The Mrabri Language พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda   






                                         The Mrabri Language



            During our first contact with the Khon Pa at Yab Hua  Na,Amphur
Sa, Changwad   Nan,  in   August,  1962, when   suspicion  and  fear were
strongly prevalent among them, our information concerning their language
was   not  reliable. We  were  quite skeptical  about  the  correctness of our
list  of   their  so  called "vocabularies". Furthermore, our  time  with  them
was too short. We just could not expect to have a thorough work  done  in
such a short period of time.

            The second meeting of the Khon Pa  at  Doi Khunsathan, Tambol
Santha, Amphur Nanoi, Changwad Nan, in late Junuary, 1963, was  more
satisfactory. The  nine  Khon P a, who  came  to  our  first  meeting, came
back again, bringing  with  them  thirteen  more members of their tribe, in-
cluding one elderly woman and a boy about  twelve  years  old. The  nine
men were startled upon seeing us once again, but they soon  becamc very
friendly when they recognized us as their  old  acquaintances. It  was  late
in the afternoon when we arrived at the Meo village  of  Doi  Khunsathan,
where we  were  to  have our rendez-vous with the Khon Pa. We brought
with us many baskets full of gifts to be distributed to  them  as  usual. But
they were to receive no gifts unless they promised that they would  return
to  our  camp  the  following day. They all promised  to  return  next  day
when the sun was up to the height of a tree near our camp. We saw  them
off, keeping our fingers crossed, and everybody hoped  that  they  would
keep their promise. The following day they all came back at the specified
time. Every member of the expedition was very busy  doing  his  part  of
the work. I was so much interested in the linguistic side of the  work  that
I forget to eat my lunch for two successive days !1


            1. The genuine linguistic cooperation of the  Mrabri  this  time  was  due  to  a
better approach. During the investigations  at  the  first  expedition  I  addressed  the
Mrabri with สู (" suu "); in the North an intimate term for " you " when speaking to
one's best friend, equivalent  to  มึง  (müng). However  สู  can  also  be  an  insulting
" you "and that is how it was felt by the Mrabri and they resented this and protested.
At that time the linguistic fieldwork was hampered by lack of proper rapport.

            On  Doi  Khunsathan  however, I  addrassed  the  Mrabri with ลูก ( " luuk " =
child ), calling myself พ่อ ( "poh = father ). This was the relationship they  liked  and
from that moment the linguistie cooperation was complete.






180                                   Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda


           We   learned   from   them   that  they  called  themselves  "Mrabri",
meaning  the people  of  the  jungles. They  had  no  knowledge about  the
Yumbri as Bernatzik called his group of wild people  whom  he had  inves-
tigated   in  1936. Mrabri  is   a   combination  of  two  words,"Mra" means
people  and " bri ", forest. In  our  presence  they  talked  with  members of
their own tribe  in  Thai  Yuan. I  do  not  believe  that  these people  knew
any thing about the modern etiquette by speaking  only Thai  Yuan  in our
presence because we could understand  this  language. Perhaps  they  have
actually lost their language  and  have  adopted  Thai  Yuan  as  their   own
language  as  they  have  claimed. But  when  a  Mrabri  na med  Paeng  or
Tengku, the name given him   by  the  Meo, talked  with  his  mother  who
came to our camp, he still  used his own language in our  presence. I  have
also noticed that many songs of which the theme  was  not  in  Thai  Yuan,
were probably sung in the original language of the Mrabri.  Therefore  the
Mrabri's former information that they have lost their own  language  could
not be treated as reliable.

