August 31, 2008

Another Thai eggcorn: น่มนวม/นุ่มนวล

I came across another Thai eggcorn in the wild today. In conversing with a friend, she used the phrase นุ่มนวม /nûm nuam/, an eggcorn for the phrase นุ่มนวล /nûm nuan/.

The common phrase, นุ่มนวล /nûm nuan/ 'soft, gentle (in action or manner)', consists of นุ่ม  /nûm/ 'soft, gentle' and นวล /nuan/ 'soft-colored, delicate, gentle'. When used as a compound phrase, they refer to metaphorical softness.

As with all eggcorns, the mix-up makes some logical sense. The word นวม /nuam/ means 'padded, stuffed with soft material' or 'stuffing, padding', and is seen in phrases like ผ้านวม 'comforter, blanket'; เก้าอี้นวม 'easy chair, upholstered chair'; and เสื้อนวม 'padded jacket'.

The semantic connection with softness should be clear. There may also be some assimilation going on with the final /m/ of นุ่ม /nûm/ helping reinforce the change /nuan/ > /nuam/.

Google turns up a few hundred hits for นุ่มนวม /nûm nuam/, versus upwards of a million for the normal phrase.

August 28, 2008

Etymologist 16: On the origin of สวัสดี sawatdi

You've seen it spelled sawatdi, sawatdee, sawasdee, and probably half a dozen other variations. To Thais, it's all just สวัสดี.

This modern greeting dates back to the mid-1930s. It is adapted from the Sanskrit สวสฺติ svasti, meaning 'blessing' or 'well-being'. It shares a root with swastika, from Sanskrit svastik 'auspicious thing', the name of the Hindu symbol co-opted by you-know-who right around the time sawatdi was catching on in Thailand.

Credited with its invention as a greeting is
พระยาอุปกิตศิลปสาร Phraya Uppakit Silpasan (1879-1941, born นิ่ม กาญจนาชีวะ), who was a Thai language expert and professor at Chulalongkorn University in the 1930s. He also served on the dictionary committee of the Royal Institute.

As the story goes, Phraya Uppakit coined the greeting in the mid-1930s, as a replacement for a series of expressions coined by the Royal Institute that many felt were too foreign.

Indeed, the expressions sawatdi was meant to replace were translated directly from English: อรุณสวัสดิ์  /arun
sawàt/ 'good morning', ทิวาสวัิสดิ์ /thíwaa sawàt/ 'good afternoon', สายัณห์สวัสดิ์ /sǎayan sawàt/ 'good evening', and ราตรีสวัสดิ์ /raatrii sawàt/ 'good night'. You'll still see อรุณสวัสดิ์ and ราตรีสวัสดิ์ as translations of 'good morning' and 'good night' in film subtitles and translated books, but the other two are virtually obsolete.

One reason the term feels "more Thai" than these other terms, which all involve the same Sanskrit word สวัสดิ์, is that its final syllable is ดี /dii/, which although etymologically unrelated to the Thai word for 'good', definitely creates a semantic connection in the mind. Using Google you can find instances of wordplay that illustrates this connection, where people swap out ดี, creating jocular expressions like
สวัสไม่ดี สวัสร้าย สวัสเลว and สวัสแย่.

It is also interesting to note that the popular Thai greetings in wide use prior to these invented expressions are still in wide use today: greetings like ไปไหน 'where are you going?' or ไปไหนมา 'where are you coming from?' or กินข้าวหรือยัง 'have you eaten yet?'.

What this says to me is that for as widespread as สวัสดี sawatdi is used today, it's still an unnatural expression on some level, mostly limited to formal contexts and social ritual. (Thai people even prefer to answer the phone
not with สวัสดี sawatdi but rather ฮัลโหล, from English 'hello?', which has recently resulted in the National Cultural Commission urging people to stick to the prescribed telephone greeting.)

According to Chula University legend, Phraya Uppakit introduced สวัสดี sawatdi to his students, and it quickly became popular throughout campus and spread from there. However, the widespread adoption of สวัสดี sawatdi probably did not happen quite so organically. It had a little help from Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram.

In 1943, eight months after simplifying the Thai script, Phibunsongkhram made สวัสดี the "official" Thai language greeting.

The following statement was issued by the กรมโฆษณาการ (Propaganda Department, now known as กรมประชาสัมพันธ์, Public Relations Department) on January 22, 1943 (original spelling retained):
"ด้วยพนะท่านนายกรัถมนตรี ได้พิจารนาเห็นว่า เพื่อเปนการส่งเสริมเกียรติแก่ตนและแก่ชาติ ให้สมกับที่เราได้รับความยกย่องว่า คนไทยเปนอารยะชน คำพูดจึงเปนสิ่งหนึ่งที่สแดงภูมิของจิตใจว่าสูงต่ำเพียงใด ฉะนั้นจึงมีคำสั่งให้กำชับ บันดาข้าราชการทุกคนกล่าวคำ "สวัสดี" ต่อกันไนโอกาสที่พบกันครั้งแรกของวัน เพื่อเป็นการผูกไมตรีต่อกัน และฝึกนิสัยไห้กล่าวแต่คำที่เปนมงคล ว่าอะไรว่าตามกัน กับขอไห้ข้าราชการช่วยแนะนำ แก่ผู้ที่อยู่ไนครอบครัวของตนไห้รู้จักกล่าวคำ "สวัสดี" เช่นเดียวกันด้วย"
My translation:
"His Excellency the Prime Minister has considered the matter and is of the opinion that in order to enhance the honor of ourselves and of the nation; in a manner fitting that the Thais be praised as a civilized people; and as speech reflects the status of one's mind; therefore, the order has been given to emphatically urge all public servants to utter the phrase sawatdi to one another when meeting for the first time of the day. Doing so will befriend one another, and instill the habit of speaking only auspicious words. In addition, public servants are requested to assist in advising those in their households to also use the phrase sawatdi."
It stands to reason, based on this directive, that sawatdi had not caught on in general use, or else there would be no need to effectively mandate its use, nor would there be any need to instruct public servants to tell their families to use it, either.

If anyone has further evidence on precisely when สวัสดี sawatdi began to be widely used, or on whether it was widely used before 1943, I would love to see it.

August 27, 2008

Translator's Corner: Romeo and Juliet

Lest you think I only ever read Thai juvenile fiction, today's installment of Translator's Corner brings us the highest of high culture: Romeo and Juliet.

The play, written in the tail end of the 16th Century, was translated by King Rama VI with the title โรเมโอและจูเลียต and first published in Thai in 1922. The copy I have is the 1978 seventh printing, a run of 1,000 copies published by สำนักพิมพ์คลังวิทยา on behalf of หอสมุดแห่งชาติ, the National Library.

King Rama VI died in 1928, which puts all of his works firmly in the public domain under Thai copyright law (which protects books for 50 years after the death of the author, or 50 years from first publication for copyrights held by an organization). Anyone who is inclined to type it up can post it to Thai Wikisource, or anywhere else for that matter.

This translation is a fantastic specimen of the writing and spelling conventions of its time. It retains liberal use of ฃ ฃวด (but ฅ คน, which died out first, isn't used).

