February 19, 2008

Baby talk

Being new parents, my wife and I get to face new issues. One of the big ones is about language. When folks ask what language my wife and I speak at home, my typical response is to say that we speak Thai because it's the language of least resistance. Obviously, we'd like our daughter to speak both English and Thai natively. But I find myself so used to speaking Thai nearly all the time that I speak Thai with the baby, without thinking about it. It's a challenge.

My bilingual woes aside, the real point of this post is "baby" talk. There are quite a few words that I'm getting way more mileage out of than I ever did in my previous incarnation as a non-parent. To look at a few:
  • จ๊ะเอ๋ = 'peekaboo' A good all purpose expression for playing with infants, whether you're actually peeking and booing or not.
  • อึ = 'poop' This works as both a noun and a verb. A cutesy word for the least fun part of parenthood (so far, anyhow). [Update: My wife reminds me that this is also often pronounced อึ๊, with a high tone. I guess it makes it all the cuter.]
  • ผ้าอ้อม = 'diaper' There's nothing ผ้า about disposable diapers these days, but that's what they're called. The more accurate name for this disposable variety is ผ้าอ้อมสำเร็จรูป. And with the help of stores like Tesco Lotus, Mamy Poko is quickly supplanting mommy dunk-o and scrub-o. There's also a generic colloquial term for disposable diapers, แพมเพอร์ส [แพ็มเพิด], from the brand name Pampers. My wife and I also use ไดเปอร์ [ไดเป้อ], but I haven't heard that elsewhere, although it gets a few hundred Google hits.
And this is only the beginning.


  1. Now that you're blog has turned 102, I have a suggestion that I've been meaning to mention but always forget to. I think it would be helpful for readers who don't read Thai (like me) if you could put a phonetic spelling of Thai words in parenthesis after the words you type.

    It wouldn't need to be perfect or precise either - the people who would be picky about representing tones correctly wouldn't be the ones who'd need a romanization (they'd just read the Thai).

    But when I read your posts, I think I miss something because I have no sound at all in my head when I encounter the Thai words. It just leaves this blank silence in my head for that spot in the sentence. I'd like something to fill those blanks with, even if it is a simplified tone-deaf version of the real thing.

    Naturally when you are quoting large passages to translate, romanization would be unnecessary, but for the kinds of posts like this one where you talk about a small list of words, it would really help us non-Thai speakers/readers out.

    Just a suggestion. :)

  2. I also just discovered your blog few days ago... I have a small child as well, and we succeeded with making her bilingual. It's a shame how well she speak Thai, and I still struggle after learning several years. And it even seems our daughter caught some English as well, which is the language my wife an me use with each other.

    There's one word of the baby language which I still wonder about - it seems there's no common Thai word for the pacifier. My wife used to call it something like "chichu", but said it was a word she made-up with her mom.

  3. @Thomas: This is something I've thought about a fair amount, and I know it limits the potential readership. Part of me is lazy, but another part of me sees romanization as a crutch to be flung away as quickly as possible.

    Of course, I know not every reader is going to be a serious student of Thai, so maybe I shouldn't expect them to conform to my pedagogical prejudices. In the meantime, I prominently display the link to thai2english.com, in hopes that it will get me off the hook.

    I also often give the phonetic in Thai script in square brackets for words with atypical pronunciation (I like the justification for this given on this Khmer blog). But that still doesn't help people who don't even read the basics.

    I know exactly how you feel, though, when I read blogs about Khmer, and much of the discussion about Japanese on Babelhut. :P

    You've got me back on the fence. I'll keep thinking it over..

    @Andy: I'm worried my facility with Thai will handicap my daughter for learning English, as long as we're in Thailand. I think once she starts getting more responsive and understands stories and things I'll be all over reading her Roald Dahl and the Berenstein Bears and all that good stuff. I do read her plenty of books in English.

    You're right about pacifier, though. In my house growing up it was called a binky, so lacking a Thai word, my wife has adopted that. Maybe it'll catch on.

  4. i'm with you Rikker about the romanized thai. yes, thomas, you are missing something, but reading it in a form that could never duplicate it is not going to fill that gap. reading thai can be almost like a puzzle, and you don't have to understand the word to read it.
    -as for your kid, isn't sign language universal? it's the perfect middle ground. just teach her that and then you don't have to mess with the thai/americanese conflict. disregard this comment if she doesn't have two hands.

  5. Even if you weren't being facetious, Dave, I'd have to point out that there are more than 100 different sign languages on this Wikipedia list, including Thai sign language and American Sign Language. :P

  6. well there should only be one.

  7. I wouldn't worry too much about speaking Thai instead of English to your infant daughter. My grandchildren are learning Vietnamese quickly now that their dad is giving them regular lessons. (Thanks!!!)

    My exhusband's parents spoke Polish in their home, but when he started school in Michigan and started learning English, he totally forgot the Polish language. It seems that continued exposure is just as or more important than intensive exposure.

    Do you know if there is any truth to the theory that a father's language/speech has a much greater influence on children than the mothers? It is something I heard somewhere.