Saturday, November 27, 2010

Proto-Southwest-Tai Consonants

     Proto-Southwest-Tai language (Ancient Thai/Old Thai)  is an unattested, reconstructed common ancestor (proto-language) of all the Southwest Tai languages such as modern Thai, Lao, Shan, Northern Thai, Lue, Tai Dam, and many others. The script is based on an early form of the Thai language spoken and written by the Tais and their descendants in parts of what are now Thailand, Laos, Yunnan(China), and Shan State(Burma) during the Sukhothai period (around 1238–1583). 
  • Unlike modern Thai and Lao, there are only two tone markers: -่ low and -้ falling.
  • Pali and Sanskrit letters are omitted in this script.
  • Unlike modern Thai and Lao, there are only one class of consonants.
Some examples:
  • หมา mǎa and มา maa in Modern Thai have different tone registers but the same consonant, m sound, whereas in Proto-Tai since there is only one class of consonants and two tone markers, หมา and มา, having no tone markers, both have the same mid tone register, but different consonant sounds: หมา hmaa and มา maa.
  • ท่า thâa and ถ้า thâa in Modern Thai are pronounced exactly the same, in Proto-Tai ท่า and ถ้า are pronouced dàa and thâa respectively.
Brown, James M. From Ancient Thai to Modern Dialects and Other Writings on Historical Thai Linguistics. Bangkok: White Lotus, 1985. Print.

Friday, November 19, 2010

English Consonants that Do Not Exist in Thai

To understand this article better, please familiarize yourself with IPA symbols.

Many English consonant sounds are hard for monolingual Thai speakers. These are those that do not exist in Thai. Most of these sounds are voiced (e.g. the z sound which is the voiced version of the s sound). To reduce the "Thai accent", or what is known in Thai as samniang thai, when speaking English, these Thai speakers have to learn how to pronounce these English consonant sounds.

Voiceless sounds (no buzzing sound in the throat)
  1. /θ/ as in thing. Many Thais will either substitute ต /t/ or ซ /s/ for this sound.
  2. /ʃ / as in fashion (/ˈfæʃən/). Many Thais will substitute ช /tɕʰ/ (sounds close to the ch in chin) for this sound.
Voiced sounds (buzzing sound in the throat)
  1. /ɡ/ as in God. Many Thais will confuse this sound with ก /k/ (unaspirated) as in skit.
  2. /dʒ/ as in Jason (/ˈdʒeɪsən/). Many Thais will substitute จ /tɕ/ for this sound.
  3. /v/ as in very. Many Thais who cannot produce this will use ว /w/ instead.
  4. /z/ as in zone. Many Thais will use the voiceless counterpart ซ /s/ instead.
  5. /ʒ/ as in vision (/ˈvɪʒən/). Many Thais substitute ช /tɕʰ/ for this sound.
  6. /ð/ as in this (/ðɪs/). Many Thais substitute ด /d/ for this sound.
Other sounds:
  1. /ɹ/ as in rabbit. Many Thais will either substitute ร /r/ (trilled r like the Spanish r) or ล /l/ for this sound.
  2. /ɾ/ as in the American English pronunciation of better (/ˈbɛɾɚ/). Many Thais will either substitute /d/, /t/, or /r/ for this sound.
  1. /ʍ/ as in what. (Think of Stewie Griffin's cool whip) Many Thais will substitute /w/ for this sound. I do not count this as a difficult sound since many English speakers themselves substitute /w/ for this sound.
Based on this, there are about 10-11 sounds that Thai people have to work on, along with many other areas such as grammar, vocabulary, intonation etc, to reduce the "Thai accent" when speaking English.

Brief summary of each pair (and a triplet) which many Thais do not make a distinction.

  1. voiceless th (thigh) and voiced th (thy)
  2. w (wane) and v (vain)
  3. sh (sheep) vs ch (cheap) vs "zh" (vision)
  4. r (row) vs l (low)
  5. s (sit) vs z (zit)

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