Thailand: Culture sphere: the 'ab-beaw' effect on the Thai language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jul 28 13:57:28 UTC 2007

 Culture sphere :The 'ab-beaw' effect on the Thai language Are you ab-beaw
today? This trendy term being used by Thai teens is the cause of much debate
in Thai society right now.

Published on July 28, 2007

Ab-beaw is a slang term created by Thai youngsters recently while chatting
on the Internet. The adjective is a combination of the English "abnormal",
and the Thai "bong-baew", meaning cute. Ab-beaw literally means
abnormal/cute. The Culture Ministry became concerned a few weeks ago that
the growing popularity of this bit of Thai/English slang among Thai teens,
especially those chatting in the virtual world via MSN, blogs or email,
would soon destroy Thai culture, especially the Thai language, a major part
of the national identity.

A major debate started then on this issue. Many Thai linguists, child
psychologists and sociologists think that teenagers come up with slang terms
within their own community in order to create a unique sense of identity for
themselves. This is a normal part of teen culture, a means of establishing a
separate identity from the adult world. Thinking "out of the box" is best
for them. However, these academics think that eventually this slang will not
work for them anymore and that teens will find it outdated and stop using
it. On the other hand, the Culture Ministry's officers found this trend to
be very dangerous and alerted academics, encouraging a national policy of
preserving the Thai language.

The ministries of education and culture co-hosted the national symposium
"How to solve the crisis on Thai language" on Thursday. Chaired by Prime
Minister Surayud Chulanont, the symposium was an attempt to push the proper
use of the Thai language as an urgent national policy. Further study of the
Thai language at the university level may soon be a mandatory subject,
instead of the elective it is now. According to the symposium, the poor
language skills of Thai youth are the result of three main causes: the
ignorance of their parents, society (or government) influence and the lack
of reading among youth. Many teenagers imitate TV hosts and stars as well as
singers who commonly mix Thai and English together.

However, the study presented at the symposium is nothing new. These
academics and government officers have been talking about these topics for
decades - long before ab-baew cropped up in Thai culture - and many slang
Thai terms have disappeared. Indeed, it reflects where the future of Thai
education should be going. We should thank the person who came up with
'ab-baew' and Web users for shaking dinosaur government officers out of
their complacency. Many linguists say that slang is not as much of a concern
as the dialects that are disappearing and being replaced by the central Thai
language throughout the country. Natives of Isaan, and provinces in the
North and South who immigrate to Bangkok, are reticent to speak in their own
dialects. This reflects a weakness of anthropological development, and shows
a lack of esteem for their roots. Dialect also reflects subcultures.
Respecting different subcultures and learning about them is the best way to
preserve our national culture.

A campaign to preserve the Thai language should not only focus on ensuring
that Thai is spoken, read and written correctly; it also should focus on a
deep study of the Thai language in different contexts, including youth
culture, Web culture as well as in subcultures. It's a long-term practice -
long enough for new slang terms to come and go from our society.

Phatarawadee Phataramawik
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