Thai cave rescue – some language notes


My regular correspondent in Thailand has sent me the following, which includes IPA script. I hope that it doesn’t suffer the same fate as other of my posts, where the IPA has become corrupted over time.

“Good old BBC. No sooner have they managed to get SE Asia correspondent Jonathan Head to stop saying ‘Pa-TAY-a’ instead of [pʰát.tʰā.jāː] for the world-renowned resort of sun, sea, sewage and sex than they parachute everyone and his mother in to join the media circus surrounding the cave rescue in Northern Thailand. Now the cave complex includes one section that was already dubbed ‘Pattaya Beach’. I heard Head say it once, more or less correctly (we will forgive lapses of vowel length and tone – he’s only been in Thailand for 18 years). Then Philippines correspondent Howard Johnson arrived to take us back to ‘Pa-TAY-a’.

Meanwhile, back in the studio, the consensus was that this was happening in Tham /lwang/ Cave. First, ‘tham’ means ‘cave’. Second, there is no initial cluster /lw-/ in Thai. It’s [tʰâm lǔaŋ]. This is in the province of Chiang Rai, which was occasionally pronounced to rhyme with ‘Ray’. As any fule know, it’s [t͡ɕʰīaŋ.rāːj].”

There is also an interesting myth to do with this cave system. See

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