nepal and my language learning.
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I agree, I learned so much about the culture through learning Nepali. Thank you for putting it into words.
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