Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The perils of international trade

I read a really nice piece in the Bangkok Post this week (yeah, I'm global). It was written by an Australian, as far as I can gather from the textual clues, who has been living in Thailand for 22 years. This, I think, makes him qualified to comment on Thai matters with an authoritative outsider's point of view. His article concerns the pronunciation of companies when they open branches in Thailand. Ikea is the business he discusses, and how many Thai people have begun saying it as 'ickier'. The writer suggests a possible reason for this:

The answer lies in the ''I'' at the beginning of the word. In Thai, a short sharp ''I'' is a derogatory way of describing somebody. If you didn't like me, for example, you can call me ''I-Andrew'' with a scowl, though not to my face because it's very rude. I am guessing Ikea sounds like a rude way of referring to a person by the name of ''Kea''.

But some companies have fared a lot worse in the name-mangling stakes. Volvo, for instance:
First, there is no ''v'' in Thai, so they replace it with a ''w''. Second, the final sound of a syllable in Thai cannot end in ''l'', so ''Vol'' becomes ''Wonn''. And so Volvo becomes Wonn-wor.
Thai is, actually, a language with a very different phonology from English so pronunciation is hard in both directions. My Thai friends are too polite to laugh at me when I try to do it, but they can't quite hide their amusement.

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