Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Laziness Vs. Just Plain Being Over-Matched

I studied German at college, and I can tell you that I found it bloody hard. I ended up with 24 credits of German, speaking and reading pretty well. You may recall that college for me covered the period from 1965 to 1985, so I had plenty of time. Later on, when I could actually talk to Germans, some of them told me that they also thought that "es gibt zu viele Artikale und Endungen auf Deutsch." (There are too many articles and endings in German.) I couldn't agree more. French is even worse. I finally embraced the concept by getting involved with German poetry. It seemed that you could completely explode the word order without altering the meaning, because of all the endings, articles, and declinations. That was cool, so I learned it, because it was fun that way.

Thai is nothing like English, or German. Officially, Thai has "no grammar." There are no endings, tenses, articles, declinations, or genders, nothing but words. And the words are mostly one syllable, differentiated from another word of the same syllable by a different tone scheme, and the same syllable is usually at least six words by that method. Then there are the compound words, made up of several smaller words, which may or may not be in the dictionary. Sometimes I think it's a plot to keep foreigners in the dark. It has certainly kept me in the dark.

Several intelligent commentators on the present political crisis in Thailand have focused on the dearth of Farang (foreigners) who can actually speak fluent Thai, which makes it hard for outsiders to actually understand what's going on. This is true. They say, Thai is a language where nothing is stated directly, and it is possible to express two opposing views simultaneously. That's true, I know. Plus, Thai people are loathe to say anything bad about anyone, even someone that they hate with a passion. So it's all very subtle, and there's a lot of reading between the lines.

Whatever. Thai people are telling me all the time that I sound great, and it's great that I can speak Thai. I know what they mean, the little that I can say, they can understand, which already puts me leagues ahead of most foreigners, and I can actually explain things like what I want, or where I'm going. I can even have a simple conversation about everyday subjects, frequently I really surprise myself, and the taxi driver too. But when I watch TV, and people are discussing the current crisis, they might as well be speaking fucking Hungarian for all I know.

I don't think that it's laziness on my part, although I've had five or six years to get a handle on it. That's part of it, because I know that I could study more. I'm going for over-matched, because it puts me in a much better light.

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