This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Nuts and Bolts: Siamese siblings.

Hanuman,This mural in watprakeaw bangkok,Thailand,Public Domain  Stock Photo - 14359973
Hanuman.Watprakeaw, Bangkok,Thailand

I first got interested in the Siamese language of Thailand when I discovered that the Siamese words for far and near are the same, except that one of them is spoken in a lower and more emphatic voice.

To an English speaker like me that seems cherishably bonkers, as does the fact that, in written-down Siamese, vowel sounds after a consonant (like the oo in too, for instance) can be written before, after, above or below the consonant, or in a combination of these positions.

Then there's register. Siamese has five registers for different occasions. You use Street Thai to speak to close relatives or friends; Elegant Thai in official documents (and, in a simplified form, in newspapers); Rhetorical Thai for public speaking (how on earth would some of our Western politicians get on if they couldn't pretend to be our close friends?); Religious Thai, for addressing monks (I suppose we do have a sort of Religious English that we use for addressing God, don't we?); and Royal Thai, for talking to or about the royal family.

Street and Elegant Thai are used by everyone in their everyday lives; Rhetorical, Religious and Royal Thai are part of the school national curriculum.

I know there's a fashion amongst teachers in English-speaking countries to say that all registers are equally valid, and so we shouldn't ask children to learn to speak one not their own, but I still think the Thai curriculum has got it right.

Apart from being a huge mess as a logical argument, stopping children from being at home in new registers prevents them from being at home in new places.

And what's the point of teachers. if not to help them be that?

Word To Use Today: register. This word comes from the Latin regerere, to transcribe, from gerere, to bear.

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