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Arthur Meiselman
Lingua Thai
Scene4 Magazine-inView

August 2012

For a time in the last century, and an even longer time in the centuries prior, European languages dominated international communication. French was the global language of diplomacy, German the language of science-technology, Italian the language of music, and Spanish, the sometimes language of romance. Speak them appropriately at the appropriate occasion and you were considered 'civilized'. Speak them not, and you were considered 'provincial', 'back-water', 'second class'.

Today, the Lingua Franca is English. Not the Queen's British English or the lyrically-melodic Irish English or the  twisted-nose Australian English or the potato-in-mouth American English. No, it is an international-English, what I like to call, Aenglish.  It's a curdled stew of pidgin, business-speak, techno-speak, Americo-grunt-speak, rap chatter, and  the spit-less mutterings of email, text messaging and all the rest of the internet's babble-lingo. There is no dictionary for it, no guiding Academy, no usage horizon… unless you're a charismatic Christian speaking in 'tongues', which we all know dominates the twittersphere.

As air travel became the world's girdle, it was immediately apparent that all involved, from pilots to reservation clerks, had to read from the same page, an English page. When multi-nationalism became the marketing structure of the globe and the dollar became it's currency, English became its code. After the end of World War II, with Europe and Japan in rubble, and China yet to heave its masses out of the countryside into the cities, American science-technology paraded across the surface of the Earth singing in English. And then there was Hollywood, rock&roll, and television. It all said: "Move over." Or in pure body-language Aenglish: "Here's my elbow!"

Travel anywhere in the world and you'll see, read and hear Aenglish, even if it's only a short-word vocabulary consisting of 'Helloh Mistuh', 'Wat you want', 'Hay Hansum', 'Tankyu', 'Byby'. If you're a Russian traveling in Madagascar, you're out of luck unless you speak the local language or a few words of Aenglish. If you're a Chinese in Argentina, some Spanish please or just a little bit of Aenglish will do.

This planetary talk code is spoken fluently in many places and taught in many education systems, including America… but without the background and underpinning of its mother-English: its syntax, Roman Latin and Greek infrastructure, its roots. Thailand is a good example.

In the Kingdom of Thailand, English as Aenglish is prevalent… not quite a second language, but spread throughout signage and labeling, with even short-word vocabularies among remote villagers. It's taught in many schools in the education system—taught by teachers who learned it from books and the internet and from the very same classes they are teaching. They seldom teach conversation, how to speak. The result is a strange phenomenon, awkward but interesting. It goes like this:

Speak in English to most Thais, on the phone, on the street, in a shop, and unless you speak a little Thai, they will understand the Aenglish parts, but that's all. If you write it out (print it out), the chances are they'll understand much of it. Why? Because they were taught to read and write, albeit, not too well, but well enough. Speaking, rather "hearing speaking", remained a mystery.

Now, that's changing. The Thai government and educational institutions are on a high-horse campaign to encourage and insist that Thai students learn English and learn it well... read, write and speak. Their insistence says: "In this 21st century, if you want to connect with the global community and its intersection with Thailand, if you want success and prosperity, if you want a piece of the action and a piece of the pie, learn English!"

Interesting? Yes, especially given a history of slightly xenophobic cultural self-pride. But as they say, the handwriting is on the wall and the signs are in the sky... and it's all in English. Let's hope that in the process the Land of Smiles doesn't lose its magic...something that even money can't buy.

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©2012 Arthur Meiselman
©2012 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Arthur Meiselman is a playwright, writer and the Editor of Scene4.
He also directs the Talos Ensemble and produces for Aemagefilms

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August 2012

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