Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tai Languages Have a Word for "Three Days after Today" and Why They are Different

Non-Thai languages in this blog entry are transliterated with Thai letters.

One interesting fact about Tai languages investigated in this entry is that they have words that refer to days that do not exist in English and many other languages. In particular, while there are words for "day before yesterday--ereyesterday" and "day after tomorrow--overmorrow", these Tai languages also have a word for "three days after today".

Section I contains words in Tai languages which have been transliterated with Thai letters. Section II contains the pronunciation of these words for those who are interested in learning how to say these words. Sections III to VI contain explanations that may account for why these words are the way they are.

I. Words

1. Ereyesterday*
root: ซืน *zɯɯn.A
Thai: -ซืน, วันซืน, วานซืน (common)
Lao: -ซืน, มื้อซืน
Tai Lue: -ซืน, วันซืน
Shan: -ซือ, มื้อซือ

2. Yesterday
root: วาน *waan.A
Thai: -วาน, เมื่อวาน, วันวาน
Lao: -วาน, มื้อวาน
Tai Lue: -วา, วันวา
Shan: -วา, มื้อวา

3. Today
word formation: "day + demonstrative; literally: this day"
Thai: วันนี้
Lao: มื้อนี้
Tai Lue: วันนิ
Shan: มื้อไน้

4. Tomorrow
root: พรูก, *bruuk.D
Thai: -พรูก, วันพรุ่ง, พรุ่งนี้, วันพรูก (rare)
Lao: -พูก, มื้ออื่น (most common), พูกนี้ (rare, ร in พร is dropped in modern Lao)
Tai Lue: -ภูก, - วันภูก (ภ is derived from พร)
Shan: -ภูก, มื้อภูก (ภ is derived from พร)

5. Overmorrow*
root: รือ, *rɯɯ.A
Thai: -รืน, มะรืน (from เมื่อรืน, probably from เมื่อรือ),
Lao: -รือ, มื้อรือ **
Tai Lue: -รือ, วันรือ **
Shan: -รือ, มื้อรือ **

6. Three days after today (over-overmorrow?)
root: All these Tai languages do not seem to have a common root
Thai: -เรื่อง, มะเรื่อง (from เมื่อเรื่อง)
Lao: -ตื่ง, มื้อตื่ง
Tai Lue: -แร, วันแร (read วันแฮ)
Shan: ??? (if you know a Shan word for this, please let me know)

* rare English terms. Ereyesterday is an old term for the day before yesterday, and overmarrow is an old term for the day after tomorrow. Another term for ereyesterday, albeit also rare, is nudiustertian. Let's start using these terms in speech though!

** In non-Thai languages, ร is pronounced as ฮ.

II. Pronunciation (for learners of these languages)
1. Ereyesterday*
Thai: wan.sɯɯn
Lao: mɯ̂ɯ.sɯ́ɯn
Tai Lue: wân.sɯ̂ɯn
Shan: mɯ̂ɯ.sɯ́ɯn

2. Yesterday
Thai: mɯ̂a.waan
Lao: mɯ̂ɯ.wáan
Tai Lue: wân.wâa
Shan: mɯ̂ɯ.wáa

3. Today
Thai: wan.níi
Lao: mɯ̂ɯ.nîi
Tai Lue: wân.nìʔ
Shan: mɯ̂ɯ.nâi

4. Tomorrow
Thai: pʰrûŋ.níi
Lao: mɯ̂ɯ.ʔɯɯn, mɯ̂ɯ.pʰûuk (rare)
Tai Lue: wan.pʰǔuk
Shan: mɯ̂ɯ.pʰûuk

5. Overmorrow
Thai: ma.rɯɯn
Lao: mɯ̂ɯ.hɯ́ɯ
Tai Lue: wân.hɯ̂ɯ
Shan: mɯ̂ɯ.hɯ́ɯ

6. Three days after today
Thai: ma.rɯ̂aŋ
Lao: ma.tɯɯŋ
Tai Lue: wân.hɛ̂ɛ
Shan: ???

III. Why are words for "three days after today" unrelated?
While it is quite transparent that the words from 1-5 in Thai, Lao, Tai Lue, and Shan are related, the words in 6, i.e. "three days after today", however do not seem to be so. In particular, the words for 6 do not seem to share a common root.

In order to explain for why words in 6 have different origins, I argue that the term for "three days after today" in each language was developed independently. In particular, I argue that the terms in 6 were created after a single Tai language had split into different Tai languages, whereas the terms from 1-5 were created before the split.

The question for whence these words come still remains.