It also uses the now-obsolete symbol ยามักการ in such names as เชกส๎เปียร์ and ลอเร็นซ๎ (above the ส and ซ, respectively--it looks at first glance like a การันต์). ยามักการ indicates that a consonant should be read as a cluster. Some modern publishers, like สำนักพิมพ์ผีเสื้อ, do continue to use it to transliterate foreign names, though.

Being as this is a translation of a play, and 80+ years old, I'm utterly unqualified to comment on the translation itself. Rather, I'm simply going to present some interesting sections and lines, corresponding to well-known passages from the original.
    Two households, both alike in dignity,
    In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
    From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
    Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
    From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
    A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
    Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows
    Doth with their death bury their parents' strife.
    The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
    And the continuance of their parents' rage,
    Which, but their children's end, naught could remove,
    Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
    The which if you with patient ears attend,
    What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

    กล่าวถึงสกุลสอง. กิติศักดิ์เสมอกัน,
       อยู่ร่วม ณ ถิ่นบรรพะบุเรศเวโรนา
       เปนเรื่องแสดงภาย ณ เขตสองนาฬิกา;

And some well-known lines from Act 2, Scene 2:
    O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
    Deny thy father and refuse thy name!
    Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
    And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

    โอ้โรเมโอ! อ้า, เธอเปนโรเมโอใย?
    ตัดขาดจากบิดา และแปลงนามเสียเปนไร
    หรือเธอยอมมิได้, ขอเพียงปฏิญญารัก,


     What's in a name? That which we call a rose
     By any other name would smell as sweet.

     นามนั้นสำคัญไฉน? ที่เราเรียกกุหลาบนั้น


     Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye
     Than twenty of their swords!

     อ้าอันตรายนั้นมีมากมวล ณ นัยนา


    Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
    That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

     ลาก่อน, ลาก่อน! อ้า, การลานี้โศกชื่นใจ,

The meter manages to stay fairly close to Shakespeare's iambic pentameter, with usually 11 syllables per line.

It's a fascinating read, if somewhat more difficult than I'm accustomed to.

August 25, 2008

A comparative table of Sukhothai-era scripts

Following up on last week's post, in which I took a cursory look at the script inscribed on the Ramkhamhaeng stele of Sukhothai, today I've got another couple charts to share.

These charts compare different scrips during the Sukhothai period. Naturally, different inscriptions had different variations.

In the charts below, the Ramkhamhaeng inscription is the leftmost example. I am not sure exactly which inscriptions the other two come from.

First, the consonants:

[Click on a chart for a larger version]

And the vowels:
Take note of the little plus sign (+), indicating where the consonant goes in relation to the vowel. As I mentioned before, one reason the authenticity of the Ramkhamhaeng inscription was questioned is that the script puts all vowels on a single line with the consonants, which was unheard of in the region at the time.

As you can see on this chart, other inscriptions of the Sukhothai era use the expected superscript and subscript vowels, as was and is the norm in all of Southeast Asia's Indic-derived scripts (Mon, Burmese, Khmer, Lao, Thai, etc).

In the text of the Ramkhamhaeng inscription, it states that there was no Thai writing before it. If this is true, and if modern script is descended from it, we would expect to see other inscriptions using this same vowel layout, and yet we don't.

[Tables are from Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre's inscription website, scanned from an unidentified book. Maybe the Fine Arts Department's จารึกในประเทศไทย series.]

August 21, 2008

"King of Siam" boardgame out of Germany

Andy over at Changwat, Amphoe, Tambon has posted about a new German boardgame, "König von Siam" (King of Siam).

Here's the board:

The game's story goes like this: The year is 1874, and civil war has erupted as King Chulalongkorn tries to centralize authority and unify Siam. Players battle to increase their influence in the various regions, representing the Siamese royalists, the Lao, and the Malays.

The creator, Peer Sylvester, has this to say of the impetus behind the game's creation:
Everything started in late 2003 when I was in Siam, nowadays Thailand. I had been working there for over a year as a teacher, and I was curious to learn more about Thai history. But that wasn’t easy, since the International schools where I was working did not teach Thai or Asian history, but only European history. Thus, there were no books for me to read and no teachers for me to question. However, what information I was able to gather fascinated me. Especially intriguing was the fact that Siam was successful in averting colonization. By the start of the 20th century, all of Southeast Asia was colonized except for Siam. How did the Siamese accomplish that? The idea for a game was born.
You can read more of the creator's notes in the complete rules in English (PDF).

Well, this game isn't going to teach much history. The creator has taken historical liberties to make the game work. But that's okay. Unlike other equally fantastical re-imaginations of Southeast Asian history, this all in the name of fun. I wouldn't mind playing a round myself.

August 20, 2008

Makeover the Daily News, win (some portion of) 1 million baht

Here's something interesting that I found out about at 7-Eleven, of all places. The newspaper Daily News is holding a contest for readers to redesign their paper. I found this explanatory interview (in Thai) on MCOT News:

This contest was advertised on a poster at 7-Eleven as 'ท้าพลิกโฉม นสพ. ชิง 1 ล้าน' ('Newspaper makeover challenge: compete for 1 million baht'). While the total prize money is one million baht, the highest single prize is 100,000 baht.

Details can be found (in Thai) here:

It's essentially two contests, with students in one bracket and everyone else in another. I think this is a nice idea on the part of the newspaper people, and a clever way to find new design talent.
Entrants are encouraged to use news articles and photographs from the Daily News website, or use 'virtual' news. The website provides a vector image of the newspaper masthead logo.

Here's the prize breakdown:

Category 1:
Front page redesign
1) General public
  • First prize: 100,000 baht
  • Second prize: 70,000 baht
  • Third prize: 40,000 baht
  • Two runners-up: 5,000 baht each
2) Students
  • First prize: 80,000 baht
  • Second prize: 50,000 baht
  • Third prize: 20,000 baht
  • Two runners-up: 3,000 baht each
Category 2: Sports page redesign
1) General public
  • First prize: 80,000 baht
  • Second prize: 50,000 baht
  • Third prize: 20,000 baht
  • Two runners-up: 5,000 baht each
2) Students
  • First prize: 50,000 baht
  • Second prize: 30,000 baht
  • Third prize: 10,000 baht
  • Two runners-up: 3,000 baht each
Category 3: "เสาร์สปอร์ต" (Saturday Sports) magazine cover redesign
1) General public
  • First prize: 50,000 baht
  • Second prize: 30,000 baht
  • Third prize: 10,000 baht
  • Two runners-up: 5,000 baht each
2) Students
  • First prize: 40,000 baht
  • Second prize: 20,000 baht
  • Third prize: 8,000 baht
  • Two runners-up: 3,000 baht each
Category 4: “โลกสีสวย” (Beautiful World) Sunday magazine cover redesign
1) General public
  • First prize: 50,000 baht
  • Second prize: 30,000 baht
  • Third prize: 10,000 baht
  • Two runners-up: 5,000 baht each
2) Students
  • First prize: 40,000 baht
  • Second prize: 20,000 baht
  • Third prize: 8,000 baht
  • Two runners-up: 3,000 baht each
Special prize (popular vote): 20,000 baht for the entry that receives the most reader votes from any category.

Total prize money: 1,000,000 baht.

According to the website, all prize winners will also receive a certificate. (I wonder which they'll be more interested in.)

Teams of up to three people can enter. The contest is open from August 1 until September 15. Ten finalists will be chosen in each category (10 finalists x 4 categories x 2 for student + general = 80 finalists). Finalists will be published in the October 1 issue of the Daily News, and an exhibition of entries will be held at Paragon on October 24-26, 2008, with the final awards ceremony on October 26.

