1 April 2014; AT5 = 1063 hours; total class time = 2001 hours; TV = 687.2 hours
Yesterday I had to buy a screwdriver so I could fix something – not the leaky toilet I blogged about yesterday, but a malfunctioning hair clipper.
This was actually my second encounter with screwdrivers in a Thai language setting – a couple weeks ago the fan in my aged laptop had grown so loud and strained-sounding that I finally decided to try to do something about it. Among the items I ended up buying was a set of small screwdrivers of the kind used to dismantle computers and other electronics.
That experience gave me the chance to hear the Thai word for screwdriver several times; it was, so far as I can remember, the first time I’d ever heard the word.
Cut to yesterday: I hadn’t the faintest idea how to say screwdriver in Thai, which is unsurprising since I usually need to hear a word many times in order to “get” it.
So I drew this picture –
– and showed it at a few stores in my neighborhood.
(Parenthetical aside: from what I’ve seen so far, Thailand doesn’t seem to have hardware stores in the same way the US does. Instead, there are little shops that might sell some subset of the more comprehensive selection of tools, parts, etc. that you’d find in a US hardware store. Meaning that there’s a good chance that any one particular such shop might not have what you’re looking for.
I’m guessing that this reflects some cold hard economic facts about life in Thailand – like that most small shopkeepers can’t afford to stock a very large inventory. But I also can’t help thinking about the parallels between languages and stores or commercial spaces. Both are concerned with collecting and organizing an assortment of somewhat disparate things: language is to a large extent a collection of concepts slotted out to various words, while any particular store is a collection of various goods and/or services. In the same way that a given language may allot several different concepts [ie meanings] to one particular word, or on the other hand take one concept and parcel it out to several different words, with perhaps only very minimal differences in meaning; in the same way, a given product may be sold at several different types of stores, and even within any given store the products on offer may be grouped or organized differently.
So a pot may be used for making soup or growing plants; if the latter, would you look for it in a home furnishings store or a nursery? And a nursery may contain kids [small children, not goats] or plants [not factories, but a type of organism] – though as far as I know, these are ambiguities particular to English, not Thai. And if you’re in a supermarket and need to buy sugar, do you go to the baking-goods aisle or the coffee and tea aisle? If you’re in Thailand and not in a major city, you may need to find your sugar elsewhere, as there probably won’t be any supermarkets around).
Anyway, after going to three or four different places I succeeded in purchasing this, for 30 baht:
Having to go to a few different shops ended up being a good thing, because I got to hear the Thai word for screwdriver several times. Although I still don’t know the word well enough to use it in speech myself, I can almost sort of remember it (like the faint imagery from a dream after you’ve awakened), and I’m pretty sure that I’d recognize it if I heard it.
As for the rest of yesterday’s story – well, not everything worked out quite so well as the real-life-on-the-streets-and-in-the-shops-of-Bangkok vocabulary lesson described above. Ensuing events saw my irreparably malfunctioning hair-clipper landing in the trash and me taking a trip, hat pulled firmly over my head, to a haircutting kiosk near the Sala Daeng BTS station, where I payed someone else 100 baht to finish what I’d started.
Oh well, at least I got a screwdriver out of it.