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Perceived Social Meanings of First-Person Feminine Pronouns

We designed a questionnaire to elicit responses on kathoey and women’s perceptions of the social meanings of particular self-reference terms found in the online dataset. Women and kathoey report their perceptions relatively similarly. The responses obtained from the questionnaire agree with the use and meanings of feminine pronouns found in the Internet dataset.

(20) nu chai kap phuyai thi khonkhang sanit chen achan phomae rue yat phuyai hetphon thi chai khue sadaeng khwam nopnom to phuyai lae mai pen thangkan

‘Nu is used with my elders who I’m quite close to such as teachers, parents or senior relatives. The reason why I use it is to show respect to my elders and it’s not formal.’ (women)

(21) nu chai riak thaen tua-eng muea khui kap phufang thi mi ayu mak kwa lueak chai phro pen phasa phut sadaeng thueng kan hai kiat lae khaorop phufang sueng mi ayu mak kwa

‘Nu refers to myself when speaking to people who are older than me. I choose it because it’s colloquial showing honor and respect to addressees who are older.’


(22) nu—chai kap phu thi mi ayu mak kwa thi sanit phro sadaeng khwam pen kan-eng baep onnom thom ton

‘Nu—is used with my intimate elders because it shows friendliness and humbleness.’

  • (kathoey)
  • (23) nu maikhoi dai chai tha cha chai ko khong nai okat khui kap run phi thi pen krathoey

‘I rarely use nu. I may use it when talking to my seniors who are kathoey.’


As shown, for example, in (2о)-(2з), women and kathoey agree on the use of /nd:/ to refer to oneself as a speaker who is younger than the addressee. The pronoun is a way of showing respect to the addressee and making the speaker sound humble and “adorable” while not being formal. /nd:/ can also indicate intimacy between speaker and addressee. Additionally, some kathoey respondents mention the use of /nd:/ particularly with kathoey who are more senior. The pronoun, however, is rarely referred to as a feminine pronoun by either women or kathoey.

(24) dichan chai kap khon mai sanit korani top khamtham yang pen thangkan phro khit wa pen kan sadaeng rayahang lae hai kiat

‘Dichan is used with people I’m not close to when answering questions formally because I think it shows distance and honor.’ (women)

(25) dichan chai thaen tua-eng nai korani tongkan khwam pen thangkan chen kan nam sanoe phonngan nai kan prachum kan banyai thang wichakan

Dichan is used to refer to myself to show formality such as in conference presentations and academic lectures.’

  • (women)
  • (26) dichan pen laksana khong kham thaen ton thi mi laksana pen thangkan lae mak chai nai kan titto suesan thi pen kan pen ngan lae tongkan khwam suphap khonkhang mak

Dichan is a self-reference term which is formal and usually used for serious communication which requires quite a high level of politeness.’


(27) dichan pen kham sapphanam thaen tua-eng samrap phuying phu phut na cha chai nai korani thi pen kan sonthana thi pen thangkan thuapai

Dichan is a first-person pronoun for women. The speaker tends to use it in formal conversations.’

  • (kathoey)
  • (28) kham wa dichan lae anuphan pen kham khong phuying mai dai taeng ying lae mai yak sadaeng-ok mak pai kwa ni

‘The term dichan and its derivatives are for women. I don’t dress femininely and don’t want to express myself more than I do now.’ (kathoey)

(29) “dichan” thaen tua phet ying rue kathoey thi du ying mak mak rue plaeng phet laeo chai laeo khong mai khoe khoen

‘“Dichan” is a self-reference term for female or kathoey who look very feminine or have their sex changed. That won’t be awkward.’ (kathoey)

The responses in (24)^29) are examples from women’s and kathoeys self-reports. /dichan/ is used in formal situations such as academic lectures, conference presentations, and meetings. It makes the speaker look confident and professional while being polite and respectful. /dichan/ is also used to indicate the distance between speaker and addressee. /dichan/ is rarely mentioned as a feminine form by women. Many kathoey respondents, however, report that /dichan/ is a term for women and that it is used by kathoey who have feminine appearance or have undergone sex reassignment surgery. Using or not using /dichan/ therefore indicates kathoeys level of feminine presentation in public.

The questionnaire responses illustrate that among women and kathoey, /nu:/ strongly connotes power. They report their choice of the pronoun when talking to their elders in order to show respect and humbleness, rather than femininity. This, especially among kathoey who report their use of the pronoun with their senior kathoey, corresponds to the way women and kathoey use /nu:/ to index their younger and less experienced self in the online dataset. /nu:/ positions the speaker as a younger, “adorable” and less formal individual, which also allows women to seem more emotional and do affect in the online dataset. The fact that women report using /nu:/ with their intimate elders also explains the way that women use the pronoun in the online dataset to express intimacy.

/dichan/, on the other hand, strongly connotes formality among both women and kathoey. Women associate the pronoun firmly with formality. They report the form to be used in formal situations to show respect and politeness while attending notably less to the femininity aspect of the pronoun. Their strong association of the pronoun with formality enables them to make use of /dichan/ to index emphasis, as seen in the online dataset since the pronoun is exceptionally formal and has a very restrictive and specific use among women. Based on the questionnaire responses, kathoey explicitly mention the femininity aspect of /dichan/ more than women do. They are well aware of the pronoun “belonging” to women. /dichan/ seems to be strictly feminine for kathoey allowing them to use it to present their femininity, as identified in the online dataset.

Women and kathoey also perceive the meanings of /dian/, /dan/, and /?ichan/ similarly. Their responses agree with the use of the three pronouns found in the online dataset. /dian/ and /dan/ are reported by women and kathoey to be associated with high social class. They are used for speaking in an affected style. Some respondents also perceive /dan/ to be more affected than /dian/. /?ichan/ is reported to be an old-fashioned form used by older people when speaking to someone higher in terms of social ranking. It is used for affect as well. The three pronouns are also reported to be commonly found in television series and used for humorous purpose.

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