Oh, yeah. And you have to be a Thai national to enter.

August 19, 2008

A look at the Ramkhamhaeng script

Old Tai scripts are fascinating. The script traditionally considered to be the first Thai script, adapted from Khmer, is known as Ramkhamhaeng script, because it is found on the stone inscription of King Ramkhamhaeng (พ่อขุนรามคำแหง) of Sukhothai.

[Click on an image for a larger version]

A photograph of the first several characters of the inscription.

A tracing of the same characters.

A handwritten rendering in modern script, but with original ordering.

And finally, the same phrase in modern script and spelling.

This section translates as 'My father's name is Sri Indraditya', the opening words of line 1, face 1 of the Ramkhamhaeng stele. If you say this to virtually any Thai person, they can continue where you left off: แม่กูชื่อนางเสือง 'My mother's name is Nang Sueang' (and probably much further).

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Ramkhamhaeng script, which also turn out to be a feature that brought its authenticity into question, is that all vowels are on the same line as consonants. It is not disputed that Thai script is adapted from Khmer, but in all of the common regional scripts of that time (13th Century A.D.), superscript and subscript vowels were the norm.

Those who believe the stone is authentic cite this as an example of Ramkhamhaeng's genius. Those on the other side of the issue cite it as an indicator of possible European influence, and thus the stone is likely to be a 19th Century forgery. (This is but one of a number of issues that critics have with the stele.)

The Ramkhamhaeng stele includes a date in the text, 1835 B.E., corresponding to 1292 A.D. Whether this inscription is authentic or not, other inscriptions also date to roughly this period, meaning Thai writing has been around for around 700 years.

Here are a couple of tables showing all the characters of the Ramkhamhaeng script, with the modern Thai equivalent given for reference.

 Charts courtesy of SAC, but I'm not sure exactly which book 
they scanned them from (similar charts exist in many).

Some characters that don't appear in the text were not invented yet, such as ฮ. นกฮูก.

Notice that there were only two tone marks in this script, shaped like modern ไม้เอก and ไม้จัตวา. Most vowels are remarkably similar to modern Thai, even the complex ones.

Differences to take note of:
  • The equivalents of modern เ-ือ and เีย have an extra อ and ย, respectively.
  • No อ is necessary for the vowel -ื in an open vowel. So ชื่อ was written ชื่ (this can be seen until very recently, in fact).
  • Modern -ัว is written -วว. There was no -ั (ไม้หันอากาศ) at this time, so this fits in with the larger pattern of simply reduplicating a consonant to indicate the short /a/ vowel followed by that consonant. So -งง would equal -ัง (e.g. Ramkhamhaeng ญงง = modern ยัง). Thus, -วว = -ัว. This may tell us something about the pronunciation of this vowel at that time, too, but that's just conjecture on my part.

August 18, 2008

Old video on the supposed territorial losses of Siam

It seems that the series of email-forward maps I wrote about earlier have their origin in the video embedded below. Clearly someone has just traced the outlines given in this video, reproducing its uniquely inaccurate outline of Southeast Asia. (In particular, notice the eastern coast of the mainland.)

Found on
UPDATE is now apparently blocked, but YouTube comes to the rescue:

Can anyone ascertain the date of this video? I am thinking it was produced for use in schools. What era would you say--1980s? Earlier?

It begins with a quote from Rama V (note--all English translations herein are by me):
"ฉันรู้ตัวชัดอยู่ว่า ถ้าความเป็นเอกราชของกรุงสยามได้สุดสิ้นไปเมื่อใด ชีวิตฉันก็คงจะ(สุด)สิ้นไปเมื่อนั้น"

"I am quite certain that if the independence of Siam should meets its end, my life will likewise meet its end."
(The narrator misreads the quote as shown on screen, leaving out the word สุด, which I have indicated in parentheses above.)

The video proceeds to show the series of territorial losses that this non-existent version of Siam has suffered at the hands of foreign powers. The sequence and geography is exactly like the map series I posted about.

The message of the video appears on the surface to be innocuous--Rama V avoided bloodshed while maintaining independence by sacrificing parts of Siam to European powers--but it's pernicious in how it distorts the history of the region and turns it into a lesson on the modern corrupting influence of foreign powers. On this map, there literally are no such countries as Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.

It ends with this thought:
นับเป็นบทเรียนของคนไทยทุกคน ที่ต้องศึกษาและจดจำ แม้ว่าในปัจจุบัน การรุกรานเพื่อสร้างอิทธิพลของชาติมหาอำนาจ อาจจะมาในรูปแบบต่าง ๆ ก็ตาม การแก้ไขปัญหาตามแนวทางสันติวิธีสามารถแก้ไขปัญหาของชาติได้จริง มวลชนทุกหมู่เหล่า และเจ้าหน้าที่ของรัฐทุกฝ่าย จะต้องรวมกันเป็นหนึ่ง ให้กำลังใจซึ่งกันและกัน และร่วมสร้างพลังแผ่นดิน ภายใต้ยุทธศาสตร์พระราชทาน "รู้รัก สามัคคี" เพื่อน้อมเกล้าน้อมกระหม่อม ถวายเป็นราชการะ ในสถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์ ซึ่งเป็นสถาบันสูงสุดที่ปวงชนชาวไทยรักเชิดชูตลอดกาล

This is an important lesson for every Thai person that must be studied and remembered. Today, influence-building invasions by powerful nations come in many different forms, but the nation's problems can truly be solved through peaceful means. People of all groups and officers of every government body must be one, strengthen one another, and work together to build a strong nation. We must follow the Royal Strategy of "Know and Love Unity", as a token of our devotion and as an offering to the monarchy, which is the highest institution that all Thai people eternally love and glorify.
The video draws a direct connection between 19th-century colonization and modern "influence" colonization. I wonder if this is meant to imply communism, or if they're talking about things like popular culture from the West.

There's a name and cell phone number at the end of the video. Perhaps I'll call that person up and ask them about it.

August 17, 2008

Thai 101 is #1

Shameless self-promotion alert. This blog is now the first hit on Google for the phrase Thai 101 (also "Thai 101" in quotes). I think this happened in the last couple weeks.

Take that, Thai 101 restaurant in Brooklyn, New York! Your nefarious cuisine will never overshadow my linguistic ramblings again!

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

August 16, 2008

Translator's Corner: Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues

Much like 8-bit Nintendo and My Pet Monster, Encyclopedia Brown is indelibly etched into whatever section of my gray matter stores disproportionately nostalgic childhood memories.

Everyone read Encyclopedia Brown as kids, didn't they? Or was I part of yet another "special" subset of American childrendom, like town spelling bee champs and kids whose mom gave them terrible haircuts? Did I just answer my own question?

Well, anyway, I ate those books up. That and the Great Brain series. I can still picture in my mind which shelf they were located on at the public library I frequented in those heady years before the double-digits of age.

I'm surprised there haven't been any big screen adaptations of Encyclopedia Brown. Turns out in 1989 there was a ten-episode TV run on HBO, of all networks. I was even more surprised to find out that that Donald J. Sobol is still writing the series, 45 years after the first book was published. Bugs Meany is probably a repeat felon doing hard time by now.

