September 1, 2017


Filed under: bangkok — Tags: — cohn17 @ 9:21 am

Thai has words that are similar to collective nouns in English, but they involve more precise rules of usage, they exist for more commonplace words, and they apply to singular as well as plural nouns. You might never need to refer to a pride of lions, but – depending on the context – you do have to refer to a lăŋ of bâan (one house or two-plus houses), and I couldn’t tell you what a “lăŋ” actually is, except in reference to “house,” just as I couldn’t define a pride without referring to “lions.”

Phaasăa Thai yâak kwàa (Thai language is more difficult) every day,” I said to my teacher and her colleague as I was leaving, using the word for “more” (kwàa) that I’d just learned. They smiled politely and paused before my teacher said, “Almost correct. We use kwàa only when we compare two things at the same time. If we’re comparing the same thing at two different times, we use a different word. Have a nice weekend!”

August 31, 2017

Let’s learn Thai!

Filed under: thailand — Tags: — cohn17 @ 6:25 pm

I’ve taken a few days of Thai lessons now, and I’m already using it to get around town. When I was studying Greek, I complained about how difficult the grammar was, particularly the declensions and conjugations: that the word for “dog,” for example, was either “σκύλος”, “σκύλο”, or “σκύλου” depending on whether I meant “the dog” as a subject, “the dog” as an object, or “the dog” as a possessive noun; and “work” was “δουλεύω,” “δουλεύεις,” “δουλεύει” and so on, depending on whether I work, you work, or he works. Thai has none of those problems: regardless of who is working, the verb is งาน, which is pronounced “tham”, with an aspirated “t”. (The script is complicated, but I’m not learning it yet.) I “tham,” you “tham,” we all “tham.” Also, “I” and “me” are the same word, written in Thai as ผม and pronounced “phŏm.” “Dog” is always หมา regardless of where it is in the sentence.

Where Greek has an advantage, however, is that all the first-person forms of the verbs end is “-ω”, with or without an accent, so it is easy to know which words were verbs: “μπορώ,” “κάνω,” “δουλέυω,” “καταλαβαίνω,” and so on: they all end in an “o” sound. Those same words in phonetic Thai? “Dâay,” “mii,” “thamŋaan,” and “khâwcay.” (“ŋ” is an “ng” sound, and the c is closer to a j.) Worse, the language utilizes tones and elongated vowels, so that “kháw,” “khâaw,” and “khăaw” mean different things – he, she or it; rice; and white. Moreover, “khâaw khăaw” means “white rice,” “klɔ̂ŋ” means “camera,” but “khâawklɔ̂ŋ” means “brown rice” and not “rice camera.”

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