Blendings

4 January 2015, TV = 1033.8 hours

I had just finished an all-day bus ride from northern Thailand back to Bangkok and boarded the battered old city bus which would take me from the Mo Chit bus terminal to the BTS skytrain, which I would use to get to my neighborhood. As the bus exited Mo Chit, it dipped violently downward to the accompaniment of a loud scraping sound: metal against pavement. Apparently we’d hit some kind of pothole, or maybe a shallow ditch. And as the bus lurched, I reflexively blurted out “Woy!!”

I think this was a cross between English Whoaa! and Thai Hoi! Somehow I started off with one and finished with the other, ending up with a hybridized exclamation. It’s like a gear was shifted in my brain mid-word, going from English to Thai.

* * *

Then on the BTS I sat next to a girl who was probably in her early twenties, on her phone and speaking in a Thai that sounded just slightly accented. It wasn’t the kind of accent that’s so heavy that it does damage to the language (like the Chinese characters in มงกุฎดอกส้ม mongkut dawk som, who mangle consonants and tones to the point where they’re blatantly mispronouncing the words); it’s more like her Thai sounded just a little bit different than standard Thai usually sounds — like when you add a tinge of flavoring to something that would otherwise be plain. And it didn’t sound like anything I’d ever heard — not like a regional Thai accent, nor like Thai being spoken with a Chinese, a Burmese, or any kind of European accent.

I surreptitiously glanced at her but there was nothing about her appearance that looked obviously non-Thai. Then she suddenly switched into another language: definitely not Thai, standard or otherwise. The mystery language sounded totally unfamiliar to me.

I kept listening — I really like the sounds of different languages, even when I can’t understand a word that’s being said. And I really wanted to know what language she was speaking and where she was from — but there just didn’t seem to be any way to ask those questions.

We both got off at Siam, the interchange, and headed across the platform for the other line. She was going for the same train I was, and I had the impulse to follow her in the hope that I could hear more of the strange language or even (somehow) figure out what it was. But then I was like, Wait! I can’t be a language-stalker!

So we boarded separate cars — different compartmentilizations of the one large New Year’s Eve crowd spread unevenly throughout Bangkok. The train headed out of the station, going toward Silom, the darkened Chao Phraya, and its further bank; and moving forward through time, too — toward midnight and a new year.

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8 thoughts on “Blendings

  1. Nick

    I too, also find myself becoming insatiably curious about the sounds of foreign language on public transport. London was a great place for this (or bad place for this, depending on your opinion on if the habit needs to be kerbed or not!). There is a free game online called ‘The Great Language Game’ where you just listen to sounds of languages and guess where they are from.

    http://greatlanguagegame.com/

    It’s also great to see that you are really beginning to internalise not just Thai words, but also the general sound of the language too

    Reply
    1. adamf2011 Post author

      Cosmopolitan cities definitely have their advantages for the language geek! Yeah, I guess I’m getting better at picking up on things that would have totally eluded me a year or two ago….

      Reply

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