And how exactly does that work nowadays? Is Encyclopedia forever stuck in the 60s, or is he a teenager in modern times?--"I used Google Earth and a GPS device to locate your missing keys, Mr. Johnson. Case closed. That'll be three grand. Daddy needs a new MacBook Air." (Hey, if Nancy Drew can make it to the big screen in the 21st Century, I say so can Encyclopedia Brown.)

What was I talking about again? See what I mean about disproportionately nostalgic?

The point of this post is Thai translation. Somewhere I picked up a ratty copy of Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues in Thai. The English was originally published in 1966, the third book in the series. The Thai translation, titled เอนไซโคลพีเดีย บราวน์ หนูน้อยยอดนักสืบ ตอนหยดสีปริศนา was published in 1994, translated by ชูศักดิ์ วิจักขณา.

A bad photograph of the cover that I bogarted 
from (but which book?)

I'm a little disappointed at the quality of the editing, especially from ดอกหญ้า Dokya, who are typically very good. Three places in the frontmatter--two false titles pages and the title page--give the incorrect English title, Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man, which is actually the next book in the series.

Comparing the table of contents with the English version on Amazon reveals that the book's cover is correct, and it is in fact book #3. But then, to make matters even more confusing, there are advertisements in the back for other books in the series. There's a blurb in the back for several installments of the series, including one with the same Thai title as this one, listed as coming soon. Also, typos like ต่อป instead of ต่อไป, that sort of thing.

On to the meat. Here is a chunk from the first section of the first story in this volume:
The Case of the Mysterious Tramp

His head bent low over the handlebars of his bike, Encyclopedia Brown rounded the corner of Maple Avenue like high-speed sandpaper.
เอนไซโลพีเดียก้มศีรษะลงเหนือแฮนด์รถจักรยาน เขานำรถจักรยานแล่นฉิวเลี้ยวตรงมุมถนนเมเปิล

It was three minutes before six o'clock of a summer evening.
ขณะนั้นเหลืออีก 3 นาทีจะถึงเวลา 6 โมงเย็นของวันหนึ่งในฤดูร้อน

With a bit of luck and a following wind, Encyclopedia hoped to make it home on time for dinner.
อาศัยโชคนิดหน่อยและกระแสลมที่พัดไล่หลัง เอนไซโลพีเดียหวังว่าจะไปถึงบ้านทันเวลาทานอาหารค่ำ

Suddenly someone called his name.
ทันใดนั้น ก็มีใครบางคนเรียกชื่อเขา

"Leroy! Leroy Brown!"
"เลอรอย! เลอรอย บราวน์"

Right off he knew it had to be his teacher calling.

Only teachers and his mother and father called him Leroy.
เพราะคนที่จะเรียกว่าเลอรอยนั้น จะมีก็เพียงพ่อกับแม่และครูที่โรงเรียนเท่านั้น

Everyone else in the town of Idaville called him Encyclopedia.
ส่วนคนอื่น ๆ  ในเมืองไอดาวิลล์ เรียกเขาว่า เอนไซโลพีเดีย

He didn't look much like an encyclopedia, which is a set of books filled with all kinds of facts. Or even like one book.
เอนไซโลพีเดีย คือหนังสือสารานุกรมที่รวบรวมความรู้หลากหลายไว้ด้วยกัน อาจจะรวมเป็นชุดหลายเล่ม หรือเล่มเดียว

People called him Encyclopedia because he read more books than a bathtub full of professors.
การที่ทุกคนให้สมญานามว่า เอนไซโลพีเดียนั้น ก็เพราะว่าเขาอ่านหนังสือมากมาย

And he never forgot anything he read.
Vocabulary. As a book aimed at young readers, there's not a ton of interesting vocabulary to point out, but here are a few:
  • แฮนด์ /hɛɛn/ = 'handlebars', presumably taken from the first syllable of that word.
  • แล่นฉิว /lɛ̂n chǐw/ - แล่น is a verb used with vehicles to indicate continual motion. Boats แล่น on the river, cars แล่น down the road. When you're stopping and starting, you're not แล่น-ing. ฉิว indicates high speed.
  • สมญานาม /sàmáyaanaam/ = This is just a fancy word for 'nickname' in this context. We might reverse-translate it as 'appellation'.
  • การที่ /kaan thîi/ = These are words everyone's familiar with, but การที่ is a compound used meaning "The fact that..." or just "That..." as in, "That everyone thinks you have bad B.O. is your own fault" (now we're moving from childhood to my early teenage years).
Transcription. I think it's odd to transcribe Leroy as เลอรอย. That sorta fits if you emphasize the last syllable, like "Luh-ROY". But the more common pronunciation in my experience is LEE-roy, which would probably be written ลีีรอย. (Not to mention that you've got the connection with that Jim Croce song "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" reinforcing the pronunciation LEE-roy.)

Liberties with the text. The thing that strikes me the most about this excerpt is how bland the Thai is in comparison to the English. Every time the author has attempted wordplay or cleverness, the translator has scrubbed it with linguistic Scotch-Brite, so as to leave it devoid of anything remarkable or, dare I say, entertaining.

If we translate back into English, you can see how dull the Thai is:
"Encyclopedia Brown rounded the corner of Maple Avenue like high-speed sandpaper." 
"Encyclopeda sped around the corner of Maple Avenue."
The sandpaper imagery is the author trying to be original, and not resort to boring cliche. แล่นฉิว is pretty vanilla by comparison, and kind of a copout.
"People called him Encyclopedia because he read more books than a bathtub full of professors."
"People called him Encyclopedia because he read lots of books."
Did the translator take this as an affront to professors? Given that high respect is paid to teachers as a matter of mandatory ritual, this seems like a real possibility. And that's just silly. This is fiction. Not only is the flavor of the language lost, but the translator has completely downgraded Encyclopedia's genius. He's no longer a prodigy sleuth with madd reading skillz, he's now a kid who reads lots of books. Ouch.
"He didn't look much like an encyclopedia, which is a set of books filled with all kinds of facts. Or even like one book."
"An encyclopedia is a book that compiles all kinds of knowledge. They come in sets of many volumes, or in one volume."
As I addressed last time, sometimes it's hard to know what is a mistranslation and what isn't. The author is trying to be funny, and the translator has either completely missed the joke or else he's intentionally trying to suck all of the life out of this book. It's a joke, get it? He doesn't look like a set of books. He doesn't even look like one book. Because he's a human! It may be a bad joke, but so it goes. Too bad the humor nazi had to come and turn it into a lesson on the various sizes of encyclopedias.

And this is all on page one. Which, granted, is a very small sample. Maybe he was just warming up. Maybe it gets better as it goes along.

This guy translated a number of books in the series--at least four. You can find them on the cheap through the help of Google and the ragtag gang of small online Thai used book sites like Su Used Book, Sangbua, and many others. (Because I'm a compulsive book buyer, Googling the name ชูศักดิ์ วิจักขณา last night led me to purchase another couple of books he translated. I must be a glutton for punishment. Oh wait, no, I'm just compulsive.)

Would I still recommend Encyclopedia Brown in Thai? Sure. But only to someone who couldn't read the original English. Or to someone who believes wordplay and humor to be sinful indulgences. Based on this sample, this book reads like a saltine cracker.

Saying 'sawatdee', not 'hello'--an issue of national importance?

