Have you ever done a word study on "love" or "heart" to help expand your writing? I'm sure you have if you've written about any kind of personal relationships. Today I'd like to share a book with you, one which I'm thinking none of you have ever heard of.
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.":
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 today as a challenge, to all of us. 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 write about love, about emotions, about relationships in a whole new way. And maybe it will help us show Jesus' love in a whole new way too.
*Unfortunately, due to computer incompatibility, I could not mark tone on the Thai words.