Koh Fee Fee

One professionally produced and presented travel video talks about a resort island in Thailand named Koh Fee Fee. My entire travel experience of Thailand amounts to spending one hour in the middle of the night at Bangkok airport, but I know there’s no island named Koh Fee Fee any more than there’s a country named Thighland. Thai has a /f/ sound, but phi is pronounced identically to English pea

English has two relevant phonemes: /b/, which is voiced and unaspirated, and /p/, which unvoiced and unaspirated. But at the start of a syllable, /p/ becomes aspirated – there’s a little puff of air immediately after the sound. Thai has three relevant phonemes: /b/, /p/, which is always unvoiced and unaspirated, and /ph/, which is always unvoiced and aspirated. Thai speakers can make a distinction between pi pi and phi phi (I don’t know if pi pi is actually a word in Thai, but they can say it), but English people can’t. (It’s more complicated than that, but I’ll stop there.)

Calling the island Koh Fee Fee seriously brings into question whether anyone connected with the production of the video has actually ever been there, and whether the information they give comes from their own experience or is copied from someone else.

If you’re lucky, your first thought when you hear /phiphi/ is an Australian clam or a New Zealand mollusc. Mine isn’t. Some years ago, a colleague’s student was showing my colleague and her other students her photos of Koh Phi Phi on a computer in the college’s common room. I heard her ask my colleague “Teacher go pee-pee?”. With admirable restraint, my colleague said “No, I haven’t”. I quietly said “You should see a urologist about that”.

If you’re making travel videos, either professional or amateur, please check pronunciations. At least they weren’t talking about Phuket.

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