From the Bangkok Post earlier this week:
The Office of the National Culture Commission has been asked to launch a campaign to promote the use of "Sawasdee" instead of "Hello" among Thais, particularly when answering the phone.

Natthee Phukkhayaporn, chairman of the Nakhon Sawan provincial culture council and a specialist at the National Culture Commission, said he had proposed the campaign to the commission due to the incorrect use of Thai language, particularly the appropriate greeting when taking a phone call.

Most Thais often say "Hello" rather than "Sawasdee," the traditional Thai greeting, when they pick up the phone, he said.

He also called on the Public Relations Department to seek cooperation from radio show hosts or disc jockeys to address their audiences with "Sawasdee" instead of the more popular western-style greeting.

Thai people don't live in a bubble. If they talk on the phone with foreigners, they're still going to be using the word. If they watch foreign movies, people will still answer the phone, "Hello?"

So, obviously the word isn't going away. That means the National Culture Commission wants people to make a conscious choice: "When I speak with a Thai person, I will say สวัสดี
sawatdee instead of Hello, even though สวัสดี sawatdee is stiff and formal and Hello is casual and universally understood."

Making this change doesn't enhance communication in any way. So (obviously) people who aren't already doing it aren't going to change just because you ask them to. People do things for reasons, and there's no good reason to do this. Hogwash about Thai being "corrupted" by English be damned.

The greeting สวัสดี sawatdee was coined during the uber-nationalist Phibunsongkhram era (there will be an upcoming post on this). It's not in any danger of extinction. So what's the deal. We must have total dominion of Thai over English?

Here's the kicker:
The commission should also encourage Thais to use polite phrases such as khob khun krab/kha (thank you) and khor thot krab/kha (excuse me) more frequently, he said.
You can't make this stuff up. (Oh wait, yes you can.)

I for one hope this campaign is a success. Then we can move on to other pressing issues, like reminding Thai people to look both ways before crossing the street, and not to get in a car with strangers (even if they have candy).

August 13, 2008

Two Thailand blogs changing directions

I'm slow posting about this, but like a one-two punch, two Thailand blogs I read regularly have announced they're moving on to other things.

Matt at Thailand's Lost Boy announced on July 30 that he is moving away from Thailand later this month. While he will continue to blog, the focus will shift away from the Land of Smiles. I'll continue to subscribe.

And on August 1, the author of The Siam Sentinel announced he is closing up shop completely, due to a busy schedule. After two further posts, the blog hasn't been updated since.

Both of these blogs have large archives with hundreds of posts. They are well worth reading. I hope that everyone who isn't already a reader of these blogs can find the time to acquaint themselves.

Best of luck to the both of them in their new endeavors.

Nationalism and the nebulous geography of Siam

Note to the reader: This post may gets more "political" than is the norm for me. I'm not trying raise any hackles, I'm just calling it as I see it. If you don't mind knowing my take on things, then do read on.

There's an excellent post on the blog The Nation's State which helps debunk an email that is making the rounds among Thais.

The email shows a series of maps, ostensibly demonstrating how Thailand has continually lost land over the last couple of centuries, culminating in the ongoing, extremely politicized standoff at Prasat Preah Vihear. For example, here is one slide:

The idea of Thailand as an ancient and expansive kingdom is a new concept that was manufactured in the 1930s and 1940s by Field Marshal P. Phibunsongkhram, Luang Wichit Wathakan, and company. This is, of course, the period when the name Thailand was chosen to replace the foreign term Siam, and establish the supremacy of Thais over other ethnic groups in the country. In particular, the growing immigrant Chinese population at the time, increasingly wealthy and influential, was viewed as a serious threat. In an (in)famous quote from a 1938 public address, Luang Wichit stated that "the Chinese are worse than the Jews".*

Typical Phibun-era propaganda (click for translation).

The maps in this email show a misleading half-truth version of Thai geo-political history, ignoring several realities, including that (1) territorial demarcation only existed after European nations arrived in Southeast Asia, (2) these areas have changed hands many, many times throughout centuries of warfare, and (3) the areas shown may have been part of some Tai kingdom at some point, but there were many Tai (ไต or ไท) tribes. The Siamese (or Thai ไทย) were only one.

Areas in these maps that are counted as part of Siam may have been so only very recently and very briefly, if at all. Even the territory of modern Laos (since Laos as a country is also a recent concept) was only part of Siam between 1788--when the Siamese conquered Vientiane--and 1904--when the last area of modern-day Laos was ceded to France.

It's my understanding that there is a decent level of consensus among international scholars about the early history of the region, based on archeological and other evidence. The Khmuic people are one of the aboriginal peoples of the region. Mon were here at least 3,500 years ago. The Khmer about 3,000 years ago. Malays had thriving kingdoms on the Malay peninsula as early as the 2nd and 3rd centuries, AD.

The ancestors of the modern Thai moved into the Southeast Asian mainland quite recently, long after their neighbors. They have been a significant military and economic force in Southeast Asia for approximately 800 years. Prior to that, they were a series of disparate tribes that gradually migrated into the region, with no unified government or particular connection to one another. There have been several major Tai kingdoms, such as Lanna, Sukhothai, and Ayutthaya but even those co-existed, and, contrary to Thai popular history, were not part of some larger unified kingdom.

The Thai belief in their rightful place in Southeast Asia is much like the idea of Manifest Destiny in early United States history. In both places there has been a belief in the racial superiority of one group over others, and thus a belief in their destined right to their adopted homeland, to the detriment of pre-existing groups.

The difference, perhaps, is that the Thais go much further in creating their own history, going so far as to lay claim to ancient kingdoms of other ethnic groups. It would be as if the early Americans claimed that they were the true descendants of the earliest Native Americans. I realize that things are far more politicized than that today, but these are the sorts of false histories that the general Thai public believes, because little effort is made to update textbooks to reflect modern scholarship on the subject of Thai history. Thais are still taught in school that early Tais founded the Nanzhao kingdom, and that they came from the Altai Mountains. Things which no Chinese or Western scholar takes seriously. Widespread belief in these ideas can be traced back to--you guessed it--Luang Wichit and the Phibunsongkhram era.

Even in the last century, Thailand has been no stranger to border conflicts. During World War II, Thailand, as an ally of Japan, invaded Burma, Laos, and Cambodia to reclaim land it felt was rightfully its own. After World War II, Thailand was required to return all land it had taken by force. Since then, there have been many border skirmishes between Thailand and its neighbors, including the 1987-1988 Thai-Lao border war, which resulted in a combined 1000 soldier casualties.

I know this is a touchy subject. And I have no particular expertise in Thai history. So I'll stop now. I won't be getting into any arguments over this. But nationalism is being taken to dangerous places in Thailand at the moment, based on ignorance and emotion. Unchecked, this whole situation doesn't bode well for a stable Southeast Asia. So I hope someone who read this will benefit.

Don't take my word for it, though. Study up for yourself.

Further reading, for those interested:
Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation by Thongchai Winichakul.
Thailand: A Short History by the late David K. Wyatt.
A History of Thailand by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit.

*Ironically, Luang Wichit himself was the grandson of a Chinese immigrant, which he publicly denied. In fact, all the kings of the current dynasty have some measure of Chinese and Mon blood, since Rama I was the child of a father of Mon descent and an ethnic Chinese mother.

