Chapter published in:The Social Dynamics of Pronominal Systems: A comparative approach
Edited by Paul Bouissac
[Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 304] 2019
► pp. 151–209
The dynamics of Nepali pronominal distinctions in familiar, casual and formal relationships
Nepali uses various morphological means formally to distinguish at least five levels of deference in verbal interaction. In addition to the three Nepali second person pronouns, for each of which the Nepali verb distinguishes separate conjugated forms, Nepali speakers also make use of the deferentially conjugated verb in combination with the respectful term hajur or with kinship terms to give expression to different levels of deference and formality. Moreover, the Nepali verb distinguishes a separate mediopassively conjugated construction used exclusively when the notional subject of the sentence is a member of the former royal family. Speakers can also exploit the device of the ambiguous avoidance term āphu ‘self’ or make oblique reference to the second person through the use of the first person plural when a speaker is uncertain of the register which would be most appropriate.Unlike the simple two-term system found in many Western languages, such as French tu vs. vous, the choice of pronoun and conjugation between intimate friends and indeed between higher caste married couples tends to be highly asymmetrical. The semiotics of this asymmetry is commensurate with the degree of intimacy which the two individuals feel towards each other. This phenomenon, strikingly unfamiliar to the contemporary Occidental, illustrates rather vividly how different the sensibilities and semantic underpinnings of the many tiers of deference expressed by pronominal usage and other morphological parameters in Nepali are from those of an intimate interaction whereby the two European individuals might simply be able to tutoyer each other. A descriptive account is provided of actual usage, and an analytical exposition of the semiotics of this morphologically diverse system of indexing relationships in Nepali speech is presented.
Keywords: Nepali, pronouns, pronominal agreement, deferential systems, honorifics, pronominal morphology, semiotics, sociolinguistics
Published online: 23 July 2019
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