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Monday, October 23, 2006

Words to Your Mother: ສະບໃຢດີ (sabaai dee)

Today, we again venture into southeast Asian linguistics with a consideration of ສະບໃຢດີ (pronounced "sabaai dee" or "sa-baaj-dii"), which is Lao (or, if you prefer, Laotian) for "Hello".

Lao is closely related to Thai. Laotian generally uses the Thai alphabet for writing, and I believe that the phrase discussed here is the same in both languages, as well as in Isan. Like the related Khmer alphabet, this is an abugida (or syllabic alphabet) rather than a true alphabet.

As with Vietnamese, Lao is a highly tonal language. I can't claim to be an expert on Laotian tones, but I believe the following to be the correct interpretation of this phrase:

ສະ = sa (with a low rising tone)

ບໃ = bay (with a low tone)

ຢ = y (with a low rising tone)

ດີ = dee (with a low tone)

In practice, you may still be understood without the proper tones for such a common phrase (especially given the contexts you would be most likely to use it in), but it is definitely better to try to achieve the proper tone when speaking.

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