August 11, 2008

Thai nicknames from English words: an eventually comprehensive list

Here's something that just occurred to me: compile a list of Thai nicknames that come from English words.

What this list includes:  mostly nicknames of people I have actually met (or who are otherwise well-known) which comes from English words.

What this list doesn't include: nicknames which are only meaningful in English as names (so Sarah is out, but Rose is in). I've also excluded names which have other meanings, but those meanings have no bearing on their selection for Thai nicknames (e.g. Peter).

This list is an ongoing project
. Please leave a comment with other nicknames you know and I'll expand the list. I'll also add to it as I think of more or meet new people. I'm including the Thai spelling used by the person I know, but other variations are certainly possible. Nicknames I've heard of but never
personally met are in green. Some words aren't English, like Benz or Olé, but I'm including them anyway because of the familiarity of these words to English speakers.

This also demonstrates how the spelling of English words in Thai often does not transparently reveal their actual pronunciation. So in some cases I've included the typical Thai pronunciation in square brackets.

And away we go:
A1 เอวัน

Apple แอปเปิ้ล [แอบเปิ้น or แอ๊บเปิ้น] or for short เปิ้ล [เปิ้น]
Bank แบงค์ [แบ๊ง] 
Benz เบนซ์ [เบ๊น] 
Bird เบิร์ด [เบิ๊ด] 
Bomb บอมบ์ [บ็อม] 
Bow โบว์
Boy บอย (not to be confused with บอยด์ Boyd; cf. บ๋อย)
Cartoon การ์ตูน or for short, ตูน 

Champ แชมป์ [แช้ม]
Cream ครีม
Earth เอิร์ธ [เอิ๊ด]
Firm เฟิร์ม 

First เฟิร์สท [เฟิ้ด]
Fuse ฟิวส์
God ก๊อด (his dad is Muslim.. that's the only explanation I can give)
Golf กอล์ฟ [ก๊อบ]

Guide ไกด์ [ไก๊]]
Lily ลิลี่
Mafia มาเฟีย 

May เมย์ 
Ma'am แหม่ม
New นิว 
Note โน้ต or โน๊ต
Off อ๊อฟ 

Opal โอเปิ้ล [โอเปิ้น] or for short เปิ้ล [เปิ้น], also โอปอล [โอปอ]
Olé โอเ่ล่

Peach พีช [พี้ด]
Rose โรซ [โร้ด] 
Stop สต๊อป
Tiger ไทเกอร์ [ไทเก้อ]
Time ไทม์ [ทาย]
Title ไตเติ้ล [ไตเติ้น] or for short เติ้ล [เติ้น]
Valentine ไทน์ [ทาย] (the person I know only ever used the short version) 

Yeast ยีสต์ [ยี้ด] (his dad worked as a baker)

Okay, now your turn. Let the list grow.

August 9, 2008

Translator's Corner: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Today I'm trying something new. I'm going to post a sample chunk of translated literature along with commentary and criticism. About a printed page worth of text. I plan to make this a semi-regular feature, and do it in both directions--English translations of Thai books, as well as Thai translations of English books.

Now, please don't take this to mean that I believe I could do a better job translating Harry Potter, or anything for that matter. I absolutely could not. I could never even approach such a massive task. However, it is definitely worth looking at to see what we learn about translation techniques. Sometimes we'll even spot a mistake. It happens.

Up today is a sample from chapter 4 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J. K. Rowling, and its Thai translation, แฮร์รี่ พอตเตอร์ กับถ้วยอัคนี, translated by งามพรรณ เวชชาชีวะ (Ngarmpun 'Jane' Vejjajiva). Some readers may recognize the translator's name as the author of ความสุขของกะทิ 'The Happiness of Kati'. (She's also the sister of Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of Thailand's Democrat Party.)
Mr. Weasley was looking around.
นายวีสลีย์กำลังมองไปรอบ ๆ

He loved everything to do with Muggles.

Harry could see him itching to go and examine the television and the video recorder.

“They run off eckeltricity, do they?” he said knowledgeably.
“พวกนี้ใช้ไฟฝ้าใช่ไหมครับ” เขาบอกอย่างรู้ดีทั้ง ๆ ที่ใช้คำว่า ‘ไฟฟ้า’ ผิด

“Ah yes, I can see the plugs. I collect plugs,” he added to Uncle Vernon.
“ใช่แล้ว ผมเห็นปลั๊กแล้ว ผมสะสมปลั๊กไฟครับ” เขาเสริมกับลุงเวอร์นอน

“And batteries.

Got a very large collection of batteries.

My wife thinks I’m mad, but there you are.”
ภรรยาผมหาว่าผมสติไม่ดี แต่คุณก็มีเหมือนกันนี่ครับ”

Uncle Vernon clearly thought Mr. Weasley was mad too.

He moved ever so slightly to the right, screening Aunt Petunia from view, as though he thought Mr. Weasley might suddenly run at them and attack.
เขาเคลื่อนตัวไปทางขวาเล็กน้อย เอาตัวบังป้าเพ็ตทูเนียไว้ ราวกับเขาคิดว่าจู่ ๆ นายวีสลีย์อาจจะพุ่งเข้าใส่และทำร้ายเอาได้

Dudley suddenly reappeared in the room.
ทันใดนั้นเอง ดัดลีย์ก็กลับเข้ามาในห้องอีกครั้ง

Harry could hear the clunk of his trunk on the stairs, and knew that the sounds had scared Dudley out of the kitchen.
แฮร์รี่ได้ยินเสียงหีบใส่ของกระแทกขั้นบันได และรู้ว่าเสียงนั้นทำให้ดัดลีย์ตกใจและออกมาจากห้องครัว

Dudley edged along the wall, gazing at Mr. Weasley with terrified eyes, and attempted to conceal himself behind his mother and father.
ดัดลีย์เดินถัดกันแนบไปกับผนังห้อง สายตาจับจ้องอยู่ที่นายวีสลีย์และพยายามไปซ่อนตัวอยู่หลังพ่อแม่

Unfortunately, Uncle Ver­non’s bulk, while sufficient to hide bony Aunt Petunia, was nowhere near enough to conceal Dudley.
โชคร้ายที่บั้นท้ายของลุงเวอร์นอนซึ่งใหญ่พอจะบังป้าเพ็ตทูเนียที่ผอมหนังหุ้มกระดูกได้นั้น ไม่มีทางจะบดบังดัดลีย์ได้เลย

“Ah, this is your cousin, is it, Harry?” said Mr. Weasley, taking another brave stab at making conversation.
“อ้อ นี่ลูกพี่ลูกน้องจองเธอใช่ไหม แฮร์รี่” นายวีสลีย์ถาม พยายามรวบรวมความกล้าอีกระลอกที่จะเริ่มการสนทนา

“Yep,” said Harry, “that’s Dudley.”
“ครับผม” แฮร์รี่ตอบอย่างยินดี “ชื่อดัดลีย์ครับ”

He and Ron exchanged glances and then quickly looked away from each other; the temptation to burst out laughing was almost overwhelming.
แฮร์รี่กับรอนสบตากันและรีบเมินมองไปคนละทาง ความรู้สึกอยากระเบิดหัวเราะออกมานั้นรุนแรงจนแทบจะกลั้นไว้ไม่ไหวแล้ว

Dudley was still clutching his bottom as though afraid it might fall off.

