Chiang Mai Thai

Ever wanted to learn Thai, in Chiang Mai? I did just that from November 2010, returning home in October 2011. If you don't want a headache, start HERE, it will explain the preceding posts. I'm Snap, Stray's other half. COOEE is our (other) travel blog.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Don't take that tone with me

It's become normal, habitual, to use the word kha countless times a day. Khá on the end of a question - คะ with a high tone and khâ, as in 'yes' - ค่ะ, with a falling tone. Note the short vowel! The fact that we have a low tone transliterated kha in our school book adds another now dismissed dimension to my confusion...even though I hear it regularly, I can't find it written anywhere else.

When I'm greeted by the ladies at our hotel, or anywhere for that matter, with a sawadii kha (hello), more often than not the khâ becomes a drawn out khaaâaaa. I try not to question it too much, but it does kind of bother me, because khâa, with a long vowel, means: value, fee, price, citizen or to murder, kill or slaughter!

I'm pretty sure the girls at reception don't have it in for me ;)

I've asked the question 'why, why, why?' a few times, but never get a clear response.

It was suggested to me that sarcasm was the reason for this exaggerated, long voweled response. A notion which I quickly threw out the window...because the bloke who suggested it said 'My girlfriend takes that tone with me all the time'...I'm not surprised. Oi! Thai is a tonal language...change the tone, change the meaning.

Reassuring advice came to me recently, from a lovely khon Thai lady. The long khâa (not verbatim, but close enough) "is said with warmth and affection. If a Thai doesn't like you, they'll just ignore you." In short, just embrace I am.

Anyone studying Thai is completely, painfully aware of the five tones: mid, high, low, rising and falling. Now that we're off to Vietnam in a few weeks, I've re-armed myself with a VN phrase book...I knew that Vietnamese was also a tonal language, but get a load of this!

Mid, high rising, low falling (often breathy?), low falling constricted (short length), mid dipping-rising and last but not least, high breaking-rising. COME ON! GIVE ME A BREAK.

I'm thinking...phrase book + finger = pointing and smiling... a lot!

Cheers! สเมป See what else we're up to at Cooee!


  1. Snap, often a different tone is used in Thai, especially when they are mushing everything together fast or playing around even. That's why it can be difficult to go from listening to Thai audio files or studies in the classroom, to outdoors where real life happens.

    I forgot the exact place (south of here) where the locals slip in the Thai word for vagina instead of using something else (I'll ask this week). All day long my Thai friends kept shouting VAGINA and laughing.

  2. @Catherine I've been trying to think of an adequate response for the vagina shouting...but words escape me! Are they really shouting? I guess I'm not too surprised, after seeing that 6 foot (wooden sculpted) penis in that clothes shop doorway, I told you about.


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