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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

Highly Distinct Genders In Thailand - Ka and Krop and everything in between

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One of the most interesting things for those interested in Thailand's Muay Thai is how Muay Thai itself is a highly stylized expression of Muay Thai, or what some call hypermasculinity. One of the more striking things about Thai language for those first learning it, coming from the west, is how speakers end speech with a gendered polite particle, ka or krop, basically positioning the speaker, as gendered in an almost constant process of self-declaration. This performed division of the genders may even have helped give rise to the very notions of gender fluidity that allow trans persons to simply adopt the particle of the trans- gender they are moving toward. In this sense Thailand is both rather rigid, and also fluid.

But, this is really what I'm writing about here. This gendered division, along with very hyperstylized versions of gender both feminine and masculine, is thought to not even really BE Thai, at least in a certain dimension of analysis. The stark distinctions between genders is thought to have arisen in the early part of the 19th century when Thailand (then Siam) faced extraordinary pressure from the west to "self-civilize"). In otherwords, "you better become a lot more like US, or you will get colonized (ie, civilized)". The division of the genders both visually (gendered dress was government imposed in the periods that followed), and also in terms of speech (I believe the imposition of these gendered particles) came from this somewhat radical, and also Thai-flavored adoption of western gender values, with those Victorian roots.

Of note, this self-civilization also is what likely brought about the adoption of gloves in Muay Thai (then simply Muay). So, when you say "ka" or "krop" at the end of a Thai sentence, you are also reliving the forces that also gloved the hands of Thailand's boxers.

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Are there any links to this you got? For the linguistic history of the m/f versions of the same words?

Loads of other languages have this. Places in Eastern Europe, even your name. Like, if your surname was Kevin it would be 'Kevinski', but if you were a chick it would be 'Kevinska'. Pretty cool.

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Interesting! I just wanted to drop this article here, too - How Thai Language Reinforces Hierarchy and Perpetuates Social Divides



"In a lot of cases, Thai pronouns are strictly gendered.

The word phom, in Thai, can be used to describe two different things. It acts as a pronoun for Thai men to address themselves and also a noun that describes hair.

“And that is not a coincidence,” said Dockum. “Phom refers to the hairs on the top of the head and as an exalted part of the body.”

On the other hand, Thai women face a wider set of pronouns navigate through, from di-chanchanraonhoo, to even addressing their own names.

Let’s look at di-chan as one example. It is a pronoun Thai women often use to refer to themselves, but most Thai women and Thais alike are likely unaware of its origins.

Di-chan is a pronoun that has been eroded over time, but it originally came from the word de-raj-chan, which means a beast or animal.

Another somewhat endearing term, nhoo, has a more direct and straightforward meaning. When you are referring to yourself as nhoo, you are basically calling yourself a mouse.

“Why condone oneself to such a level? You are not a mouse, no matter how sweet or endearing it is. It is incorrect and truly offensive,” Tuptim said.

“It comes from an infantilisation of women and of keeping them youthful,” explains Dockum, “I remember I saw a woman in her 40s talking to a man in his 60s and calling herself nhoo. She was basically saying ‘I am a child in this position in relation to you,’ and therefore treating him with respect.”

When you are navigating Thai pronouns, you are also navigating your own identity, worth, and power  — where you ultimately stand in society."



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2 hours ago, Oliver said:

Loads of other languages have this. Places in Eastern Europe, even your name. Like, if your surname was Kevin it would be 'Kevinski', but if you were a chick it would be 'Kevinska'. Pretty cool.

Yes, this is quite different than what I'm talking about. This isn't really the gendered, vestigial grouping of words for things in the world. This is the declaration of your own gender, after every sentence or extended expression, through a polite particle. It is a constant, and some might say continuous political act embedded in the very act of speaking. It is repeated over and over and over, positioning the speaker.

I don't have links for this, it's just something I've come upon in my reading. You can search for papers around the term "semi-colony" or I believe "self-civilizing" for discussions about Thailand's move to western modernity. As to the polite particle, I can't recall where I read that this use was a modern invention. Several papers discuss that the visual distinction between the genders was part of the modernization of Thailand (according to Western values), in fact there were laws passed during dictatorship which pressured this change. Siamese/Thais were basically forced to dress like "men" and "women" in a western fashion, as part of the modernization of the Nation.

What is interesting is that the past has a way of reshaping itself before our eyes. When we come to Thailand we have the very distinct sense that we are witnessing something uber "Thai" when we encounter these gendered distinctions; it feels "classical", or extremely traditional, and in a sense it is. But what we don't sense is that this is in many ways just a reflection of ourselves, as the West exerted itself on the region.

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