Mr. Weasley, however, seemed genuinely concerned at Dudley’s peculiar behavior.

Indeed, from the tone of his voice when he next spoke, Harry was quite sure that Mr. Weasley thought Dudley was quite as mad as the Dursleys thought he was, except that Mr. Weasley felt sympathy rather than fear.
จริงทีเดียว เมื่อฟังจากน้ำเสียงของเขาที่พูดต่อมา แฮร์รี่แน่ใจว่านายวีสลีย์คิดว่าดัดลีย์สติไม่ดีเหมือนที่พวกเดอร์สลีย์ก็คิดว่านายวีสลีย์สติไม่ดีเหมือนกัน แต่ก็แตกต่างกันตรงที่นายวีสลีย์รู้สึกเห็นอกเห็นใจดัดลีย์มากกว่าจะนึกหวาดกลัว

“Having a good holiday, Dudley?” he said kindly.
“พักร้อนสนุกไหม ดัดลีย์” เขาถามอย่างอ่อนโยน

Dudley whimpered.

Harry saw his hands tighten still harder over his massive backside.

Fred and George came back into the room carrying Harry’s school trunk.
เฟร็ดกับจอร์จกลับเข้ามาในห้อง พร้อมกับยกหีบใส่ของของแฮร์รี่มาด้วย

They glanced around as they entered and spotted Dudley.

Their faces cracked into identical evil grins.

“Ah, right,” said Mr. Weasley.
“เรียบร้อย” นายวีสลีย์พูด

“Better get cracking then.”

He pushed up the sleeves of his robes and took out his wand.

Harry saw the Dursleys draw back against the wall as one.

Incendio!” said Mr. Weasley, pointing his wand at the hole in the wall behind him.
อินเซนดิโอ!” นายวีสลีย์ร่ายคาถา พลางชี้ไม้กายสิทธิ์ไปยังรูโหว่ที่ผนังด้านหลังเขา

Flames rose at once in the fireplace, crackling merrily as though they had been burning for hours.
เปลวไฟลุกโชติช่วงขึ้นในเตาผิงทันที มีเสียงลูกไฟแตกเปรี๊ยะอย่างร่าเริงราวกับไฟนี้จุดมานานหลายชั่วโมงแล้ว

Mr. Weasley took a small draw­string bag from his pocket, untied it, took a pinch of the powder inside, and threw it onto the flames, which turned emerald green and roared higher than ever.
นายวีสลีย์หยิบถุงหูรูดใบเล็กออกมาจากกระเป๋าเสื้อ เปิดปากถุงออกและหยิบผงในถุงออกมาหยิบมือ ก่อนจะโยนเข้าไปในกองไฟ ทำให้ไฟกลายเป็นสีเขียวมรกตและลุกโชนสูงขึ้นกว่าปกติ
There are a number of interesting things in this passage.

Here are a few words you may have learned:
  • (magic) wand = ไม้กายสิทธิ์ /máai kaay-ya-sìt/ (กายสิทธิ์, referring to an object, means to be enchanted, or to have magical properties; for example, there's an old 70s Thai movie called อัศวินดาบกายสิทธิ์ 'knight of the enchanted sword')
  • spell = คาถา /khaathǎa/
  • cast a spell = ร่ายคาถา /râai khaathǎa/ (traditionally this means to recite an incantation)
  • backside, posterior = บั้นท้าย /bân tháai/
  • drawstring bag = ถุงหูรูด /thǔŋ hǔu rûut/ (หู /hǔu/ here is the same word as 'ear', and used for things you hold onto, like หูโทรศัพท์ 'telephone receiver', หูจับ 'handle', หูถุง 'bag/sack handle(s)', etc.)
Granted, not all of it is the most useful vocabulary. But this is why it's so critical to read in Thai (or whatever language you study). It allows you to find and digest the less common vocabulary that would otherwise go over your head if you heard it in passing, or in a movie or somewhere.

Transcription: Notice where the translator chooses to use ทับศัพท์ /tháp sàp/ (transcribed words). Words like Muggle (มักเกิ้ล), proper names (แฮร์รี่, รอน, ดัดลีย์), and spell names (อินเซนดิโอ), for example. Simple transcription of proper names is pretty much a given (though not in, say, Chinese, where a little more creativity is involved). But for "Potterisms" like Muggle (an ordinary, non-magical person) or the spell names, the translator might just as well have come up with translations.

There's one instance of word play in this passage (which is part of why I chose it). The character Mr. Weasley is a wizard who is obsessed with non-wizard things, like electricity. But to show how he thinks he knows more than he actually does, the author has him mispronounce 'electricity' as 'eckeltricity'. In the Thai, Mr. Weasley mispronounces the tone of the Thai word for electricity, ไฟฟ้า /fai fáa/, as ไฟฝ้า /fai fâa/.

However, an explanatory note is also given in Thai. Apparently they're worried the reader would miss the joke and think it was a typo (I'm assuming this is exactly what happened when an editor read the draft translation). The English just says "...he said knowledgeably." Its Thai equivalent translates to "...he said knowledgeably, even though he had used the word 'electricity' wrong". Wouldn't want the mispronounced version to become hip new slang! :P

Inevitably, there are things which the translator will not pick up on. Shades of meaning that native speakers pick up on. But sometimes it's hard to decide what exactly is a mistranslation.

Here's one I think is mistranslated, though:
My wife thinks I’m mad, but there you are.”
ภรรยาผมหาว่าผมสติไม่ดี แต่คุณก็มีเหมือนกันนี่ครับ”
The phrase 'but there you are' is an idiom (more of a Britishism, I'd say) that means 'but so it goes' or 'but that's just how it is'. Here she has translated it as 'but you have (a large battery collection) too.' Which doesn't make any sense at all, sense it's meant to be comical that Mr. Weasley doesn't realize most Muggles would find it strange to have a battery collection. What might have gone here instead--perhaps แต่ก็ยังงั้นแหละ or something similar.

And here's one that at first I thought was wrong, but is probably intentional:
“Better get cracking then.”
The Thai literally means 'Better start the fire then.' (This is a method of wizard travel in the Harry Potter universe.) Of course, 'get cracking' is an English idiom meaning 'begin, begin without delay'. In this context Mr. Weasley means they should go.

At first glance I thought the translator had misunderstood 'cracking' as 'crackling', referring to the crackling flames of a fire. But after thinking about it, there's not a way to directly translate the idiom. So the translator has chosen to specify the implied action. The word เลย helps retain the meaning of 'immediately, without delay'. It seems to fit the Thai better, too.

Translation is a complex and difficult venture, to say the least. What strikes you as interesting about this text?

August 7, 2008

Resources on Thai word origin and usage

There are a number of books and book series that follow a similar format: short chapters, each one devoted to a single Thai word or small set of words. I'm talking about these books that discuss the origin and usage of Thai words.
Many are compiled from other media into book form (radio or tv shows, newspaper or magazine columns). I have a whole slew of books like these. And a lot of the material can be had for free online. Notable series include:

ภาษาไทย ๕ นาที by จำนงค์ ทองประเสริฐ
The title means '5 Minutes of Thai Language'. This series is up to volume 9 now. I own 3 and 5, I believe. They consist of transcripts from Prof. Chamnong's long-running five-minute radio show of the same name. I'm not sure if it's still on the air, but I don't think so.

