Where I live I have not encountered in recent memory an American who knows, or wants to know, French. Roger Cohen’s encomium to the language and culture is touching. It’s poignant to share French love with another outsider.
To be a Francophile is a life sentence… a slightly illicit gift of ever-renewed pleasures… Paris has been important to me… It’s where I began to see that writing is not a choice but a need…
Style, as Flaubert observed, is “the discharge from a deeper wound.” … Paris reassures me. It is a repository of our fantasies, a redoubt of hope, a source of courage.
(Roger Cohen, “The Lessons of Paris and the Violence of Hope,” NYTimes, 5-31-19)
(c) 2019 JMN
Allow me to introduce myself. I was recently avidly studying French, and watching French cinema. Because I’ve lived overseas for the last 15 years or more, I’m always studying language. It’s just part of my routine. At one point I got sick of studying Thai, so took up French (which I’d also had a year of in college). I was getting pretty into it (despite the verb conjugations) when I moved to a different city, and felt compelled to buckle down on my Thai some more.
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I salute you, Eric. Knowing a little about your history (from your blog) I’m not surprised that you are a language sojourner, but duly impressed because it’s not automatic that you would be so. I was fortunate in having two good French teachers at a crucial time in my development. I’m curious to know what if anything Thai may have in common with Chinese. I studied Arabic, but have no knowledge of Asian languages.
Thai and Chinese have very little overlap, especially as compared to Thai and Lao or Khmer languages.
Chinese is considered more difficult than Thai it uses characters instead of letters. But when it’s just a matter of speaking and listening, I find it easier. Maybe I just had more practical experience.
I can read and write Thai to a degree, and that is a daunting enterprise. They have around 50 letters, and it’s all needlessly confusing. I used to suspect that the upper class had, in ancient times, made the written language impenetrable in order to keep the common folk literate. Now I just think they weeded out anything obvious.
So, there is no capitalization, and no spaces between words. And it that doesn’t make it hard enough, you do not read a word (if you can disentangle it from its neighbors) from left to right exactly. Compound vowels are splayed around consonants, and you have to do a kind of math in your head to determine what tones to use. So, even if you can read, it’s a bit like reading English backwards and with no caps or spaces between words.
I love language, but I would not say I have a particular aptitude at it. Perhaps above average, but not by much. And my math and sense of direction are even worse.
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Criminey. What you describe about the Thai language is fascinating. Is the language used for materials that train pilots and surgeons?