Monday, February 10, 2014

Heart Talk

When our family moved to Thailand to work with minority language groups, my husband and I were introduced to a book by Christopher G. Moore called, Heart Talk. This book is like no other on the study of the word, *jai 'heart' in the Thai language. It is a fascinating read for anyone doing any kind of cross-cultural writing because it provides insight not only into "love" emotions but into most of the emotions expressed by Thai people.

In this book there are over 700  jai words/phrases that the Thai people know and use constantly. Whether it's talking about positive emotions or negative emotions, good character traits or bad character traits, right choices or wrong choices, the word or phrase usually includes jai. It is no wonder the author calls it, "the central metaphor in the Thai language."

Let me share a few of these "heart" words to help you understand how differently the Thai view life. There are some words that cross over culturally such as jai-yai 'heart big' in referring to a generous person, or jai-sing 'heart lion' in referring to a courageous person. However, there are many that are surprising and sometimes even opposite of how westerners think. For example, jai-nooy 'heart small' doesn't mean a stingy person. It is referring to someone who is highly sensitive emotionally, who is easily hurt or offended by others. Kin-jai 'eat heart' is a verb meaning, "to impress" in a good way; Or, jai-phra 'heart monk' referring to a person who is extremely compassionate and forgiving; Or naam-jai 'water heart' referring to someone who takes into account another person's feelings. This last one could be translated to mean empathy or sympathy in English but in Thai there are two totally different jai words for those feelings. Are you getting the picture?

But I must mention one of the most used jai words: kreeng-jai 'awe heart'--a word that is almost untranslatable into English. Moore calls it, "the heart of hearts of the Thai culture and class system.":

"The phrase reflects a rich brew of feelings and emotions--a mingling of reverence, respect, deference, homage and fear--which every Thai person feels toward someone who is their senior, boss, teacher, mother and father, or those in powerful position such as a high-ranking police officer."

It takes the author 1 1/2 pages to define this type of patron/client cultural system and even then he confesses that it goes so much deeper. Our western culture find this a difficult concept to grasp. Often we are more jai dii phii khaw 'good heart, ghost enters'. Anyone care to guess what that means?

I focus on this book because it is a reminder of what happens when we come in contact with other cultures--how my eyes were opened to their culture and thus I looked at my culture in a new way--and how through it I became more of a TCA in the way I began to view the world. And it made me more aware than in a world that is becoming smaller every day, where we interact with other cultures on a daily basis, a book like this can help us see the world through different eyes and then help us show love to others in a whole new way AND share Jesus' love in a whole new way too.

*Unfortunately, due to computer incompatibility, I could not mark tone on the Thai words.


~Rain``` said...

Very fascinating!

Lovella said...

That's so interesting, Connie! Makes our English language seem so limited, in a way.