A fellow of the Royal Institute who has held pretty much every position of leadership in that organization over the years. The good professor is in his seventies, but still active at the Royal Institute, as far as I know. I interviewed him for my senior thesis back in 2005.

About 150 transcripts are freely available on Prof. Chamnong's website (note: that link goes to page 1 of 3, so be sure not to miss the full set of available articles). I believe this represents the full contents of vol. 3, possibly more.

ภาษาไทยวันละึคำ by กาญจนา นาคสกุล
"Thai language, A Word a Day" was a recurring five-minute television spot which ran for several years in the early 90s, I believe. Transcripts from each broadcast year have been published, as you can see from this book cover here. Last year a hardcover compendium called ภาษาไทยวันละคำ ฉบับรวมเล่ม was released, compiling the show's entire run into one big (800+ page), alphabetized volume.

Dr. Karnchana is also a fellow of the Royal Institute. When I interviewed her in 2005, she was one of the two vice-presidents of the Royal Institute. Her term of service in that position may be up by now, but she's still active in the Royal Institute, and was in the news last year for spearheading the พจนานุกรมคำใหม่ 'Dictionary of New Words' project at the Royal Institute.

She also has a semi-regular column called ภาษาไทยวันนี้ 'Thai Language Today' in the weekly magazine สกุลไทย that has run since 2000. You can access the archives on, totaling nearly 200 columns.

ภาษาไทยวันนี้ by สมพร จารุนัฏ
Although it shares a name with Dr. Karnchana's column, I don't think there is any relation with this series of books published by the Ministry of Education.

The MOE has a website (unfortunately offline right now) on which you can view and download hundreds of their textbooks in PDF format for free, these books included, among dozens of other Thai-language textbooks ranging from grade 1 through grade 12. This is the first time I've tried to visit the site in a while, so hopefully it's not offline permanently. Excellent little website with more free books than you can shake a stick at.

There are other series and other individual volumes. ภาษาไทยนอกจอ, ภาษาคาใจ (3 volumes), ภาษาไทยไขขาน (half a dozen or more, I think--also by Dr. Chamnong), others. I'm also a fan of the column มองไทยใหม่ 'A New Look at Thai' by นิตยา กาญจนะวรรณ, which runs weekly in มติชนสุดสปัดาห์ (Matichon Weekend). Several compilations of Dr. Nitaya's articles have been published but are now out of print. You used to be able to get all of the back-issues of her column for free on Matichon's website, but now you have to be a paying customer (not to paying customers: read her column).

One of the Royal Institute's present initiatives to "improve" the public's use of the Thai language is a radio show called รู้ รัก ภาษาไทย 'Know and Love the Thai Language'. Transcripts are regularly updated on their website here. You can also check out other compiled articles on language (among other topics) on this page of their site. Many of these were written by Prof. Chamong and Dr. Karnchana, so there may be some overlap with other books. I've never checked. But there are hundreds of articles to peruse.

There's a ton of material out there, and much of it free. If you know of any other resources, online or book, please post a comment or drop me an email (my address is at the bottom of the blog).

Etymologist 15: Ghosts and butterflies

I found another connection that is shared between multiple Southeast Asian languages: use of a word for 'spirit' or 'ghost' in the word for 'butterfly'.

In Thai the word for 'butterfly' is ผีเสื้อ /phǐi sɨ̂a/. The first syllable is the common Thai word for 'ghost'. The second word is the word for 'shirt', but I suspect that may be a coincidence, and the เสื้อ in ผีเสื้อ doesn't actually have to do with shirts. But I don't know for sure one way or the other.

In Mon, the word is /kəlok həlɛ̀a/, where /kəlok/ means 'Spirit, daemon', and /həlɛ̀a/ means 'Indian' (i.e. a native of India), from the Burmese ကုလား  /kəlá/ (comparable in meaning to Thai แขก, although probably cognate with Thai กุลา). [Data from Harry Shorto's 1962 A Dictionary of Modern Spoken Mon.]

In Burmese, the word for 'butterfly' is လိပ်ပြာ /leiʔ pyà/. This is also the word for spirit (corresponding in meaning to Thai วิญญาณ 'spirit', not ผี 'ghost', but the ideas are connected). [Data from SEAlang. You can download Burmese fonts at that link.]

So again we see a case where although the words are completely different, a very similar semantic concept appears in these neighboring cultures. I checked in Khmer and a few other dictionaries, and I didn't notice this in any other Southeast Asian languages.

It's an interesting question to ponder: why the connection between butterflies and supernatural spirits? Any thoughts?

August 2, 2008

Should we fork or spoon? Musings on ช้อนส้อม

So here's something straight from my dinner table: when is a spoon not a spoon? When it's a fork, apparently.

On a couple of recent occasions now, I've been getting things ready at dinner time and found I'd forgotten to bring eating utensils with me to the table. Thai meals generally call for a fork and a spoon. So if my wife happened to be standing near the silverware, I would ask her to grab me ช้อนส้อม. Both times she brought me only a fork. And both times she's said, "You only asked for a fork."

Turns out, to her, ช้อนส้อม means 'fork'. If we break it down, ช้อน = spoon and ส้อม = fork.

There are a number of fixed phrases in Thai where adjoining two nouns creates a new coordinate noun, without the need to use the conjunction and. You see it phrases like:
  • พ่อแม่ 'parents' (literally 'dad + mom')
  • พี่น้อง 'siblings' (literally 'older sibling + younger sibling')
  • สามีภรรยา 'husband and wife' (literally 'husband + wife')
  • ปู่ย่าตายาย 'grandparents' (literally 'paternal grandfather + paternal grandmother + maternal grandfather + maternal grandmother')
  • เสื้อผ้า 'clothes' (literally 'shirt + cloth') 
  • วัวควาย 'livestock' (literally 'cow + buffalo')
So I always thought ช้อนส้อม worked the same way. But not so with my wife. I must be sure to ask for fork and spoon (mandatory conjunction, in thise case กับ = 'and'). She has been surprised that I don't know this, either.

And that's fine, of course. There's lots I don't know. But looking on the internet, there's no shortage of evidence that ช้อนส้อม is used to mean both fork and spoon. And ชุดช้อนส้อม can mean a fork-spoon pair, or the entire cutlery set (sometimes including a knife, sometimes multiple forks or spoons).

There's textual evidence, too. Clauses like ถ้าหากว่าช้อนส้อมคู่ไหนเริ่มเก่า "If any fork and spoon pair begins to get old..."

None of this is to say that I doubt my wife's knowledge of her own native language. I just don't really know if her usage is widespread or not. She's Bangkok born and raised.

If we analyze how ช้อนส้อม can mean just 'fork', we could say that fork is part of the class of things called ช้อน, where we have ช้อนชา 'teaspoon', ช้อนโต๊ะ 'tablespoon', ช้อนกลาง 'serving spoon', and ช้อนส้อม 'fork'.

Which raises the most important question of all: what on earth are we going to call sporks when they finally arrive in Thailand? Maybe ส้อมช้อน? I don't think ช้อม or ส้อน will go over well. (Note to self: invest in sporks.. those things are gonna be huge here some day.)

Readers, please makes this query of the nearest Thai person: If I ask you to bring me ช้อนส้อม, are you going to bring me a fork, a spoon, or both?