Friday, November 2, 2012
Thai Language Is A Cute, Vicious Little Puzzle
Thai language is not an easy row to hoe. It starts off with many features that are hard to get a hold of, like the tones, and the sixty-five odd letters to the alphabet, and the continuous spelling (no spaces between words). As I progress, slowly, more levels of weirdness are uncovered.
One thing that makes it tough is that Thai people love to give things pet names, and these pet names vary from region to region. The snack in the above picture, for instance. What they are is young silk worms, fried up with some garlic and chilli. They're very tasty, actually, and inoffensive to eat unless you want to think about it too much. To find them on a menu though, you need to know the slang term for them. Up north they call them "Express Trains" ("roht doowan"), because of the long, segmented appearance. There's a different pet name in the Bangkok area.
So maybe you're not that interested in the bug end of the food spectrum. But everybody loves fried chicken, and there's a great version of fried chicken available here. Small dose, one meaty bone of a chicken wing, deep fried, it's prefect, not enough to feel guilty about. Where I found them they are called "Broken Brakes" ("braek daek"), because when you start eating them, you can't stop. To find them on a menu you need to be able to read "braek daek" and know what they are.
Further, Weirder Complications
I've been practicing my reading these days, and I've encountered a few complications. I need the dictionary, you know, to buff up the old vocabulary, and looking things up is always tough. Thai is monosyllabic, so most words are either one syllable all together or made up of several one syllable words. These compound words are tough to identify in a sentence with no spaces, and sometimes the two or three component words are hard to relate to the meaning assigned to the compound word.
Even tougher, it turns out that there is a difference between written Thai and spoken Thai, so a word that I know pretty well in spoken Thai may be a completely different word in print. Even tougher than that, there's adult Thai and children's Thai. There are different words for if a child is doing something or if the doer is an adult.
They say that language learning late in life is a good way to keep the brain active, fend off the old Alzheimer's. So maybe I'll be holding out for cancer after all. Cancer finally gets all of us.