Stay Foreign Or Go Native?

7 May 2014, TV = 772.5 hours

Toward the end of my recent post on inadvertently obscene mispronunciation, I noted that Thai syllables cannot end in the S sound, and that native Thai speakers find this “terminal S” difficult or impossible to pronounce – unless, of course, they’ve learned English (or, presumably, any foreign language which can end a syllable in S).

And then yesterday I was watching episode 18 of วุ่นนักรักเต็มบ้าน woon nak rak tem ban (AKA Full House) and came across this scene:

Uh-oh…video clip no longer available, see note in the update below.

Both characters use the Thai word for office, a word that I’m guessing originated in English. But note their differing pronunciations: Mike (on the left and initially seated) uses a pronunciation that’s fairly close to that of the English, while his brother-in-law Pow, in “Thai-icizing” the word to a greater extent, changes the S sound at the end to one that’s more natural for a Thai speaker.

It’s already been established throughout the series that Mike can speak English, whereas there’s never been any indication of Pow having any English language proficiency. So the difference in pronunciation isn’t necessarily surprising, but it does nicely illustrate a certain kind of variation.

Similar variation can exist in English too, with words that have been borrowed from other languages: do you go for the “real” pronunciation, or do you anglicize it? And your ability to pronounce a loan word “authentically” will of course depend on your being able both to recognize it as a loan word and to form sounds which may be alien to English. This may come down to how educated you are.

It’s like the choice which English speakers face with croissant: English pronunciation or French?

* * *


•Full House, which aired earlier this year, is a Thai remake of a 2004 Korean TV series, itself based on a Korean comic book. A strange quirk is that the original comic book version is set in the UK with, so far as I can tell, all the characters being British (the heroine half English, half Korean) and, presumably, English speakers.

•I think factors other than what I discuss above play into one’s decision as to how to pronounce croissant and other foreign words – for instance, an English speaker may be able to pull off the correct foreign pronunciation but choose not to out of fear of sounding snobbish – or plain stupid.

•It’s also worth remembering that at some point loan words cease to feel foreign and start to feel no different than any other word in the language. What English speaker today gives garage, money, or orange a French pronunciation, or thinks of them as anything other than ordinary English words? Office too, for that matter, was also originally a French loan.


UPDATE (14 May 2014): What a bummer! True Visions seems to have restricted access to the you tube episodes of Full House – so the clip above is no longer viewable.

Does anyone know of working episodes of Full House online somewhere? If so, could you leave the link(s) in a comment below?

I discovered that the videos had been pulled when I went to rewatch a bit of episode 4, which contains a scene I’d found interesting by virtue of its mixing together Thai and English – the spoken languages – plus it’s got texting in Thai. Dramatically it’s fun because it’s Mike, Awm, Guy, and Mintra having dinner together – a dinner that’s socially really awkward for quite a number of reasons. The scene occurs early in the episode – maybe starting somewhere between the 5 and 10 minute marks – and is worth watching if you can find it.

I guess this is a risk I run when I construct posts around video clips that I have no control over; hopefully this post is still readable!

3 thoughts on “Stay Foreign Or Go Native?

  1. Nick

    Great post, I completely agree with what you mean about the pronunciation here. My Thai teacher said that authentic western pronunciation like this is creeping into Thai language more and more. As you probably know, English is language is fashionable and “cool”, and new words with ‘s’ sounds frequently occur (my teacher cited the football team ‘Arsenal’ and the word ‘website’ as obvious examples of modern Thai words with obvious ‘s’ sounds).

    I also love Full House’s weird multicultural blend – I might watch it if I get the time. Another one of my favourite lakorns is keaw tah pee (แก้วตาพี่) which is mostly set in Paris. I find it makes for a nice variation from other lakorns.

  2. adamf2011 Post author

    English is definitely considered a prestigious language here, and I’m fascinated by the roles that it plays.

    I haven’t seen keaw tah pee (แก้วตาพี่) yet, but I have seen a number of “travel/vacation” lakorn: มาดามดัน Madame Don (France), สุดดวงใจ sud dung jai (Australia), ฮอยอัน…ฉันรักเธอ hoy an chan rak her (Vietnam) — Hoy An looks like a really beautiful place! — and of course Full House (Korea).

  3. Pingback: Hmmm…. | learning thai without studying

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