Nam pla, prik ki nu

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Dec 10 15:24:54 UTC 2002

At 6:40 AM -0500 12/10/02, Jesse Sheidlower wrote:
>On Tue, Dec 10, 2002 at 02:30:52AM -0500, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>>  It is my impression that neither "nam pla" nor "prik ki nu" qualifies as an
>>  English word. Thai persons of my acquaintance virtually always have
>>  referred to nam pla as "fish sauce" when speaking English. The little
>>  mouse-dropping peppers are conventionally called "birdseye" peppers/chilis
>>  in English, I believe. "Pad Thai" OTOH refers to a specific and nowadays
>>  conventional dish in the US (AFAIK), and I believe this is just as English
>>  a word as "sukiyaki" or "gyros" for example. Of course I concede that these
>>  things are not black-and-white.
>I certainly don't think that all of Barry's voluminous citations for
>foreign food terms qualify as English words, but I absolutely think that
>_nam pla_ is used in English contexts without any explanation in a way
>that suggests it has become naturalized. I see it all the time, not just
>in narrow Thai-cookery use. I'd probably agree that _prik ki nu_ isn't
>quite ready for prime time, but _nam pla_ does.
Agreed, but the former does occupy a nice place in the annals of
linguistics.  Mary Haas wrote a classic article in the 1950's, later
anthologized in Dell Hymes's 1964 reader _Language in Culture and
Society_, on cross-linguistic taboo avoidance, in which she observed
that Thai students in the U.S., not wanting to be overheard
requesting _prik_ in its various forms, substituted "lingam", the
Sanskrit word (familiar to those of you who have memorized the Kama
Sutra) for the male member.


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