IV. How did พรูกนี้ in Thai become พรุ่งนี้?
An explanation for this is nasal assimilation. The nasality of the succeeding sound may have caused the preceding stop to become nasalized. Thus, the nasality of น may have nasalized the ก (velar stop), which thence became a ง --a velar nasal sound.

V. How did มะรือ in Thai become มะรืน?
Two possible explanations. First, it could be that the final -น in -วาน and -ซืน may have caused the speakers to over-generalize all words related to days to end in a -น. Thus, รือ may have become รืน due to the influence of the - น in วาน and ซืน. Second, alternatively it could be that the speakers may have incorrectly parsed the -น in -นี้ as in มะรือนี้ as two -น's. Thence, the first น became a final consonant for รือ.

VI. How did วาน in Tai Lue and Shan become วา, and how did ซืน in Shan become ซือ?
Explanation for this is the opposite of the explanation for how มะรือ in Thai became มะรืน. In particular, it could be that the speakers may have over-generalized all words related to days, except for "today", to not end in -น. Thus, the fact that รือ in Tai Lue and Shan does not end in -น may have influenced the speakers to drop the -น in วาน and ซืน (Shan only).

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hypercorrection in Thai: /k(h)w/ and /f/ sounds

Me standing in front of some cute water buffaloes which are locally known as "faai"
This entry is a part of my 2013 Thailand and Laos summer trip. 

The distinction and the merge
It has been observed that in the most colloquial form of Thai (Siamese, the Tai variety that is spoken natively in Bangkok and surrounding provinces), khw and kw sounds are pronounced as f. (Brown 1965) In other words, the distinction among khw, kw, and f sounds has been lost. For instance, ขวา (khwaa) "right" and ฝา (faa) "lid" would both be pronounced as faa, and กวาง (kwaang) "deer" and ฟาง (faang) "straw" would both be pronounced as faang. The distinction is maintained in Standard Thai.

Based on my observations, the merge is more prevalent among people in my parents' generation (ages 40-50) and older. Due to our better access to education, people in my generation regularly maintain the distinction. The only time people my age (and perhaps in my circle) merge these seconds is when we do it jokingly. (I suppose this is analogous to how young New Yorkers may say "thirty-third" as toity-toid to mock the speech of older generations, or how young Americans may jokingly say "what, which, whip, where, why" with the /ʍ/ sound, the voiceless labiovelar fricative (for non-linguists, it sounds like there is an emphasis on the h in wh: hhw).)

How did k(h)w become f? (Linguistic explanations)
De-velarization and spirantization of stops may have motivated the merge.
(hypothesis 1)
To account for how khw and kw became f, one may propose that khw and k simply underwent the processes of de-velarization and spirantization. In particular, khw and kw lost its velar-ity whereby both became pv which thereafter became fv due to the process of spirantization, and finally fv became f due to the fact that Thai disallows v sound.
(hypothesis 2)
An alternative explanation might be that khw and kw first both merged into khw. The khw sound, being a sound which often gets pronounced as xw (it is a known fact that kh and x are pronounced interchangeably in Thai), thence underwent the process of de-velarization-- fv --which thereafter became f since Thai disallows v sound.

Why did k(h)w become f?
As with any diachronic alternation in sounds in languages around the world, one explanation might be that people in one generation did not correctly perceive the sounds produced by an older generation. Perhaps at one point Siamese speakers failed to hear the velar-ity of the khw and the kw, and all they perceived was the labial-ity (from w) and the supposed frication, thus leading them to hear khw and kw as f, and thereafter they commenced to produce khw, kw, and f in an identical way.

When I was visiting Thailand this summer (2013), I came across a person in Chonburi province who was apparently unaware that she had hypercorrected her speech. Although I indeed heard many people there merging khw, khw, and f sounds, I also heard an elderly woman utter ฝาก (faak) as ขวาก (khwaak). I was utterly surprised by this because I had never heard anyone do this.

Why did she over-correct herself?
One reason might be that perhaps she in fact does not hypercorrect at all; it is simply the way her ancestors spoke. The "merge" had been passed down to her.
Another reason might be that she did not go to school or only finished 4th grade (as it was common then) and therefore did not learn of the distinction which exists in Standard Thai.
Another reason might be that she in fact went to school but is too old to remember the distinction that she had learned in school.

Corresponding sounds in other Tai languages
The distinction seems to be maintained in other Tai languages including Northern Thai, Shan, and Lao. Interestingly, in Lao the khw and kw seem to induce vowel shortening. For example, khwaa "right" and kwaang "deer" are pronounced as khua and kuang respectively.

