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  • Writer's pictureChristopher G. Moore

Language of the Heart

Crime fiction centers on matters of the heart.

Understanding the emotions that defines the inner life of people goes a long ways to creating memorable characters. The deeper the understanding of the feelings of others, the more the characters in a work of fiction spring off the page as full-fledged, breathing and living people that readers can identify with. Empathy depends on the accuracy of how well the author relates those feelings to readers.

Authors who follow the emotional terrain of their characters in another culture have a significant learning curve before their local characters reach the same emotional depth as the characters from their own culture. The struggle of an expat writer is to find the heart beat of characters whose emotional life is defined by another language.

Most readers have the image of me as a novelist. Not that I would want that to change that perception for a moment but there is one non-fiction book that I am proud to have written. It has allowed a lot of foreigners a window into the core of the Thai language. That book is Heart Talk.

One of the defining features of the Thai language is the abundance of “jai” phrases and expressions, which appear like a motherlode of gold with veins spreading in every direction. The literal translation of “jai” is heart. When I first started on my long road to learning Thai (a road that has no apparent end), I began to notice the frequent appearance of expressions, which used “jai” and asked my teacher how many “jai” phrases there were in the Thai language. She said 35 such expressions. This was in the period of 1990-1991 and no one I spoke with had anything but wild guesses as to the answer. The range was between 35 to 76 jai phrases.

In reality there were hundreds and hundreds of jai phrases and I went about systematically collecting, organizing and defining the phrases. Since 1992 when the first edition came out, two other editions, updating the previous one have appeared. The latest edition is the third edition of Heart Talk and it contains 743 jai phrases.

There is an excellent website Women Learning Thai which contains around 60 jai phrases (Nouns). For those starting the journey to learning and speaking Thai, Women Learning Thai is a good place to start. Here you will find a community of people exchanging opinions, views and stories about their experience in learning a new language. For anyone wishing to learn Thai, this is a great place to start.

As most of my readers know, I write a crime fiction series about a P.I. named Vincent Calvino. Without the background in researching and writing Heart Talk, the series would have less insight into the Thai cultural viewpoint, and without that anchor, it would be floating in a sea of hundreds of other books bout Thailand. If you want a copy of Heart Talk but don’t live in Thailand, you can buy a copy from this website.

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