Thai: คุณพูดว่าอะไรนะ?

Hey everybody! It’s … Thai Time! Thai makes number 29, as listed below:

1. Romanian
2. Macedonian
3. Spanish
4. Vietnamese
5. Norwegian
6. Bulgarian
7. Slovenian
8. Malagasy
9. Japanese
10. Moldavian
11. Hindi
12. Finnish
13. Azeri
14. Arabic
15. Czech
16. Albanian
17. Cambodian
18. Serbian
19. Chinese
20. Xhosa
21. Portuguese
22. Armenian
23. Korean
24. Croatian
25. Afrikaans
26. Greek
27. Swedish
28. French

29. Thai
30. Turkish
31. Dutch
32. Hebrew
33. Danish
34. Filipino
35. Polish
36. Lao
37. Catalan

While going through the facts about this language, I was really surprised to learn that there are over 70 million speakers of Thai — that’s a rather impressive number! Thai is spoken in Thailand (formerly called Siam) and surrounding areas in South Asia. It is a member of the Kradai language family, which also includes Lao (with which it is mutually intelligible). Thai is also a tonal language.

REGIONAL HISTORY: The Sukhotai kingdom, which was established in 1238, is the mother of modern-day Thailand. This period was known as the golden era in Thai history, as the kingdom was free from neighboring Khmer (mother of modern-day Cambodia) and Mon kingdoms. The Thai alphabet was also created at this time by King Ramkhamhaeng in 1283.

The Ayutthaya kingdom grew in influence over the 14th century and took over the Sukhotai kingdom, bringing with it a more absolute rule and Khmer customs. This kingdom lasted until the 18th century, until a brief period of capture by the Burmese.

King Taksin the Great was able to get rid of Burmese forces after the fall of Ayutthaya, but he spent time trying to piece together the kingdom during his short reign. Later, General Chakri, who became King Rama I, moved the capital to Bangkok in 1782. Future rulers in this period helped to repair Thailand, while trading with Western countries. King Mongkut, Rama IV (also known as the monarch from the story “The King and I”) made a lot of major reforms and helped modernize Thailand.

Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, freeing it from absolute monarchy rule since its founding. Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been colonized.

WRITING SYSTEM:

I acquired all of my information from the Wikipedia page on the Thai Alphabet and Learning Thai. For more information, please visit their Web sites.

Thai technically uses an abugida, where vowels are used, but don’t have the same status as consonants. Thai’s alphabet comes from Cambodian/Khmer’s alphabet, which you probably saw in the Cambodian post.

The alphabet itself is rather complex for English speakers to learn. It is read left to right, but there are no spaces between words. It contains 44 consonants (that have 21 sounds) and 32 vowels (18 single vowels, 6 compound vowels and 8 vowels like look like consonants). Also, consonants have an inherent “a” and “o” sound.

As Thai is a tonal language, each consonant falls into a “class” which determines the tone of the consonant. Most consonants have a different sound depending on whether they begin or end a syllable. (This doesn’t seem to be a big deal, as the difference appears to be voicing or aspiration for most.)

I divided the consonants by class and then put the starting and ending sound. I used the chart listed on Wikipedia for this post:

Low:
ค – k, with breath / k
ฅ – k, with breath / k [OBSOLETE]
ฆ – k / k
ง – ng as in sing / ng as in sing
ช – a rough ch sound / no sound
ซ – a rouch ch sound / t
ฌ – s / t
ญ – j / n
ฑ – t, with breath / t
ฒ – t, with breath / t
ณ – n / n
ท – t, with breath / t
ธ – t, with breath / t
น – n / n
พ – a ph sound like phone / p
ฟ – f / p
ภ – a ph sound like phone / p
ม – m / m
ย – j / j
ร – r / n
ล – l / n
ว – w / w
ฬ – l / n
ฮ – h / no sound

Mid:
ก – k / k
จ – a rough j sound / t
ฎ – d / t
ฏ – t / t
ด – d / t
ต – t / t
บ – b / p
ป – p / p
อ – a glottal throaty sound

High:
ข – k with a breath / k
ฃ – k with a breath / k [OBSOLETE]
ฉ – a rough ch sound / no sound
ฐ – t with a breath / t
ถ – t with a breath / t
ผ – a ph sound like phone / no sound
ฝ – f / no sound
ศ – s / t
ษ – s / t
ส – s / t
ห – h / no sound

Vowels are added at the top, bottom, left or right of consonants. They can be short or long.

I divided them into single, compound and consonant-like groups. Most of them have a dash (-) as a placeholder consonant because they can’t stand alone. Again, I turned to Wikipedia for help:

Single vowels:
ะ – u as in nut (short)
า – a as in father (long)
–ิ – ee as in greedy (short)
–ี – ee as in see (long)
–ึ – u in French “du” (short)
–ื – u in French “dur” (long)
–ุ – oo as in look (short)
–ู – oo as in too (long)
เ–ะ – e as in neck (short)
เ– – a as in lame (long)
แ–ะ – a as in at (short)
แ– a as in ham (long)
โ–ะ – o as in poke (short)
โ– – o as in go (long)
เ–าะ – o as in not (short)
อ – aw as in saw (long)
เ–อะ – e as in the (short)
เ–อ – u as in burn (long)

Compound vowels:
เ–ียะ – ea as in ear with glottal stop (throaty sound) (short)
เ–ีย – eas as in ear (long)
เ–ือะ – u as in pure (short)
เ–ือ – u as in pure (long)
–ัวะ – ewe as in sewer (short)
–ัว – ewe as in newer (long)

Consonant-like vowels:
ฤ – ri as in Krishna (short)
ฤๅ – ri as in “Krishna” except longer (long)
–ำ -u as in sum (short)
ใ– – i as in hi (short)
ไ– – i as in hi (short)
เ–า – o as in cow (short)

Finally, tones are used via diacritics. There are five tones: middle, low, falling, high and rising.

A tone is indicated in script by:

1) the class of the first consonant (low, mid, high).
2) the vowel length (short or long).
3) the last consonant.
4) diacritics.

The diacritics are (with the placeholder dash functioning as a consonant) –่, –้, –๊ and –๋. Rules on how to use them can be found at Wikipedia’s page on the Thai Alphabet.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: This alphabet is HARD. I think it’s even harder than Khmer (which I claimed to have the hardest alphabet ever ) because of its tones. The fact that Thai is a tonal language put me off a little, but ever since I became confident with Chinese tones, I dismissed it. Like Khmer, I expect that the alphabet in this case is the make or break factor.

Thai music does seem rather cool, though …

SOURCES USED IN THIS POST:
Learning Thai
Omniglot
Tourism Thailand – History
Wikipedia (Thai Alphabet, Thai Language, Thailand)

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