Traveling to Chiang Mai and Observation on the Usage of Northern Thai Language

Here I'm having some authentic "khao soy" (noodle curry)-- a dish originating from Northern Thailand. 

This entry is a part of my Thailand and Laos summer trip in 2013.

Transportation thither

Chiangmai, Northern Thailand was amazing. It took me about 12 hours to ride a first-class bus from Chonburi province (not too far from Bangkok) to the northern province. The ride costed me about ฿700 (about $22).

The bus made me feel as if I were on an airplane. There was a bus stewardess who was beautifully dressed up like a flight attendant. The seats remarkably resembled those from an airplane. Meals were provided.

Transportation within Chiangmai
Public transportation in Chiangmai was distinctive from that of Bangkok. While there were tuk tuk and songtaew, there were no "motorcycle taxis" (มอเตอร์ไซค์รับจ้อง) nor buses.

Their songtaews, red in color, function differently from those from Bangkok and nearby provinces. In Bangkok, songtaews run on their designated streets--they function like buses wherein one must know which line to take in order to go wherever he/she wants. In Chiangmai, however, songtaews are practically similar to taxis. In particular, passengers have to inform the drivers of their destinations. Their songtaews can be ridden in two ways: sharing the service with other passengers or have the whole songtaew all by yourself. The latter choice is more expensive than the former.

Speaking Northern Thai is very useful. The first and the most important thing which I learned from riding my first Northern Thai songtaew was that if one does not speak the local language, he/she will likely be charged with a non-local price. My first ride costed me ฿40 (about $1.25), which I was informed thereafter that I had been severely ripped off. Before riding a songtaew for the second time, I made sure that I would be charged with the local price--฿20 (about $0.62). (Bear in mind that price varies according to the distance as well) Yes, I am quite aware that I seem very cheap right now, but it always comforts me more the idea of NOT getting ripped off than the idea of paying the cheapest price possible ($1.25 is cheap for Americans; it costs $1.50 in Los Angeles to ride buses).

There are at least two ways in which one can receive the local price: speak Northern Thai with no foreign accent (not even a Standard Thai accent), or directly request for a local price. Alas the former is not an easy option; so, I suggest the latter. I personally would always choose the latter, for fear that they notice my non-native-like Northern Thai pronunciation. Here is how my mother would do it: she would do it dramatically (I really admire her for possessing such ability):

songtaew: (in Northern Thai) where to ma'am?

my mother: (in Standard Thai) to Night Bazaar, please. How much will that be?

songtaew: (switches to Standard Thai) All right ma'am. That will be ฿40. That alright with you?

my mother: (looks at the driver incredulously and raises her right hand to her forehead abruptly, both eyes widely open as if she has never been this surprised before in her entire life) Huuh..Wh-what?! I thought it was only ฿20! OMG how could this be?! Impossible! (raises the amplitude in her voice a little more) Has the price changed?! This is extremely bizarre!!! All other songtaews I've been on have only charged me ฿20! Does yours come with a special service?! I just---

songtaew: OK ma'am. It's ฿20 for you.

my mother: Oh ok (gets on the songtaew).

If you are not as brave as my mother, I suggest you only ask them this: "excuse me, sir/ma'am, I thought it was only ฿20. Why does yours cost ฿20 more than the others?" And hopefully this will suffice.

Northern Thai language

People here natively speak Northern Thai, or Kam Mueang, which is another Tai language with which up until now I have been obsessed. Northern Thai is euphonious.Their six tonal system (cf. five tonal system in Standard Thai) is utterly pleasant to my ears. It was a great opportunity for me to practice my Northern Thai.

Prior to my arrival, I had been informed by many that the Northern Thai language was slowly dying. In particular, many had informed me that it was not being passed onto the younger generations. However, this did not seem to be completely true. Based on my observations, the language indeed is slowly dying, but it is dying very slowly. Young Northerners do seem to use Northern Thai regularly. Although many would speak Standard Thai to non-Northerners, many teenagers seemed to choose to converse in Northern Thai among themselves. In some cases, younger people in convenient stores even code-switched with me in Standard Thai/Northern Thai. Older speakers (from 40 and up) were more conservative. In particular, they were usually the ones that would speak Northern Thai, even to non-Northerners. Outsiders would speak Standard Thai to them, and they would respond in Northern Thai and would use Standard Thai words whenever there was any confusion.

Northern Thai script--Tai Tham script--seemed to be highly revered. Northern Thai writings, along with Standard Thai writings, could be seen on various signs on Temple entrances. A few stores also had beautiful Northern Thai signs.

