Friday, September 19, 2014

Disambiguating the ambiguity between certain compounds and phrases

In Thai, ambiguity emerges when certain compounds and phrases are prosodically indistinct from each other especially when taken out of context.

Compounds in this article are assumed to be words like "greenhouse, wetsuit, honeymoon", while phrases are assumed to be nouns with a modifier like "green house (house that is green), wet suit (suit that is wet), honey moon (moon made out of honey)". Languages like English make use of stress in distinguishing between compounds and phrases. For example, for the compound reading, the primary stress in "wetsuit" is on wet- while the secondary stress in on "-suit", whereas for the phrasal reading, i.e. "wet suit" the phrasal stress is realized on "suit" making "suit" sound more prominent than "wet". When such distinction in the stress patterns occurs, speakers will know whether the meaning is the outfit that you wear for surfing or the suit that you wore at a friend's wedding that is soaked in water.

Thai does not make use of stress the same way English does. Below I will provide three examples of ambiguity found in compounds and phrases in Thai and provide ways on how to resolve the ambiguity.

(M = mid tone, L = low tone, F = falling tone, R = rising tone)

1. แกงจืด kɛɛŋ(M) cɯɯt(L) < from แกง "curry" + จืด "to be insipid"
a) compound reading: name of a kind of soup, e.g. กินแกงจืดหมดแล้ว "I've finished eating the kaengchuet soup."
b) phrasal reading: "the curry that is tasteless", e.g. แกงจืดมากอ่ะ "the curry really has no taste"

2. ตาชั่ง taa(M) chaŋ(F) < from ตา "eye, grandparent" + ชั่ง "to weigh"
a) compound reading: "scale", e.g. เค้าทำตาชั่งหัก "she broke the scale."
b) phrasal reading: "grandpa weighs (something)", e.g. ตาชั่งของอยู่ "grandpa is weighing something right now"

3. หมอดู mƆƆ(R) duu(M) < from หมอ "doctor, expert" + ดู "to see"
a) compound reading: "astrologer, psychic", e.g. หมอดูดูดวงตัวเองไม่ได้ "the psychic can't see his own future."
b) phrasal reading: "the doctor who sees..." , e.g. หมอดูคนไข้อยู่ "the doctor is taking care of a patient."

Ways to prosodically resolve such ambiguity:
A) To get the phrasal reading...
1) Add a pause after the first syllable, e.g. หมอดู --> หมอ #pause# ดู
2) Lengthen the vowel of the first syllable slightly. This process usually automatically emerges as a result of adding the pause.

B) To get the compound reading...
1) Don't add a pause nor lengthen the first syllable.

Similar ambiguity also occurs in Vietnamese. For example, hoa hồng can either mean "rose" (compound reading) or "red flower" (phrasal reading) although there is a bias for the former reading.

Potisuk, S., Gandour, J.T. and Mary, P.H. 1994, "F0 correlates of stress in Thai", in Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 1-27.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Binturong in Thai and Lao

Binturongs are native to South and Southeast Asia. So they might be a great topic to talk about with your Tai speaking friends. 
The Lao words are เหง็นหางขอ (ເຫງັນຫາງຂໍ; "hook-tailed civet") and เหง็นหมี (ເຫງັນໝີ; "bear civet")
The Thai words are หมีขอ (ໝີຂໍ; "hooked bear")  and หมีกระรอก (ໝີກະຮອກ; "squirrel bear").

Although both Tai languages do not have the same words, they make use of the word "hook" (ขอ) and "bear" (หมี).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Five elements (wǔ xíng): Thai-Lao-Northern Thai

According to this source, "gold" in Tai languages is a loanword from Middle Chinese (kim). I wonder if "wood" "fire" and "earth" are also loanwords. The initial consonants seem to match quite well.

If Thai didn't borrow words from Pali and Sanskrit: snow

If Thai didn't borrow the word for "snow" from Pali, the language may use เหมือย for this word-just like what some other Tai languages do, including Shan, Tai Lue, and Tai Dam. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

If Thai calqued Chinese words: Mayonnaise

The Thai word for "mayonnaise" is "mayonnaise", clearly a loanword, but it's pronounced with a Thai accent, while in Chinese it's 蛋黄酱 (蛋黃醬) which literally means "egg yolk sauce". I like that the Chinese name is so much more informative. (For a while I didn't know that mayonnaise had eggs) So if Thai had calqued this word from Chinese, it would be "ซอสไข่แดง". (note that egg yolk in Chinese is literally "yellow egg" while in Thai it's literally "red egg")

VISUAL DICTIONARY: English-Thai-Lao-Northern Thai-Tai Lue-Shan

* In Tai Dam book is "พับสือ (ปับสือ)" "pap sue". 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Pink in Different SW Tai languages

Pink in English comes from the flowers called "pinks" in the genus Dianthus.

Here are some words for "pink" in Tai languages:

1. Thai: สีชมพู (lit. "rose apple color")
This word may be a calque from Malay: merah jambu "red rose apple"
2. Lao: สีบัว (lit. "lotus color") ສີບົວ
It seems that the word is specifically derived from the lotus flower which sometimes can be pink.
3. Northern Thai: สีออน (etymology unknown; if you know the answer please let me know) สีออฯร
This word is dying out in Northern Thai. The Standard Thai term is used instead.
4. Tai Lue: สีข่อง (etymology unknown; if you know the answer please let me knowสีข่อฯง

5. Shan: สีข่อง (etymology unknown; if you know the answer please let me know)

6. Tai Dam: สีลาว (etymology unknown; if you know the answer please let me know)