Language Quirks

When I first met P he had already been in the US for a few years, but he still had a lot of little language quirks. Sometimes he would pronounce things with the emPHAsis on the wrong syllABle or he would either forget to add (when needed) or add (when not needed) the articles “a” or “the” in sentences. Every now and then he might use an awkward word when explaining something or I would use expressions he had never heard of before and he would ask me what they meant. Now he uses these expressions himself–he told me the other day, “yeah, I guess you need to take her with a grain of salt” when talking about a friend of a friend.

I used to find these little language quirks very endearing, even though I’d often explain or correct. However now, after more than 6 years, I realize that many of these old quirks have faded as P’s time in the US has grown. Every now and then he will come up with something odd out of the blue… or pronounce something a bit different, but not anywhere near as often as he used to.

Sampson and P taking a nap

Yet there is one language quirk he still has that I don’t think will ever fade…

When he has fallen asleep and wakes up suddenly he asks questions in Nepali and doesn’t seem to realize it. It’s usually kati baje? Or kati bajyo? – what time is it?—among other things. I’ve grown accustom to them, and understand enough that I can answer his questions before he closes his eyes and falls back asleep, but I do find this little quirk cute. If P were one to talk in his sleep (which he isn’t) I’m sure his conversation would also be in Nepali.

I was reminded of it yesterday afternoon. We were both having a lazy Sunday… I was watching a movie on my laptop and P had dosed off while reading some articles for school. He had to meet up with some people for an intramural football game at a specific time, so he kept waking up suddenly, his eyes all red and glazed over, and he would mumble “kati bajyo? before falling back asleep, satisfied that he had enough time to keep snoozing.

I remember back when we first met P said something about how “maybe someday I could forget English, but I’ll never ever forget Nepali.” The mother tongue is a beautiful and powerful thing and it effects how your brain is hardwired, and that’s why if (and when) we have children some day we are determined to raise them speaking both of our mother tongues.

Kati bajyo? oh geez, I better get back to work.

8 responses to “Language Quirks

  1. We were forced to speak in English at my school but you know it was always a bunch of Nepali girls speaking in English and nobody to correct us for right pronunciations and so forth. And you’d be considered good in English if you use big words that most people don’t understand.
    Whatever I learned was mostly from looking up a dictionary (I used to love reading the dictionary at my spare time) and watching FRIENDS and movies.

    I’ve noticed that most of us were taught to write v. formal English and I guess that’s why at times we tend to speak the way we write and it sounds awkward. I loved what I learned about writing conversational English in my journalism classes in Boston. KISS – Keep it short and simple.

  2. @R – Your version of KISS is less rude than the one I know (Keep It Simple Stupid)


    You might find this story interesting. Growing up, we heard lot of fables of King Akbar and his wise advisor Birbal. The general theme usually was that there would be a quandary that envelopes the land and Akbar would call upon Birbal to solve it.

    One of those quandaries was to determine the country of origin of one of the multilingual guests at Akbar’s palace. I can’t quite recall the reason behind why Akbar needed to find this out but Birbal’s solution was to pour cold water on the guest when he was asleep. The thought was that no matter how many languages you speak, in a panic stricken mode, you will always respond in your mother tongue. Maybe that explains why when he is awake all of a sudden, he speaks in Nepali before regaining full consciousness.

    • I like that story! I’m sure it must be true… I bet even after 30+ years of being in the US speaking English my Danish boss would wake up screaming at the perpetrator in Danish if someone threw cold water on him while sleeping! Or I might revert to an even more innate form of communication… try to slap who ever it was indiscriminately! :)

  3. I suppose this is kind of deviating from the main topic Tundal45 brought up the topic of Akbar/Birbal to explain language quirks. I was kinda sad not to see any role of Birbal in the movie “Jodha Akbaar”. I had always been a fan of Birbal growing up and hearing his amazingly intelligent stories. Found this interesting link that actually has deleted scenes from the movie that had Birbal in it. (Sorry there are no subtitles for it)

  4. I have not see Jodha Akbar. I don’t think I intend to either. However, I was a big fan of Birbal’s wisdom and all the stories.

  5. My hubby sometimes talks in his sleep, and it’s in Nepali. lol

  6. My husband speaks in Nepali in his sleep and when he wakes up suddenly. Actually, he sometimes does it when he’s awake. The other day he was in the kitchen and I was in the living room so I couldn’t really hear what he was saying. I poked my head into the kitchen and said, “what did you say?”. Turns out, I wouldn’t have understood him if I’d been standing right next to him…everything he’d said had been in Nepali.

  7. happinessandsimplicity

    I like this post!! I would guess this quirk is pretty endearing. :)
    As weird as it is when C talks in his sleep, I would be sad if he stopped. As it is, there is one thing he hasn’t done in a while which is very strange. Occasionally when he was deep asleep, he would start stringing together what sounded like full sentences of something that wasn’t English, and it wasn’t anything I’ve ever heard before.
    I think he has his own secret language, or he speaks in tongues or something. It’s totally bizarre, but still one of those things that makes me feel close to him, knowing those kinds of intimate details. :)

    I like the story about Birbal’s way of finding out a person’s mother tongue. I believe that would work!

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