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Why do Thais say same same instead of just same? - Tinglish

Tinglish...is the imperfect form of English produced by native Thai speakers due to language interference from the first language. Differences from 'native' English include different pronunciation, unusual word choices, and grammatical anomalies, as well as innovative vocabulary items.
- Wikipedia

A farang visitor to Thailand will often hear the expression same same instead of the more grammatically correct same when Thais are conversing in English with them. Me you same same (translation: we are the same) or His car same same your car (his car is similar to yours). Why is it common to double it up in this manner?
I once asked a Thai about this and she seemed surprised that you couldn't double up the word same in English, since they do this in Thai. We came to the following explanation. The Thai word for similar, to be like (something) is KHLAI or KHLAI KHLAI GAN ѹ. Since they can double up the word in Thai, they assume (wrongly) that you can carry this over to the English - hence the same same that you often hear.
You may also often hear the somewhat confusing and at first sight contradictory (to a farang ear) phrase Same same, but different. This, I believe, comes from the common Thai phrase KHLAI KHLAI TAE MAI MEUAN ͹ (Similar, but not the same). Again, Thais are doing a literal translation in their heads from Thai to English, but the word same is more well-known by Thais than the word similar.
(I am reliably informed that the correct linguistic technical term for using native language constructs in a new language is called L1 interference, for those who wish to know!)
Interestingly, a similar thing also apparently happens in Tanzania where the locals say slow slow instead of just slow because the Swahili for slow is pole pole.
Doubling up of words (or reduplication, to give it its correct technical term) is quite common in many languages around the world and is often used to add emphasis or slightly change the meaning of a word. It is not so common in English, but there are some examples eg 'it's a no-no' or 'its hush-hush' are two examples that spring to mind.
Finally, to put some perspective on the matter, when a farang attempts to speak Thai to a native Thai speaker, the grammar is often mangled in similarly amusing ways. The important thing is I guess, to get your meaning across. Correct grammar comes later with practice and time.


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Page last updated Dec 2016.

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