Books in Northern Thai

Books written in Northern Thai can be purchased at a terrific bookstore called "Suriwong Book Centre". On the second floor of the store, there is a small section wherein there are Northern Thai books--written in Northern Thai script. There are also some books written in Shan and Tai Lue. I completely love this place! I spent quite a long time in there, happily browsing through the books. I was really happy to have discovered such a place. Consequently, I ended up purchasing nearly 10 books in Northern Thai. Sadly, although I had longed to buy all Northern Thai books in the store, I could not buy every book because I was afraid of running out of money. The next time I go there, I will certainly buy more Northern Thai books. I also hope that the next time I return, there will be more Northern Thai books; hopefully the Northern Thai section continues to expand.

Here are some of the purchased books from there:

More pictures:
I had a chance to try Shan khao feun (tho phu) for the first time! Super delicious!

Me at Wat Doi Suthep (Suthep hill temple)

Me clad in a Northern Thai attire (khian hua (turban), suea mueang (shirt), khian ew (waistcloth), and sa-dauw (fisherman pants). 

I had an opportunity to try some exotic beans/nuts. The left ones are good.
Me clad in a Hmong outfit on Doi Pui (Pui Hill), Hmong village.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lao Vocabulary: Names of the Countries in the European Union & Others

Names of the Countries that are in the European Union & Others in Lao
(ชื่อประเทศที่อยู่ในสหภาพยุโรปและอื่นๆ ในภาษาลาว)
(ຊື່ປະເທດທີ່ຢູ່ໃນສະຫະພາບເອີລົບແລະອື່ນໆ ໃນພາສາລາວ)
Flag of EU

Lao learners commit a lot of errors when using European country names in their speech or in text. In particular they tend to think that the names of the European countries in Lao are the same as those in Thai. This is due to the fact that the resources on Lao are limited.

Thai and Lao borrow words from different sources. In general, Thai uses English as a source for the names of these countries, while Lao largely borrows the names from French. For example, the word for Spain in Thai is สเปน ( while it is ແອສະປາຍ (แอสปาย, / in Lao (cf. French. Espagne). Thus, I am creating this post so that Lao learners can use the names correctly. You may use this post as a reference.

ผู้ที่กำลังเรียนภาษาลาวหลายท่านมักใช้คำศัพท์ที่เกี่ยวกับชื่อประเทศยุโรปในภาษาลาวอย่างไม่ถูกต้อง หลายคนคิดว่าชื่อประเทศเหล่านี้นั้น เหมือนภาษาไทย ประเทศส่วนมากมีชื่อที่ไม่เหมือนกันระหว่างสองภาษา เนื่องจากที่ทั้งสองนั้น มีแหล่งที่เอาคำเหล่านี้มาที่ไม่เหมือนกัน ภาษาไทยมักเอาชื่อประเทศพวกนี้มาจากภาษาอังกฤษ ส่วนภาษาลาวมักเอาชื่อประเทศพวกนี้มาจากภาษาฝรั่งเศส อาทิ Spain คือ สเปน ในภาษาไทย แต่ภาษาลาวคือ แอสปาย (จากภาษาฝรั่งเศส Espagne "เอสปาญน์") ดั่งนั้นข้าพเจ้าจึ่งเขียนบทความนี้เพื่อให้พวกท่านได้นำเอาไปใช้เป็นแหล่งข้อมูลและเป็นแหล่งอ้างอิง

ຜູ້ທີ່ພວມຮຽນພາສາລາວຫຼາຍທ່ານມັກໃຊ້ຄຳສັບທີ່ກ່ຽວຂ້ອງກັບຊື່ປະເທດເອີລົບໃນພາສາລາວຢ່າງບໍ່ຖືກຕ້ອງ. ຫຼາຍຄົນຄຶດວ່າຊື່ປະເທດເຫຼົ່ານີ້ ແມ່ນຄືກັນກັບພາສາໄທ. ປະເທດສ່ວນຫຼາຍມີຊື່ບໍ່ຄືກັນລະຫວ່າງສອງພາສາ ເນື່ອງຈາກທີ່ທັງສອງນັ້ນ ແມ່ນມີບ່ອນທີ່ເອົາຄຳເຫຼົ່ານີ້ມາເຊິ່ງບໍ່ຄືກັນ. ພາສາໄທມັກເອົາຊື່ປະເທດພວກນີ້ມາຈາກພາສາອັງກິດ ສ່ວນພາສາລາວມັກເອົາຊື່ປະເທດພວກນີ້ມາຈາກພາສາຝະລັ່ງ ເຊັ່ນ  Spain ແມ່ນ ສະເປນ ໃນພາສາໄທ ແຕ່ໃນພາສາລາວແມ່ນ ແອສະປາຍ (ຈາກພາສາຝະລັ່ງ Espagne "ແອສປາຍນ໌"). ສະນັ້ນ ຜູ້ຂ້າຈຶ່ງຂີດຂຽນບົດຄວາມນີ້ເພື່ອໃຫ້ພວກທ່ານໄດ້ເອົາໄປໃຊ້ເປັນແຫຼ່ງຂໍ້ມູນແລະອ້າງອີງໄດ້.


