In 1954, when I was sent to Bangkok for the "Dutch Bank", I had to take Thai lessons. It was customary that new staff employees learn the language and pass a proficiency exam at the end of the first year as a condition for continued employment.
So several mornings a week, at 06:00 sharp, a Thai Navy Officer would show up for coffee , conversation and composition. The fact that I had been in the Dutch Naval Academy was just a fortunate coincidence.
Thai is a tonal language and it is rather hard to hit the right intonation. To my dismay, it appeared that every variation in intonation of the same word gave rise to some obscene term, which accounted for the suppressed giggles of my audience.
I already had picked up quite some words and whole sentences from our servants and used to try them out at the bank. This was a funny mistake, because Thai has separate words for personal pronouns not only for men and women, but also for different classes. So, to make up an illustrative example, instead of saying: "I, your boss and master, command you, lowly clerk, to go and fetch . . . ", I would say: "Me lowly girl servant beg you exalted master to proceed and obtain . . . "
Thai also has its own alphabet, invented by a Thai monarch several hundreds of years ago. He must have been sparsimonious, because Thai (the word is a noun as well a pronoun and adverb, etc. and does not change in plural either) do not use spaces between words and sentences, so that Thai text is a continuous series of letters.
To make things harder, there are some funny things about vowels. In fact, there is only one true vowel, the letter "O". I'll switch to PAINT to be able to give the Thai letters as I remember them almost 50 years later:
So, to write the popular word "arai" (What?), first write the "O" to announce that the next letter is going to be a vowel, then the letter "a". The next vowel "ai" happens to be put in front of the consonant which it actually follows, the letter "r", thus in effect writing "oaair" and pronouncing it "arai". (Come and think of it decades later, it now looks as if the rule of preceding a vowel by the letter "O" does not apply to the vowel "ai" . . . )BLO fecit 20040417 - stories