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Thai as the First Language

The venue:  The meeting room of the Thailand 4.0 Policy and Planning Division, Scenarios Section.

The cast:  The Working Group on Making Thai a Global Language, comprising representatives from the NCPO, Office of the Prime Minister, Ministries of Defence, Education, Foreign Affairs, Social Development and Human Security and Digital Economy and Society, Supreme Command, National Security Council, Royal Thai Police, Royal Society of Thailand and a stray official from the Botanical Garden Organization of Thailand who was in the wrong room but decided to stay and collect the bia chum anyway.

The meeting is brought to order by the chair.

Welcome all.  This is the first meeting of the Working Group, inaugurated, as I am sure we are all aware, as a result of the inspiring speech by the Prime Minister on the benefits to the country of making Thai the global lingua franca …

Sorry to butt in, but is that what he meant?  I thought he was suggesting that we make Thai a global language, not the global language.

Mmm.  Good point.  Yes, with Thai having no definite or indefinite articles, it’s hard to know what he meant.

Yes, well.  Perhaps for the moment we could set that question to one side.  Either way, I think we are all agreed that it would be a great boost to national prestige and help us on the way to achieving Thailand 4.0.

Hear, hear.  Or even Thailand 5.0.  Or 6.0.

Whatever that is.

Er, let’s not get carried away just yet.  All we’re looking for here, as the PM said, is superpower status.  I was thinking that this initial meeting could set out some preliminary ideas about where we are going and how to get there.

Yes, good idea.  And we could call it our roadmap.

If you must.  But, er, what ideas do we have about Thai as a, or the, global language?

Well the Prime Minister said that we could achieve this if we do what he told us.

Yes of course.  And that was …?

I’m not sure.  But he did tell us that Thai had 44 letters for consonants and 24 vowels, …

24?  I thought there were 27.

No, 21, surely.

Well, there’s a, aa, i, …

Yes, I don’t think the exact number is essential at this point.  The important thing is what he said next – that English has 5 vowels.

So Thai is better, whether it is 21 or 24 or whatever.

No, I think he meant Thai had too many letters.  It makes it harder to learn.  So we have to reduce the number.

What?  But the Thai alphabet was bequeathed to the Thai people by King Ramkhamhaeng the Great.  Surely you don’t mean to imply that our Prime Minister, whose loyalty to the monarchy is second to none, would ever dream of meddling with this national royal heritage?

Yes, I think what he meant to say is that English has only 5 vowels.  He was showing how deficient English is and how much better our language is.

You mean, the more letters we have, the more likely foreigners will want to learn Thai?  I’m not so sure.

No, it goes with what he said about tones.

What did he say about tones?

He said that Thai has them.

Well, yes, we all know that.  So what?

Well it shows that Thai is better than languages that don’t have them.

Er, no, surely he was implying that tones make it hard to learn, so it would be better not to have them.

He’s got a point.  I mean, if the more tones you have, the better your language is, then we have a problem.  Lao has more tones than Thai, so by that measure, Lao …

Oh dear.  We can’t have that.

But what about that thing he said towards the end?  That some words have many meanings.

Was he talking about Thai or English?

I’m not sure.  And is that a good thing or a bad thing?

A good thing, surely.  You don’t have to learn so many words.

Well, no, it means you don’t know what anyone means when they use those words.  That would be bad, no?

I hate to rush you, but we do need to bring this to a conclusion.  There’s another meeting scheduled for this room on what Thailand can teach the world on road safety.  Can anyone come up with a conclusion for our discussion today?

Well I think it’s fairly obvious.  Thailand should be a global lingua franca because when the Prime Minister speaks in Thai, his meaning is perfectly clear.

About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).