           Another Mrabri named Plaa or Fish is probably the most intelligent
of all. Assisted by a few more men of his  tribe  who sat  around  our  tape
recording machines, Plaa told us every thing what we might  want  to  ask
him about his own language. Sometimes when Plaa could not answer  our
questions, either because he could not understand or he had forgotten  his
own language, his friends nearby  would  answer  for   him. I  prepared  a
list of Mrabri vocabularies gathered from the interview with Plaa and had
the list checked twice by two more members of his tribe, in   the presence
of still many more who were  watching  and  hearing  our  interview. This
time  the  list  is  considered  to be  authentic and reliable.I used both Thai
Yuan and Khamu to talk with them as they understood these two languages
quite well. Many times when our  informers  could  not  understand   what
I asked in Thai Yuan, I had to use Khamu which brought a response from
them immediately. Several times I tried to test their ability  to differentiate
the tones by calling out the Thai words or ใกล้, ไกล, หมา, ม้า, มา,one by
one, asking them to give equivalent Mrabri words. They could not  detect
the tones unless sentences were formed with these  words. I  did  this  test
several times each time changing the words. They  still  could  not  detect
which words I  was  asking  them  to  translate  into  Mrabri. This  proved






                                     THE MRABRI LANGUAGE                                         181


that this  people's  original  language  was  not  a  tonal  one  like  the  Thai.
Even  though  they  have adopted Thai Yuan  as  they had told us, they still
could not master it well enough. When they  spoke  Thai Yuan, they  spoke
with a  very  strong  accent  like  the  Khamu  or  the  Cambodian  speaking
Thai. But my  two  Khamu  servants  who  accompanied  me  to  Doi  Khun-
sathan said that when the Mrabri  spoke  Khamu  they  spoke  also  with  an
accent  which  disclosed  that  they  were  not  originally  Khamu  at  all.  A
list   of   Mrabri  words  appear  on  Appendix  I  at  the  end  of  this  report.

            An explanation must be made in  connection  with  the  use  of  Thai

to   write   Mrabri   words. From   my   past  experiernce, I  noticed  that  for
those Thai who have had no previous  knowledge  or  training  in  phonetics,
Thai is probably the most suitable  script  to  write  the  languages  of  South
East   Asia. We   have  44  consonants (พยัญชนะ)  with  20  sounds  (เสียง).
Though we may lack sh, th, z. ts, dh, bh, etc., we  can  arrange  to  substitute
them with may consonants  of  Pali  or  Sanskrit  origin  and  be  understood
that  they  are  to  be  pronounced  as such. On  top  of  the  richness  in  con-
sonant  sounds,  the   Thai   language  is  also  rich  in  vowels.We  have  all
together  32  vowels, and our language is probably  richer than any  modern
standard languages in  the  number  of  vowels. Moreover, we  still   have  5
tones  (วรรณยุกต์). With  the  exception  of  the  level  tone, we  have  4  dis-
tinct tone marks, which almost enable us  to  write  a  simple  note  of  music
by   using   these  tone   marks. It   is  my  belief, therefore, that  without  the
knowledge of phonetics,one can still record the South East Asian languages,
whether tonal or non-tonal, in Thai, as  a  good  substitute  for  the  phonetic
system. This is the reason why I have  to  include  Thai  in  the  Appendix  I
for   the   benefit  of  the  lay T hai  members  who do  not  know  phonetics.

            Of  all  147  words which I brought up for comparison, after  deduct-
ing  the  Thai  loan  words, etc.,  45  words  have  close  similarity  with  the
Thin   or   Kha  Phai;  35  words, Khamu;  20   words,  Khamed; 14   words,
Lawa; and 13 words, Mon. Also from the  same  list  of  147  words   which
I   later  showed  to  Maha  Cham  Tongkamwan, former Chief  Epigraphist
and an expert in Cambodian of the Fine Arts  Department, 17  words  could
be   detected   to   have  close  relationship  with  Cambodian. And   out  of
another list of 187  words  prepared  by Dr. Hugo Bernatzik, see  Appendix
II, said to be the language of  the Yumbri, 41 words   have  close  similarity






182                             Kraisri Nimmanahaeminda


with    the   Mrabri  words. I  am,  therefore,  inclined  to  believe  that  the
Yumbri   and   Mrabri   are   the  same  people  The  Yumbri  and   Mrabri
languages are close to mon-Khmer languages and they  should  belong  to
this group.

