Saturday, December 27, 2008

281206 brown = sii sooker

On the cat's last two afternoons in Luang Prabang, it attended Lao classes taught by many more teachers than it expected. Even in the Oxford tutorial system or Cambridge supervision system, one would never get to enjoy a 10-odd:1 teacher to student ratio, what more with zero tuition fees. The curriculum took a comparative approach (similarities/differences between Lao & Thai equivalents) & was custom-built upon the cat's rudimentary Thai vocabulary. Some of it was rather straightforward:

day before yesterday = meu korn [LA] vs. (meua) waan seun (nii) [TH]
yesterday = meu(a) waan nii [LA] vs. meua waan (nii)/wan waan [TH]
today = meu nii [LA] vs. wan nii [TH]
tomorrow = meu eun [LA] vs. phrung nii [TH]
day after tomorrow = meu heu [LA] vs. mareun(nii) [TH]

Sometimes a little linguistic gymnastics was required:

red = sii daeng [LA, TH]
orange = sii som [LA, TH]
yellow = sii leuang [LA, TH]
green = sii khiao [LA, TH]
blue = sii faa [LA] vs. sii naam ngoen [TH]
purple = sii muang [LA, TH]
white = sii khaao [LA, TH]
pink = sii somphuu [LA] vs. sii chomphuu [TH] (lit. colour of jambu air)
grey = sii thao [LA, TH]
brown = ...

Sii sooker says Monk Tata Young-fan.
Cat writes down 'sii sooker'.
Whole bunch of teachers peer at cat's writing.
No, no, sii sooker.
Erm that's exactly what the cat wrote?
NO, sooooo-khaaaa.
*scratch head*
meuan kan kap phaasaa thai (it's the same as Thai)!! sookha SOOKHA!
Isn't 'sukhaa' (สุขา) a polite term for toilet in Thai?!
You don't know how to write in English? EHS-YOU-JII-

(brown = sii naam dtaan aka. 'colour of sugar' in Lao & Thai)

Come think of it, brown is indeed a colour associated with (filthy) toilets. When we were all able to breathe again after recovering from the mass laughing fit, the cat taught its teachers how to pronounce SHOO-GER. Interestingly, most of the Lao the cat has met have no trouble pronouncing 'sh', unlike most Thais who tend to morph it into 'ch' instead, & love to spend their free time 'chopping' for 'choo' (perhaps they buy only Jimmy Choos) & watching 'cho' at movie theatres. The 'shr' phonetic is way beyond some - can be a little freakish when a Thai tells you that tom yam kung contains 'chimps'.

On the other hand, the removal of the 'ch' consonant from the Lao alphabet means that many younger generation Lao have trouble pronouncing it, morphing 'ch' in any other language into 'sh'. Hence 'do you want share?' when offering you a chair, 'the price is sheep' when the currency is kip, & the rather alarming 'I shat on MSN & Yahoo messenger' & 'he shit in exam for high school'. This also makes it harder for Lao to figure out the difference between 'ch' & 'q' when learning Chinese. The absence of the 'r' consonant in the Lao alphabet gives rise to the tendency to replace 'r' with 'l' or simply ignore it, resulting in car clashes involving bad divers, painting walls with blush, clothes dying in the sun, & monks who play Buddha every morning & evening (Laoglish grammar tends to omit prepositions like 'to').

The French influence on Laos shows up in English too - whatever's spelt with 'ou' in English & Chinese ends up being pronounced as 'oo' instead, & Big Brother Mouse sprouts antlers to become Big Brother Moose...books for Canadian kids? Most of the Lao whom the cat has met (all from upper north except for one) can distiguish between 'v' & 'w' (listening only), & even pronounce the difference between 'x' & 's', despite the fact that the cat's Lao-English dictionary does not list 'x' or 'v' as consonants (the 'x' for elephant is transliterated as 's'). Much easier to teach Lao how to pronounce 'thank you' in Chinese than to teach Americans & Europeans (who tend to morph the 'x' into 'z').

Despite this afternoon's Lao lesson, the cat was still ill-prepared for the next test of Lao language it faced upon returning to Vanvisa Guess-how (final consonant 's' & consonant cluster 'st' do not exist in Lao)...

Younger female staff converge on cat.
Animated discussion in Lao.
Ask it, ask it, it understands some Thai.
Madame Vandara (English-speaking owner) bor yuu (not in)?
Mr OD (sole English-speaking employee) not in either...
Staff grabs cat's paw & leads it upstairs.
English-speaking falang lady emerges from room next to the cat's.
Missing what?
Cat has no idea what bras are called in Lao. Not exactly the kinda vocabulary monks like Tata Young-fan would ever think of teaching it.
Oh good the Lao ladies understand 'seua chan nai' (Thai term for undergarment).
Erm sii muang is purple but no idea what lavender or lilac is called in Lao or Thai.
Madame Vandara's textile collection downstairs!
Point out exact shade from pile of folded silk scarves.
Staff hunt for falang's lavender seua chan nai in guest laundry :)

For the record, lavender = sii muang orn...the same 'orn' (in 'orn bpanyaa' lit. weak wisdom/intellect) used to scold people 'dumb' or 'stupid' :P

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