I received the following photograph of a sign taken by Son Ha Dinh in Damak, Nepal:
Son Ha helped us so much with these two posts: "Unknown Language #7," "Unknown Language #7: update." Damak is a town in eastern Nepal where Son Ha works in a refugee camp and where he encountered the woman who is featured in those two posts.
I don't think that "bad shits" requires extensive comment, though I will say that the fine gradations of English vowels seem to pose a lot of problems for nonnative speakers. For example, my wife always had a devil of a time distinguishing among "pin, pain, pine, and pen". On the other hand, I had trouble clearly differentiating certain consonants in Nepali, e.g., च /c, t͡ʃ/ and छ /cʰ, t͡ʃʰ/, such that the initials of cār चार ("four") and cha छ ("six") came out sounding very much alike, resulting in amusement on the part of my Nepali friends. (You can hear recordings of the two words here.)
And I also found it challenging to differentiate the three sibilants: श śa /ɕ, ʃ/, ष ṣa /ʂ/, and स sa /s/. [Note that the ‘s’ in the devanagari for “furnishing” is not the palatal ‘sh’ but the dental ‘s’; more on that below.]
Here's the transliteration of the main part of the shop sign:
maniṣā pharnisiṅg senṭar
damak 11, pharnicar lāīn phon …
(Manisha Furnishing Center, Damak 11 [I believe that is the "ward" number for Nepali addresses], furniture phone line…)
Manisha is a female name associated with a goddess of wisdom. It may be the name of the store owner or, perhaps more likely, a reference to the famous Nepali actress, Manisha Koirala. The next two words are obviously borrowed from English.
According to Philip Lutgendorf:
The Devanagari transliteration contains two “errors” (of a sort common in such signage). One is the misspelling of “Furnishing” with the sibilant “sa” rather than “śa” or “ṣa” (as one would expect), though such substitution is common in Eastern Hindi and probably in Nepali as well; the reader will pronounce it “sha” in any case. The other is the use of the dental “na” as a conjunct with retroflex “ṭa” (in Senṭar). This is theoretically impossible according to Sanskrit rules; it should be Seṇṭar (सेंटर or सेण्टर), but again, popular signage doesn’t give a…..sheet….about such niceties!
The conjunct for “ng” uses the optional orthography, derived from Sanskrit, of representing the nasal of the glottal class by a full character normally avoided in modern Hindi (which would generally prefer a superscript dot or anusvār, to yield फ़र्निसिंग…).
I asked Leopold Eisenlohr if the last biconsonantal conjunct of the second word ("furnishing") of the sign is exactly equivalent to ङ्ग. He replied:
Yes, it is exactly equivalent. The slanted stroke under the first letter is a virama, meaning there is no vowel following the consonant. It is usually preferable to make conjuncts out of consonants that have no vowels between them, but in pronunciation and transliteration both spellings are identical.
One thing to note is the fact that the g has no virama sign, so technically what is written should be transliterated pharnisin̄ga, though the maker of that sign assumed people would know not to pronounce the vowel and would not need the virama.
The letter there is the velar nasal usually translated as n̄ or ṅ. It's the velar n because it comes with the velar consonant g (instead of a labial, dental, retroflex, or palatal nasal). The dot between the two letters is part of the n̄/ṅ: ङ
I think I'll let Fred Smith have the last word:
As someone who has suffered plenty of intestinal problems over the last 40+ years of traveling in India, I really understand the "bad shits" sign. It should have been in front of a GI doctor's office.
[Thanks to Deven Patel, Philip Lutgendorf, Fred Smith, and Leopold Eisenlohr]