Skip to content

Ergo Sum

Personal tools
You are here: Home » Members » cmcurtin's Home » Taj Food, Thai Palace?

Taj Food, Thai Palace?

Document Actions
Funny things happen when the languages of Eastern Europe and Central Asia collide.

Taj Palace is an excellent Indian restaurant in Columbus I frequent perhaps twice monthly. Two friends and I were in the area together, so we opted to stop there. Two of us are Americans and native English speakers who have subsequently learned and regularly use Russian. A third is a native Polish speaker, and regularly uses Russian and English.

Having a friend who is a native speaker of a Slavic language makes for valuable opportunities to understand how Slavic languages work. Understanding how "to think" in a language is critical to mastering it. Polish and Russian are related languages, so to hear a friend translate expressions literally and guess incorrectly how to put something into English is to gain a clue on how a Slavic language "thinks."

Many Slavic languages are written with Cyrillic alphabets, but others (such as Czech and Polish) are written in a Latinic alphabet. (The actual character set differs slightly from the Latinic of Western Europe. The ISO character set for Eastern Europe is ISO 8859-2, or "Latin-2.")

The letter "J" is somewhat problematic. Derived from the letter I, J started out being a shortened I, though in Romance languages (e.g., French), its sound has been influenced by G, and now has rather a different sound. The English J has been influenced heavily by other languages, though in Slavic languages, J is still representative of a short I, the Latinic equivalent of й. (In such languages, I sounds like an English speaker's "long E.")

Another problem for native speakers of Slavic languages can be the combinations of letters that make completely different sounds from either letter independently, such as TH. Learning the rule is never as difficult as learning the exception. Thus, certain English words like "Thai" are often mispronounced to sound just like "thigh."

With such things jumbling around in our heads, three of us parked our car and walked toward Taj Palace, which is located near a nondescript Asian restaurant. As we neared the place, our native Polish speaker asked if we had opted for Thai food instead of Indian. Not being a particular fan of the stuff myself, I expressed some hesitation, and the other native English speaker said the original plan for Indian was the best.

Our Polish friend could not understand what we were talking about as I stood there holding open the door to "Thai Palace." Only when entering did she recognize that she was in an Indian restaurant. The other American and I quickly figured out that she had parsed "Taj" not as a word from an Indian language brought into English but as a Polish word, where the J would combine with the A to make a diphthong that sounds like a long I in English, making "Taj" come out as "Thai."

What we didn't realize at the time was that our friend was still in the dark. Perhaps ten minutes into lunch, she burst into laughter, having just realized what took place and why we were so confused when she asked if we had changed the plan from Indian to Thai.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2005-02-01 11:41 AM

This site conforms to the following standards: