สวัสดี ครับ / Hello,
Here is the introductory post for a new series of articles related to learning the Thai language.
Facts about the Thai language
The Thai language is the official language of Thailand. It is being used by more than 55 million persons. The Thai language is written using the Thai script.
The Thai Script
The Thai script was invented in 1283 on the basis on Sanskrit and Khmer script, and credited to King Ramkhamhaeng the Great.
The Thai script is composed of 44 consonants and 21 vowels. It also contains 4 diacritic symbols to represent tones, specific figure symbols and some extra signs.
An official transcription system has been setup: the Royal Thai General System of transciption (RTGS) which is used for instance for transcription of road signs. Sadly this system lacks some key elements for Thai learners such as tone indications for instance (which you will see later on is far from being insignificant) and therefore I will use another transcription system which extends RTGS.
The following table presents the transcription system that will be used in this article and in the following ones.
Thai consonants sound differently depending on their position in the syllable.
|b||b in boy||b|
|ch||j in glass jar (no aspiration)||ch|
|chʰ||ch in charm||ch|
|d||d in dog||d|
|f||f in fog||f|
|h||h in have||h|
|k||k in sky (no aspiration)||k|
|kʰ||k in kiss||kh|
|l||l in love||l|
|m||m in man||m|
|n||n in nation||n|
|ng||ng in thing||ng|
|p||p in spot (no aspiration)||p|
|pʰ||p in pet||ph|
|r||rolled r in burro||r|
|s||s in sox||s|
|t||t in stop (no aspiration)||t|
|tʰ||t in time||th|
|w||w in walk||w|
|y||y in yes||y|
|k||ck in jock, with no audible release||k|
|m||m in tim||m|
|n||n in tin||n|
|ng||ng in ting||ng|
|p||b in job, with no audible release||p|
|t||t in jot, with no audible release||t|
|a||a in mat (short)||a|
|i||y in greedy (short)||i|
|ɯ||u in French “du” (short)||ue|
|u||oo in look (short)||u|
|e||ae in faery (short)||e|
|ɛ||e in best (short)||ae|
|o||ao in boat (short)||o|
|ɔ||o in not (short)||o|
||e in the (short)||oe|
The use of columns “~” indicates a long vowel; for instance a~ is pronounced such as a in far.
Diphtongs (sequence of vowels) are pronounced by joining the sounds of both vowels.
Although there are 44 different consonant symbols, there are only 21 different sounds, which means that some consonants have the same sound. Each consonant has a name representing one of the symbols of Thailand. As indicated earlier consonants may have different pronounciation at the beginning (Initial in the table below) and at the end (Final in the table below) of a syllable. Finally I also indicated two other characteristics of a consonant: its class and its ending type; you will see later on that these are key elements for the determination of the tone of a syllable. A live ending means that the sound can be sustained, while a dead ending signifies that the sound stops and cannot be sustained. You can spot the difference in English with song and stop: the ng sound can be sustained whereas the p sound cannot.
|ก||k||k||ก ไก่||ko kai||Mid||Dead|
|ข||kʰ||k||ข ไข่||kho khai||High||Dead|
|ฃ||kʰ||k||ฃ ขวด||kho khuat||High||Dead|
|ค||kʰ||k||ค ควาย||kho khwai||Low||Dead|
|ฅ||kʰ||k||ฅ คน||kho khon||Low||Dead|
|ฆ||kʰ||k||ฆ ระฆัง||kho ra-khang||Low||Dead|
|ง||ng||ng||ง งู||ngo ngu||Low||Live|
|จ||ch||t||จ จาน||cho chan||Mid||Dead|
|ฉ||chʰ||–||ฉ ฉิ่ง||cho ching||High||–|
|ช||chʰ||t||ช ช้าง||cho chang||Low||Dead|
|ซ||s||t||ซ โซ่||so so||Low||Dead|
|ฌ||chʰ||–||ฌ เฌอ||cho choe||Low||Dead|
|ญ ||y||n||ญ หญิง||yo ying||Low||Live|
|ฎ||d||t||ฎ ชฎา||do cha-da||Mid||Dead|
|ฏ||t||t||ฏ ปฏัก||to pa-tak||Mid||Dead|
|ฐ ||tʰ||t||ฐ ฐาน||tho than||High||Dead|
|ฑ||tʰ||t||ฑ มณโฑ||tho montho||Low||Dead|
|ฒ||tʰ||t||ฒ ผู้เฒ่า||tho phu-thao||Low||Dead|
|ณ||n||n||ณ เณร||no nen||Low||Live|
|ด||d||t||ด เด็ก||do dek||Mid||Dead|
|ต||t||t||ต เต่า||to tao||Mid||Dead|
|ถ||tʰ||t||ถ ถุง||tho thung||High||Dead|
|ท||tʰ||t||ท ทหาร||tho thahan||Low||Dead|
|ธ||tʰ||t||ธ ธง||tho thong||Low||Dead|
|น||n||n||น หนู||no nu||Low||Live|
|บ||b||p||บ ใบไม้||bo baimai||Mid||Dead|
|ป||p||p||ป ปลา||po pla||Mid||Dead|
|ผ||pʰ||–||ผ ผึ้ง||pho phueng||High||–|
|ฝ||f||–||ฝ ฝา||fo fa||High||–|
|พ||pʰ||p||พ พาน||pho phan||Low||Dead|
|ฟ||f||p||ฟ ฟัน||fo fan||Low||Dead|
|ภ||pʰ||p||ภ สำเภา||pho sam-phao||Low||Dead|
|ม||m||m||ม ม้า||mo ma||Low||Live|
|ย||j||– or n ||ย ยักษ์||yo yak||Low||Live|
|ร||r||n||ร เรือ||ro ruea||Low||Live|
|ล||l||n||ล ลิง||lo ling||Low||Live|
|ว||w||– ||ว แหวน||wo waen||Low||Live|
|ศ||s||t||ศ ศาลา||so sala||High||Dead|
|ษ||s||t||ษ ฤๅษี||so rue-si||High||Dead|
|ส||s||t||ส เสือ||so suea||High||Dead|
|ห||h or – ||–||ห หีบ||ho hip||High||–|
|ฬ||l||n||ฬ จุฬา||lo chu-la||Low||Live|
|อ||– ||–||อ อ่าง||o ang||Mid||Dead|
|ฮ||h||–||ฮ นกฮูก||ho nok-huk||Low||–|
 The lower curves of the letter ญ are removed when certain letters are written below them, such as ญ + the mark nikkhahit (lower dot) = ญฺ, etc.
 The lower curves of the letter ฐ are removed when certain letters are written below them, such as ฐ + the vowel mark ุ = ฐุ, etc.
 When ย ends a syllable, it is usually part of the vowel.
 When ว ends a syllable, it is always part of the vowel.
 ห can have two different usage. When attached to a vowel it behaves like a standard consonant and is pronounced like the letter “h” in English, but when attached to another consonant then its role is to change the class of the attached consonant into a high class consonant and ห becomes silent.
 อ is a special case in that at the beginning of a word it is used as a silent initial for syllables that start with a vowel (all vowels are written relative to a consonant — see below). The same symbol is used as a vowel in non-initial position.
Each vowel has a name but in this case it has no other meaning than vowel X (sara X). Unlike many languages, Thai vowels do not only appear after the consonant they are attached to, but also above, before (for instance แพ้ is written [ɛ́ːpʰ] but reads [pʰɛ́ː]), below or even surround them (เยอะ reads [jə̂]). Note also that the manner some vowels are written changes according to the syllable type (open or closed, refer to table 1). Finally there exists cases where vowels are implicit, that is to say that a vowel shall be pronounced even though it is not written (for instance ถนน shall be read as [tʰànǒn] even though it is written [tʰnn]).
|◌ะ||a||สระอะ||Sara a||Short open vowel|
|◌ั◌||a||สระอะ||Sara a||Short closed vowel|
|◌า||a~||สระอา||Sara a||Long open vowel|
|◌า◌||a~||สระอา||Sara a||Long closed vowel|
|◌ิ||i||สระอิ||Sara i||Short open vowel|
|◌ิ◌||i||สระอิ||Sara i||Short closed vowel|
|◌ี||i~||สระอี||Sara i||Long open vowel|
|◌ี◌||i~||สระอี||Sara i||Long closed vowel|
|◌ึ||ɯ||สระอึ||Sara ue||Short open vowel|
|◌ึ◌||ɯ||สระอึ||Sara ue||Short closed vowel|
|◌ือ||ɯ~||สระอือ||Sara ue||Long open vowel|
|◌ื◌||ɯ~||สระอือ||Sara ue||Long closed vowel|
|◌ุ||u||สระอุ||Sara u||Short open vowel|
|◌ุ◌||u||สระอุ||Sara u||Short closed vowel|
|◌ู||u~||สระอู||Sara u||Long open vowel|
|◌ู◌||u~||สระอู||Sara u||Long closed vowel|
|เ◌ะ||e||สระเอะ||Sara e||Short open vowel|
|เ◌็◌||e||สระเอะ||Sara e||Short closed vowel|
|เ◌||e~||สระเอ||Sara e||Long open vowel|
|เ◌◌||e~||สระเอ||Sara e||Long closed vowel|
|แ◌ะ||ɛ||สระแอะ||Sara ae||Short open vowel|
|แ◌็◌||ɛ||สระแอะ||Sara ae||Short closed vowel|
|แ◌||ɛ~||สระแอ||Sara ae||Long open vowel|
|แ◌◌||ɛ~||สระแอ||Sara ae||Long closed vowel|
|โ◌ะ||o||สระโอะ||Sara o||Short open vowel|
|โ◌||o~||สระโอ||Sara o||Long open vowel|
|โ◌◌||o~||สระโอ||Sara o||Long closed vowel|
|เ◌าะ||ɔ||สระเอาะ||Sara o||Short open vowel|
|◌็อ◌||ɔ||สระเอาะ||Sara o||Short closed vowel|
|◌อ||ɔ~||สระออ||Sara o||Long open vowel|
|◌อ◌||ɔ~||สระออ||Sara o||Long closed vowel|
|◌็||ɔ~||สระออ||Sara o||Long open vowel|
|เ◌อะ||ə||สระเออะ||Sara oe||Short open vowel|
|เ◌อ||ə~||สระเออ||Sara oe||Long open vowel|
|เ◌ิ◌||ə~||สระเออ||Sara oe||Long closed vowel|
|เ◌อ◌||ə~||สระเออ||Sara oe||Long closed vowel|
|เ◌ียะ||ia||สระเอียะ||Sara ia||Short open vowel|
|เ◌ีย||i~a||สระเอีย||Sara ia||Long open vowel|
|เ◌ีย◌||i~a||สระเอีย||Sara ia||Long closed vowel|
|เ◌ือะ||ɯa||สระเอือะ||Sara uea||Short open vowel|
|เ◌ือ||ɯ~a||สระเอือ||Sara uea||Long open vowel|
|เ◌ือ◌||ɯ~a||สระเอือ||Sara uea||Long closed vowel|
|◌ัวะ||ua||สระอัวะ||Sara ua||Short open vowel|
|◌ัว||u~a||สระอัว||Sara ua||Long open vowel|
|◌ว◌||u~a||สระอัว||Sara ua||Long closed vowel|
|ใ◌||ai||สระไอ||Sara ai||Short closed vowel|
|ไ◌||ai||สระไอ||Sara ai||Short closed vowel|
|ำ||am||สระอำ||Sara am||Short closed vowel|
|เ◌า||au||สระเอา||Sara ao||Short closed vowel|
|ฤ||rɯ, ri||ฤ||Rue||Short closed vowel|
|ฤๅ||rɯ~||ฤๅ||Rue||Long closed vowel|
|ฦ||lɯ||ฦ||Lue||Short closed vowel|
|ฦๅ||lɯ~||ฦๅ||Lue||Long closed vowel|
Short closed vowel
Short closed vowel
Long closed vowel
|◌◌ว||o||Refer to consonants |
|◌◌ย||i||Refer to consonants |
 These symbols are always combined with phinthu i (◌ิ).
The Thai language uses 5 tones which are: mid, rising, high, falling and low tone. The tone is determined through the features of the syllable, and can be altered by some tone markers:
|Symbol||Name Thai||Name RTGS||Syllable ending||Syllable class|
To understand the table above, it is important to know that there can exist two types of syllables in Thai:
|Open||Syllable composed of an initial consonant and a vowel.||CV|
|Closed||Syllable composed of an initial consonant, a vowel and a final consonant.||CVC|
Based on this, a syllable can have three different endings:
|Live||Open syllable (CV) with long vowel
Closed syllable (CVC) with live ending
|Dead short||Open syllable (CV) with short vowel
Closed syllable (CVC) with short vowel and final consonant with dead ending
|Dead long||Closed syllable (CVC) with long vowel and final consonant with dead ending|
Finally, the class of a syllable is determined by the class of the initial consonant.
Tones can be transribed as follows:
|Mid||no mark or XM|
There exists another type of notations using accents (àéô…) but to me this notation lacks logic as for instance the \ accent which I would have expected to indicate a falling accent indicates a low accent, and so on.
Alterations & Special Symbols
And as though reading Thai tones was not complex enough, there exists additional symbols that come to alter syllable reading:
|Symbol||Name Thai||Name RTGS||Meaning||Effect|
|◌็||ไม้ไต่คู้||mai taikhu||Stick that climbs and squats||Shortens vowel|
|◌์||ทัณฑฆาต||thanthakhat||Killing as punishment||Makes letter silent|
|ไม้ยมก||mai yamok||Indicates repetition of the preceding word|
|บาท||bat||Thai currency symbol|
Even though arabic figures are commonly used in Thailand, the Thai script also comprises its own symbols for numbers that remain widely used.
First words in Thai
To close this first article, here are (possibly) your first Thai words:
|สวัสดี ค่ะ||[saLwatLdi~M ‘kʰaF]||Hello (woman – can also be used to say Goodbye)|
|สวัสดี ครับ||[‘saL‘wàtL‘di~M ‘kʰrápH]||Hello / Goodbye (man – can also be used to say Goodbye)|
|ไม่เป็นไร||[maiF pe~nMraiM]||You are welcome. (Literally: No problem)|
ค่ะ [kʰàF] and ครับ [kʰrápH] are particles that people add at the end of a sentence to express politeness toward their interlocutor. They are really commonly used and may take different forms.
Here we are for this introduction on the Thai language. Next time we will start to get some basic vocabulary and see how to build some simple sentences in Thai.