Book Review: Point’s A Grammar of the Lederhosen Tai
Point, Misty (2006). A Grammar of the Lederhosen Tai. Bangkok,
Thailand: Center for Comparative Linguistics of Itsy-Bitsy Language
Groups in Vain Search of Vast Foundation Grants Publishing House.
911 hefty pages for only 40 Thai baht.
After her landmark lexical study of the Frog-eating Aika in 1999,
this year Point has given us another extensive monograph on the
Migratory Tribes of Thailand. While other minorities in Thailand
are torn between integrating into the larger society and
maintaining their unique cultural identities, the so-called
Migratory Tribes have completely isolated themselves from the
mainstream. This isolationism has prevented linguists and
anthropologists from making much progress, even as peoples such as
the Lederhosen (also called Leather Pants) Tai grow in population.
Point was able to break through the cultural barriers of this tribe
by taking on a job as a waitress in a Phuket beer hall. Such
dedication to the field of linguistics has made Dr. Point a leader
in the field of comparative linguistics, even though her doctorate
was in Applied Cosmetology.
“He who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own.”
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Unlike the Hill Tribes who live in the geographical fringes of
Thailand’s society, the Migratory Tribes tend to live in luxury
hotels and resorts in the cities and beach areas and rarely spend
more than a few days in any one location. Their isolation is more
cultural than physical. Shunning the practice of swidden-fallow
agriculture, the Migratory Tribes are almost universally involved
in trading. They can often be seen staggering through markets and
gathering around ATM machines.
No stranger to controversy, Point has boldly included many
anthropological observations in this book to bolster her
grammatical argument for a revised Tai taxonomy. Food preferences
(for example beer over pasta), drink preferences (beer over wine),
and recreational habits (beer drinking over television watching)
are all used to make the claim that the Leather Pants Tai, Levi’s
Tai and Plaid Kilt Tai all share their own branch of Kam-Tai. The
provisional placement with the Yue of the Sino-Tibetan language
family by Howard Stern (2000), which was based merely on banking
patterns, passive construction and the SVO word order, is
“If you can speak three languages you’re trilingual. If you can speak two languages you’re bilingual. If you can speak only one language you’re an American.”
The price of this fine volume was subsidized by grants from The
House Foundation and The Makeup Foundation. I bought several copies
in order to improve the ergonomics of my computer monitor, and I
suggest that all the readers of Speculative Grammarian do the same.
—Enrich Barbarosa del la Boca, Ph.D
Baylor College of Labio-Dentistry