Nepali – apart from having an honourific speech system – has something which is called ’Differentiation in Speech according to Gender’ which is just a fancy word for saying ’Gendered Speech’. While differentiation in Gender affects Nouns, Adjectives and Verbs alike, it surprisingly does NOT affect Pronouns. Also, it doesn’t affect Adverbs, Interjections etc. Since it doesn’t affect pronouns, a consequence is that the word ‘ऊ’ (u) remains Neutral for it can mean either ‘He’ or ‘She’.
So what is ’Gendered Speech’ anyway?
Take these sentences (case 1) :
He is handsome.
She is beautiful.
and now, take these sentences (case 2):
I am tall.
You are tall.
In the first case you can see that the first sentence tells the subject is a boy (He), with the masculine predicate adjective ‘handsome’ describing him; the second sentence tells the subject is a girl (she) with the feminine predicate adjective ‘beautiful’ describing her. In both cases, the people talked about has a trait which is of the same magnitude but even so, we use different describing words which cannot be interchanged with each other. So, both might be ‘good-looking’ but then we differentiate the two subjects with different adjectives. Since ‘handsome’ is Masculine in nature, saying ‘She is handsome’ sounds weird right?
Whereas, in the second case, the neutral adjective ‘tall’ doesn’t help much in differentiating between the subjects’ gender right? That ‘I’ could be of either gender…that ‘you’ could refer to a girl or a boy. Now do you see how ‘gendered’ words play some role in telling the subjects apart?
That was an example of Gendered Speech; we use different words for different genders. However, English is largely a gender neutral language, unlike Nepali which makes use of extensive gender-differentiating words.
So, there are three genders in Nepali. They are:
पुलिङ्ग (puling) = Male Gender
स्त्रीलिङ्ग (striling) = Female Gender
नपुंसकलिङ्ग (napungsakling) = Neutral Gender
Unlike some languages which assign gender to inanimate objects, in Nepali you don’t do the same. Rather if things are inanimate, or perhaps an animate object whose gender is unknown, then they assigned words which are wholly neutral in Gender.
Some examples of completely Masculine words:
केटा (keta/ boy), भाले (bhale/ male-), भाइ (bhai/ brother) etc.
Some examples of completely Feminine words:
केटी (keti/ girl), पोथी (pothi/ female-), बहिनी (bahini/ sister) etc.
Some examples of completely Neutral words:
मान्छे (manche/ person), किताब (kitab/ book), ढुङ्गा (dhunga/ rock)
While the above examples might seem obvious, I was simply acquainting you to the mysterious world of Gendered Speech. Sometimes, ‘Masculine’ words are also considered to be ‘Neutral’ words! That means, they are fence sitters and those seemingly masculine words are used in a neutral tone too. An example of this is the word ‘मोटो’ (moto) which means ’Fat’. Here, ’moto’ can be used in a masculine sense (like ‘moto keta’) or in a neutral sense (like ‘moto kitab’). However, you cannot say ‘moto keti’ because it is incorrect.
That means, adjectives make a difference in gender too, for example, taking the above adjective ‘moto’, their respective forms are:
मोटो (moto) = Masculine and Neutral
मोटी (moti) = Feminine
This means, you say ’moto keta’ but then, you have to say ’moti keti’. You cannot say ‘moti keta’ because it is wrong.
Verb conjugations make a difference in Gender too. This holds true especially for 3rd Person (words). Take the following sentences:
ऊ भात खान्छ (u bhat khancha)
= He eats rice.
ऊ भात खान्छे (u bhat khanche)
= She eats rice.
As you know, the word ‘u’ is neutral (3rd person) but then, how did we know the subject’s gender? The verb mood told us. In the first sentence, the word ‘Khancha’ (eats) is a masculine form of 3rd person verb but then in the second sentence, the word ‘khanche’ (eats) is a feminine form of 3rd person verb. Please do note that ‘khancha’ is also a neutral form of verb. One cannot be used with the other!
1st and 2nd person’s too make a differentiation, but not so extensively as 3rd person’s. It makes a difference only when the verb is in Perfective form. So:
म भात खान्छु (ma bhat khanchu)
= I eat rice.
The verb doesn’t help in differentiating between gender, neither does the word ‘ma’. Boring right?
However, there is a difference in Perfectives, as you can see in the following case:
मैले भात खाएको छु (maile bhat khaeko chu)
= I have eaten rice. (Masculine)
मैले भात खाएकी छु (maile bhat khaeki chu)
= I have eaten rice. (feminine)
A boy cannot possibly say ‘khaeki’, because that would tell he is a ‘she’! Do you remember the various forms of ‘को’ (ko) particle? It manifests in perfectives, with को (ko) representing Masculinity otherwise neutrality whereas की (ki) representing Femininity.
Concluding, it means the “Subject’s Gender” determines the overall gender tone of the sentence. Also, we saw that most masculine words are fence sitters; they can be used as neutral gender-denoting words.
Nepali has changed so much, it has gotten very loose indeed. It is perfectly okay to use neutral-gender verb conjugations (which are also masculine) to describe feminine subjects. This is more prominent in Everyday speech! That means, you can say ’Mary bhat khancha’ instead of ’Mary bhat khanche’ and still make sense. I will tell more about it a bit later, once you fully understand the concepts *clearly*.
Now, you saw the overall aspect of Gendered Speech. The overall gender aspect lies on the hands of the subject.
A thing to note is that, Adverbs, Interjections, Particles (other than ko), Conjunctions etc. do not change at all. Hence, it doesn’t indicate gender and remains neutral in all cases. In Fact, such words (the group of these words is called ‘abyaya’) do not get inflected at all by anything.
I will post more in the upcoming future about Gendered Speech.