This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.
A Linguist’s View of the Thai Language…
If you are in Bangkok on Wednesday, June 27, guest writer Rikker Dockum will be speaking on the subject of the Thai language.
Rikker Dockum has been studying Thai for a decade. Fluent in Thai, but always looking to improve, he is interested in drilling down to the very roots of the language to learn how it developed into its current form, and he’s found doing so to be the key to better mastering the language. As a former Fulbright scholar he studied ancient Thai inscriptions, the oldest written records of Thai, and nowadays keeps busy with various projects related to Southeast Asian linguistics.
Rikker will discuss Thai from a linguist’s point of view. He’ll touch on some common questions — Why does Thai have multiple letters for the same sounds? Why so many consonants that appear in just a handful of words? Why on earth hasn’t this all been simplified? And just what is up with Thai transliteration into English? The answers to these questions may surprise you, but they will certainly leave you with a better appreciation for the complicated history of the Thai language as a living legacy of a cultural crossroads.
Place: Cafe Tartine (BTS Pleonchit)
Date: Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Blog: Thai 101: Thoughts on Thai language, media, and culture
Guest author: Thai 101 Learners Series
Interview: Successful Thai Language Learners: Rikker Dockum
16 thoughts on “Rikker: Linguist’s View of the Thai Language”
Very good talk, but WAY too short, and way too “broad brush”.
I realize Rikker had to play to the “majority” as far as the audience and had no idea goin’ into it just how much Thai we knew.
I honestly got the impression that Rikker doesn’t really know just how “famous” or well known he is in the foreigners learning Thai niche market. He coulda easily talked for a couple hours and I doubt a single person woulda looked at their watch even once!
I think the “outsider looking in” viewpoint Rikker has from a linguistic standpoint as far as the history of Thai is something not often seen here. Most Thais are all too ready to parrot out the “party line” about their language’s origins, but often it’s the “for foreign consumption” or “lite version” (fewer calories I guess) and bears little resemblance to the truth.
Great talk though, I’d go again in a second. . .
I think Kris has hit the nail on the head regarding my major difficulty in deciding what to prepare to say at the talk last night. It was meant to be a general interest talk, and not presuppose too much knowledge of Thai. As such it was of broad interest but covered a lot of things I’ve previously written about or discussed on podcasts.
As for the Thai script, because it’s ultimately adapted from an Indic alphabet, so that is the single source for all of the less common letters specifically. Since those have become a part of the script, though, as foreign words of various languages have subsequently been borrowed into Thai, we often see an attempt to match foreign sounds (that normally don’t exist in Thai) with these less common letters of the alphabet.
For example, it’s common to see the “th” sound of English matched with ธ in Thai, even–“theme” becomes ธีม, to distinguish it from “team” ทีม, even though the two are pronounced identically in Thai. This is a very recent example, and perhaps not a very good one, but that’s the basic idea I was trying to get at. I hope that’s helpful.
Kris, I’d also be interested in the details – perhaps Rikker would like to enlarge on the subject (I’ll check his blog to see if he already has).
Rikker has a lot to offer. But, I do realise he has his job to focus on, as well as a young family to tend to (we all know what that’s like), so he’s awfully strapped for time.
Plus, Rikker is honestly humble. I don’t believe he realises just how much his knowledge of the Thai language is respected in the learning Thai community.
I liked the presentation, although very few details about the Thai language were discussed. For example when talking about the different letters that have the same sound in Thai, Rikker explained they were there because of the huge number of borrowed words in Thai. I missed details like, which letter came from which language and how can you see the root of the words based on letters of certain letters combinations that are in there. I missed language technical details and examples. It was indeed a presentation for a very broad audience (many questions from the audience were about relations between languages)and in that context I think it was a very good presentation. I would love to hear Rikker talking about more advanced subjects.
Good deal Gordon. It sounds like what is needed is a lecture series from basic to … you know? And from what I hear a bigger venue is in order. I wonder if the Siam Society would be interested… or even the FCCT… and of course, Rikker, obviously 😉
Front row seat! Well done Rikker! Encore! Would love a smaller audience with more common goals next time so more of that knowledge could be extracted but given the wide scope of interest and experiences of the audience this was a good introduction. Maybe a special WLT night for those with a little more background in Thai and Thai language history would be on the cards? What do you think Cat?
Anyway, as stated already. A great success.
Shameless self promotion again eh, Cat? Always look forward to reading details about your promotional freebees on the site and I am still grateful for the night you gave me your Heart and recall fondly the Sex Talk you shared on the same night . . . the books by Christopher Moore & Kaewmala that I was lucky enough to win that is, 😉 but I think you are right . . . promoting your column as “typo free” would not be quite as attractive to your readers as your past promotions, so stick with the usual interesting cacca we all love . :-p
Hi Bernard. Apologies for your comment taking so long (it was waiting to be approved). I asked Rikker and he said he’d be more than happy to share his lecture on WLT.
Gordon, my spelling is cacca so you won’t be getting any frowns from me 😀
That would be “appreciate” if I could type better. Just wait till you see my Thai typing 😉
Looks to be well worth a visit. Always apprecite Rikker’s articles, comments, & advice. Will aim to be there. Not seen Tod for ages either so that will be a bonus. 🙂 Anyone else?
Excellent! There’s an RSVP on the website I linked in the post following ‘for more’.
WOW!! This is one event I don’t wanna miss!! I enjoy everything he writes about Thai (even if some of it is over my head, lol). ..
Sounds like a must attend dealy for anyone in Bangkok whose interested in furthering their Thai ability. ..
I’ll be there!
Amy, I don’t quite catch you question. Do you mean the bad transliteration into English?
Bert, I talked to Rikker and he’s going to record his lecture (plus I believe he’ll share his lecture notes). Smart phones offer excellent recording quality these days so the results should be quite good.
That sounds super interesting! I so wish I could be in Bangkok for that. Will he be writing a series of guest posts answering those questions for those of us unable to attend? 😉
“And just what is up with Thai transliteration into English?”
That’s the question I’d want answered! It’s not just Thai, but several Asian languages that make it impossible for non-speakers to be understood.
Looks like a fascinating lecture – all of Rikker’s interviews I’ve read/listened to have been very engaging.
Hello Catherine, and other visitors, simple question : would be very nice for all of us that cannot make the trip to BKK, living up or down country and perhaps thousands of kilometers from Thailand, to get a record in any form (voice record, movie, written document…) of this presentation that we could watch, listen or download. Do you think some thing can be donne about that ?
Nice weekend. Benard.