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esarn dictionary

LivingHour.org is promising an English-Isaan (Isan) Dictionary, and claim that they “hope to have it released within the next couple months.” It might pay to check them out periodically if this is the sort of thing you would like to have.

Some of their other Thai language books sound like they might be worth looking at, too.

DCO — their banner link is at the top of this post — has a Thai-Isan-Lao Phrasebook with MP3 CD by Asger Mollerup. Borrowing from their description:

From English to Thai, Isan and Lao
Much More Than a Phrasebook

A remarkable large book covering the central Thai,Isan Thai and Lao languages. It covers common phrases, vocabulary, grammar rules and the writing of the Thai and Lao alphabets. Words and phrases are written in both the Thai and Lao scripts plus phonetic spelling in English. Along with the MP3 CD this really is a unique teaching manual for anyone wanting to use these languages.

The book aims at:

Beginners, who want to know the basics of the languages.

Students who might know most of the vocabulary already, but want to learn to read and write and determine tones.

Advanced students, who already know Thai and want to know Isan or Lao

The people of Isan, who want to read and write Lao.

The people of Lao, who want to read and write Thai.

About the author:

Asger Mollerup, an architect, visited Thailand for the first time in 1988 as part of a group researching slum problems and the impact of tourism on local environments. He returned in 1990, and since then has been working in various fields: Writing articles, promoting alternative tourism, (bringing tourists to experience village life), tourism advisor in Vientiane and farm manager for a Danish dairy project in Isan.

Presently he is managing a forestation project in the Phu Phan Mountains of Mukdahan, Isan. He is doing research on minority languages in Isan and Laos, (mainly Phutai), and on orientation of ancient Khmer temples in southern Isan and Laos. He hopes this book will ease the way for other foreigners, who share the same attraction for Thailand and Laos, and wish to learn the languages.

Thai-software.com gives an excellent description of the language:

What is Isaan Lao?

Isaan (pronounced “ee-sahn”) is the North East part of Thailand, with a population of about 20,000,000 people, most of whom speak Lao as their first language; many speak Thai as a second language. In the country of Laos, by comparison, there are only about 4,000,000 Lao speakers.

Isaan is also spelled “Esarn”, “Esahn”, “Esan”, “Isarn”, and “Isan”. This is because there is no standardised phonetic system in Thailand.

As a whole, Isaan is relatively poor, with an economy based mostly on agriculture; however, droughts are common. As a result, many Isaan people work in the big cities, especially Bangkok. Most of the lower class jobs, such as maids, bargirls, taxi drivers, waitresses, etc., are filled by Isaan people, many of whom never completed high school. This was because of lack of income, not lack of intelligence.

Although Isaan people are fluent in Lao, it is not taught in Thai schools, and so they cannot read or write Lao characters, only Thai characters. When they write Lao words, they use Thai characters. The Isaan Lao dictionary in this project uses Thai characters, whereas the Lao dictionary uses Lao characters.

I may be wrong, but Thai Culture Publishing seems to be related to Thai-software.com. At any rate, they make this promise: “Coming soon, we will have Speak Easy Isaan Lao, which will help you learn the language spoken by a third of the people in Thailand.” I very much like that for anyone who purchases the CD-ROM, “all updates are free. No subscription fees. No upgrade fees. Free. Forever.” It might be worth considering!

An article that argues how the Lao language is being steadily eroded and undermined by Thai is the subject of considerable Lao forum activity, as you can see for yourself here. If the claims of the article are true, then it truly is a shame.

If you have not checked out Wikipedia’s entry for Isan language, please do — it’s very thorough.

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About Garnet Barcelo

I am a Canadian retiree, married to an Isaan (Thailand) lady whom I met in Udon Thani City in January 2003. We married in late May 2005. And she has been with me here in Canada since May 2006. Her two sons joined us in September 2008. Ever since that first visit to Thailand in 2003, my dream has been to somehow spend most of my retired life over there with her, but the financial reality of my retired life is not making that possible. It will take a miracle to get this dream to come true.


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