Over the past few weeks and as National Thai Language Day (Jul 29) approaches, we are seeing a growing interest in a new trend (or abomination depending on where you stand on the conservative-liberal continuum) of Thai language called phasa skoi, or skoi language.
In case you didn't know, skoi is a term used to describe teenage girls who ride behind dek waent in illegal motorcycle races. The closest English equivalent we can think of might be the word that starts with "sk" and rhymes with "tank".
This controversial take on Thai is being popularised by a mysterious teenage girl through her Facebook page (facebook.com/sowhateiei) which is purported to be a skoi club. And like dek waent with the law, she defies the usual rules of spelling, turning the language into what appears as gibberish or nonsense, similar to gobbledygook. For example, the standard greeting becomes . The word for "we" in Thai becomes . Trying to comprehend her lingo may result in the sensation of crashing your bare head on an asphalt road in a motorcycle accident.
She has posted random status messages in skoi (e.g. "I'm back. I'm so hungry. Let's find something to eat.") and random pictures of skoi girls on the page. These sent the page to notoriety faster than a motorcycle zooming from 0-100km/hr as netizens replied with either ":)", seeing it as harmless fun, or ":-(", calling it an affront to one of the most treasured national prides that is Thai language.
It has also spawned websites dedicated to translating Thai to skoi as well as opposing Facebook pages. Moreover, some people on Facebook have adopted this dialect in their status messages (hopefully for a laugh) while the media have asked whether it could maim Thai in a tangible way.
Guru explores different aspects of the new argot to give you a crash course (so you can be down with the kids, if needed), talks to the advocates of skoi, and finds out what people think about it.
For advanced speakers of Thai, here are some rules to form basic skoi words. The language is based on a loose system so one Thai word can have more than one skoi form. It may come in handy when you want to openly gossip about someone on Facebook without getting caught. Thai-speaking expats may want to master skoi to earn extra kudos from locals.
In Thai, different letters can represent the same sound. When typing in skoi, replace a letter with another rarely used letter that has the same or similar sound (like spelling "crazy" with a "k").
Shove any Thai letter with the tantakad symbol in the middle of a word. The point is to confuse people because they deserve it.
Vowels and are taken out. Replace the original tone mark with . The point is to cuten words up. Therefore, becomes .
If people start to unfriend you after you convert to skoi, don't blame us.
MEET TWO SKOI SPREADERS
The controversial ’Pro-Skoi Club’
Now that you're acquainted with the niche tongue, it's time to hear from two people who have contributed to it in a big way: The administrator of the controversial Facebook page herself and a guy who created a website that translates Thai to skoi.
Under the ironic, fake name Teerak (Beloved), the administrator says she's just a normal teenage girl living in Isan. Here's the gist of what Teerak told us.
"I'm not trying to spread a new lingo. The page was made just for fun. I didn't know it would become such a big thing," she began. She said corrupted Thai language existed before her page. "People shortened words to make it easier to chat through typing. You type instead of sawasdee, for instance. I came across it while using Hi5 but my so-called skoi language doesn't make life easier because it's hard to read and type. I didn't think anyone would be crazy enough to try to decode what I typed."
As if in sarcasm, she puts a crazy spin on Thai language. Teerak substitutes a consonant with another less-used one that has the same or similar sound. Certain vowels are removed. She adds extra letters with the tantakad symbol over them to the middle of a word just to confuse people.
Since starting the page in early April, many people have tried to decode her language and basically follow the abracadabra she posts. At the time of writing, the page has garnered over 28,000 "Likes" while almost 67,000 were talking about it.
"It is only for typing and I never use it in my real life or homework," she stresses.
Aside from her strange take on the language, what's perhaps more interesting is how people react to it. People have attacked her with derogatory terms for defiling Thai language and demanded that she close the page. Others have logged in to her defence, saying the haters should learn to lighten up. Like a game, her supporters reply in skoi or translate her status into Thai. Some comments also show prejudice against skoi girls in general without knowing if the administrator is a skoi in real life or not.
Teerak says, "When people see something they dislike, they are quick to criticise it. People also like to tell those they view different to get out of this country. Some have called me Burmese or Cambodian [because she doesn't use proper Thai] in an insulting tone, showing some Thais look down on neighbouring countries."
Teerak doesn't take these comments lying down, though, and seems to feed off the controversy. She responds to comments (sometimes rudely), captures exchanges between her and her haters, and posts them on the page.
"I think some people just don't have a sense of humour. They are too serious. The page is a kind of puzzle. Those who don't understand it just call me names."
The other skoi populariser is Manassarn "Noom" Manoonchai who created a website that can translate Thai to skoi (http://narze.github.com/toSkoy). After coming across Teerak's controversial Facebok page, Noom created the website on Jul 16. The 23-year-old holder of a computer engineering degree from Chulalongkorn University claims he attracted 15,000 views within a day after tweeting a link to the website.
"I think the people who use this language probably want to be different but still want to be able to communicate."
While he acknowledges people can find it offensive, he sees some value in it. "I personally don't like it when people use chat language. I type normal Thai, however, I view skoi as a form of sarcasm because it's basically chat language made unnecessarily complicated [instead of easier]. No one would use it in daily life."
The challenge the language presents is another positive draw. "You can read it but it takes a lot of effort." He's now working on a system to convert skoi back to proper Thai.
SKOI TO STAY?
Here are some interesting comments on the new craze.
On the Chao Doo Woody show, well-known tutor of Thai language Kru Lily said no one should be worried that skoi would corrupt Thai because languages naturally change, with many catchphrases being created only to be forgotten later. Since Thai has different levels and skoi is personal, she suggested teaching kids when and with whom to use formal or informal languages. She also added that skoi shows creativity in interpreting systems of Thai language differently.
On Voice TV's Divas Cafe show, host and columnist Lakkana Punwichai says, "If we were to use the system of Thai issued by former prime minister Plaek Phibulsongkram [who, in 1942, removed some consonants and vowels in order to simplify the language but his Thai was cancelled three years later], skoi language wouldn't be here because he would have gotten rid of unnecessary characters already... I think the page shows how ridiculous Thai society is for keeping letters we rarely use in real life around by using them in the new language incarnation."
Luke Cassady-Dorion, filmmaker, yogi, and holder of a BA in Thai Language from Ramkamheang University says: "Thai language is constantly evolving and people should be aware of the changes. Will skoi language go away? Some of it probably will, but other words may work their way into the dictionary eventually, assuming that more liberal people have a say in its keeping. I may ruffle some feathers by saying that I feel study of skoi language is important, but I will also say that studying Sanskrit, Pali and Khmer are also important. Understanding where our language came from helps us to understand our roots. Understanding where it's going helps us to understand our present and future."
Our opinion on it? Given the fact that the skoi version is freaking hard to read and type, we're sure it will become as popular as being dek waent or skoi. A limited-edition skoi version of Guru might be beyond our scope, sorry.
About the author
- Writer: Pornchai Sereemongkonpol
Position: Guru Reporter