Nepal’s language is influenced by its folklore, religion, and living conditions.
So, history and location always have an influence you can detect and define in a language. Nepali, like every other language I’ve encountered in my business translation career, is also influenced by two other key aspects: culture and religion. You can’t escape it; even in relatively secular countries like Australia or the United States, the language has at some point been heavily influenced by the prevailing religions or religious attitudes, and Nepal is no different.
Like their Indian neighbours to the south, the Nepalese not only share a strong culture of Hinduism and Buddhism, but they also have a strong sense of being close to their gods, because the Himalayas are literally the home of the gods in the Hindu religion. In fact, the name Himalayas translates to “snow abode” to describe the home of the gods themselves.
Many of the names of places and other descriptors in Nepali take this tradition and can be traced back to the stories that have sprung up to explain everything from natural phenomena to historical events.
Nepal is officially a Hindu nation, but the Nepalese are extremely tolerant of other religions – so much so that they have actually made it illegal to attempt religious conversion in Nepal. In religions in Nepal we also see this beneficial melding of ideas and concepts, as Buddhism (which makes up about 8% of the population as opposed to Hinduism’s 86%) and Hinduism have influenced each other so heavily they can be regarded, with some imagination, as two facets of one religion in this beautiful country.
The two religions often share shrines, and have even absorbed other concepts from other religions – including animal sacrifice, which accompanies almost every religious ceremony in Nepal, much to the shock of many Western visitors.
Nepal is a very poor country. The average lifespan of a Nepalese is just 53 years, and infant mortality is very high. One problem is the rural, undeveloped character of the country – this makes it quite breathtaking for tourists, but it also means there are very few paved roads and almost no rail track to speak of, making it incredibly difficult to get goods into the country in an economical way. Thus, the goods that do make it in are expensive, and the agricultural lifestyle of the people does not generate enough wealth to make things affordable.
This basic, close-to-the earth attitude on the part of the Nepalese is reflected in the simplicity of their language and their practical approach to language in general. If you have the chance to visit Nepal I encourage you to see this beautiful land. But don’t climb Everest – it’s been done.