           After the expedition to Doi Khusathan, Mr. Boeles and I proceeded
to Uttaradit to meet Nai Boonma Suwanarangsi  who  was  formerly  an  in-
terpreter   of  Bernazik  when  he  visited  the  Yumbri  at  Nan. At  present
Nai Boonma is a teacher at the Thai Sugar Factory School  at  Wangkapee,
Changwad Uttaradit. Nai  Boonma  who  is  now  58  years  old, was  born
in Prae. He received his  early  education  at  Lincoln  Academy, American
Presbyterian   school   at  Nan. Later  he  went  to  the  Bangkok  Christian
College where he had completed Matayom  8. According  to  Boonma, Dr.
Hugo   Bernatzik  spoke  little  English.  Mrs.  Bernatzik, his   wife,  could
speak   slightly   better   than   he. When   asking  the  Yumbri  about  their
words   or   about   general  information, a  very  roundabout  process  was
adopted. Dr. Bernatzik  would ask  Boonma  in  broken  English. Boonma
would then translate  it  to  Nai  Ew, (Bernatzik's  Ju) a  Chinese  merchant
and a friend of  SaenSai, (แสนชัย  Bernatzik's Tsin  Tsai)  the  Meo  chief,
in Yunanese Chinese. Saen Sai would then  translate  it  into  Meo  for  the
Yumbri. The reply from the Yumbri to Bernatzik was  a  reversed  process.
Therefore, according to Boonma, Bernatzik's list of  Yumbri  words  could
not  be  exactly  recognized  as  real   words  of  the  Yumbri.  Furthermore
Boonma mentioned that  many  of  the  words  appeared  on  the  list, parti-
cularly those  words  which  have  abstract  meanings, he  could  not  even
remember having asked them at all and could not understand  from  where
and    how   Bernatzik    had   acquired   them. Nai  Boonma  told  us  that
altogether ten Yumbri or  Phi  Tong  Luang  came  to  Bernazik. The  first
group was composed of two women, one girl and one  youth. The  second
group, six in number, were all men. The first group could not  speak  Thai
Yuan at all, but  the  second  group  could  speak  the Thai  dialect  a  little
but  with  a  strong  Khamu  accent. They  could  not  speak Khamu either.
They did not know how to  sing  or  dance. The  second  group  remained
with Bernatzik for six days when Eernatzik organized a  hunting  trip  and
invited the men  to  join  him. Bernatzik  had  never  been  to  nor  had  he
seen the "home" of the Yumbri. Appendix  II   at   the  end  of  this  report
contains  a  list  of  Yumbri  words  as  gathered  by  Bernatzik  with  their
equivalents in Mrabri.







                                   THE MRABRI LANGUAGE                                     183


            On the musical side the Mrabri informed us that they have three
different types of songs or chants. They  are  the  Soh (ซอ), the  Malam
(มะลำหรือหมอลำ) and the Surabot (สุรบท). The Soh, even though the
word is of Thai Yuan origin, the tunes of the Mrabri's songs are entirely
different from the tunes of the popular Soh of Nan and Chiengmai. The
Malam could be detected to  have  a  close  relationship  with  the  Moh
Lam of Laos and North East Thailand, but there are still some differences
which differentiate them. The Surabot is very much like  the  old  Chieng-
mai Choi (จ๊อยเชียงใหม่โบราณ). It was most remarkable to see  and  to
hear the Mrabri sing. Undoubtedly of many songs or chants perform ed
before us the wordings or themes were composed extemporaneously in
good Thai Yuan lyrics. More surprising still was to hear  the  following
words in  the  songs: Nai  Amphur  (District Chief), the  police  and  the
soldiers, when the Mrabri themselves had never had any close contact with
the villagers except those who lived near the edge of the jungles.












































































































































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