Survival Thai


This is Ronald. Modern American Missionary.

Say whatever you will about missionaries, they did simplify languages most places they went, making it easier to spread the word of God, or whatever they deemed the word of God to be at the time.  

They arrived in Thailand in the mid-1500s on the coast south of Bangkok, but for reasons that are unclear to me, the word never really took hold. I hope to find out one day. After half a millennium, the Christian population is 370,000 out of a total of 65 million people.

I’m making my third attempt at rising above the level of pre-kindergartener in a tongue I live among. Bahasa Indonesia?- fail.  Arabic? – fail. Thai? We’ll see.

But here’s the very first paragraph in the opening chapter of our textbook…

The Thai alphabet contains 44 consonants (2 obsolete) and 32 vowels. Since some of the consonants share the same sound, the 44 consonants end up producing just 21 initial sounds and 8 final sounds. Some vowels are obsolete and rarely seen. Only 24 vowels are regularly used.

I don’t think one could introduce a language in a more discouraging manner. 44 consonants? Redundant consonants? Obsolete consonants? There’s even a silent consonant. What on earth have missionaries been doing for 500 years?  

32 vowels?  Sheesh!

Add in, that there are 5 possible tones for each vowel, and it’s a headache in the making. Depending on the tones the word “Khaaw” could mean white, rice, fishy, or news. “Mai”, depending on the tone could mean a number of things, resulting in this interesting map it of dialogue.

Q: Mai Mai?   A: Is it new?  


Q: Mai Mai   A: it’s not new

The written language, though beautiful, is darn near undecipherable to the aging eye. Words and sentences are pressed together with seemingly no rule or guidelines.

นี่คือประโยค ยากที่จะพูดว่าคำใดคำหนึ่งลงท้ายและอีกคำหนึ่งก็เริ่มขึ้น เหตุผล? ใครจะรู้? แต่ช่องว่างอาจมากลางประโยคตอนท้ายประโยคหรือที่อื่น

Above is a sentence. It’s so hard to say where one word ends and another begins. The reason? Who knows? But spaces may come in the middle of sentences, at the end of sentences or somewhere else.

To its credit, there are no genders in this language, no conjugations to learn, there aren’t even any tenses. So, pre-kindergarten may not be too far away.


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