The order will be English-Thai-Lao-French

Europe - ยุโรป - ເອີລົບ (เออลบ, จาก เออรป) - Europe

Countries in the EU - ประเทศในสหภาพยุโรป - ປະເທດໃນສະຫະພາບເອີລົບ
Austria - ออสเตรีย -  ໂອຕິດ (โอติด, จาก โอตริช) - Autriche
Belgium - เบลเยียม - ແບນຊິກ (แบนซิก, จาก แบลชิก)- Belgique
Bulgaria - บัลแกเรีย - ບູນກາລີ (บูนกาลี, จาก บูลการี) - Bulgarie
Croatia - โครเอเชีย - ໂກອາຊີ (โกอาซี, จาก โกรอาชี) - Croatie
Cyprus -ไซปรัส-ຊີບ (ซีบ, จาก ชรีป) - Chypre
Czech (Republic) - เช็ก- ແຊັກ (แซ็ก, จาก แช็ก) - Tchèque
Denmark - เดนมาร์ก - ດານມາກ (ดานมาก, จาก ดานมากก์) - Danemark
Estonia - เอสโตเนีย - ແອສະໂຕນີ (แอสะโตนี, จาก แอสโตนี) - Estonie
Finland - ฟินแลนด์ - ແຟງລັງ (แฟงลัง, จาก แฟงลังด์) - Finlande
France - ฝรั่งเศส - ຝະລັ່ງ (ฝะลั่ง, จาก ฝรั่งส์) - France
Germany - เยอรมนี- ເຢຍລະມັນ (เยียละมัน, จาก เยียรมัน) - Allemagne
Greece - กรีซ - ກະແລັດ (กะแล็ด, จาก แกร็ส) - Grèce
Hungary - ฮังการี - ຮົງກະລີ (ฮงกะลี, จาก ฮงกรี) - Hongrie
Ireland -ไอร์แลนด์ - ອຽກລັງ (เอียกลัง, จาก เอียกลังด์) - Irlande
Italy -อิตาลี - ອິຕາລີ (อิตาลี) - Italie
Latvia-ลัตเวีย - ແລດໂຕນີ (แลดโตนี, จาก แลตโตนี) - Lettonie
Lithuania - ลิตทัวเนีย - ລີຕົວນີ (ลีตัวนี, จาก ลีตัวนี) - Lituanie
Luxembourg - ลักเซมเบิร์ก - ລູກຊຳບວກ (ลูกซำบวก, จาก ลูกซัมบวกก์) - Luxembourg
Malta -มอลตา - ມັນ (มัน, จาก มัลต์) - Malte
Netherlands, Holland - เนธอร์แลนด์, ฮอล์แลนด์ - ໂຮນລັງ (โฮนลัง, จาก โฮลลังด์) - Pays-Bas, Hollande
Poland -โปแลนด์ - ໂປໂລຍ (โปโลย, จาก โปโลย/โปโลญ) - Pologne
Portugal -โปรตุเกส - ປອກຕຸຍການ (ปอกตุยกาน, จาก ปอกตุยกาล) - Portugal
Romania -โรเมเนีย - ລູມານີ (ลูมานี, จาก รูมานี) - Roumanie
Slovakia -สโลวาเกีย - ສະໂລວາກີ (สะโลวากี, จาก สโลวากี) - Slovaquie
Slovenia -สโลเวเนีย - ສະໂລເວນີ (สะโลเวนี, จาก สโสเวนี) - Slovénie
Spain -สเปน - ແອສະປາຍ (แอสะปาย, จาก แอสปาย/แอสปาญ) - Espagne
Sweden - สวีเดน - ຊູແອດ (ซูแอด) - Suède
United Kingdom  - สหราชอาณาจักร - ສະຫະລາຊະອານາຈັກ  (สะหะลาซะอานาจัก, จาก สหราชอาณาจักร) - Royaume-Uni

Other countries, cities, languages inside/outside Europe

Scotland - สกอตแลนด์ - ເອກົດ (เอกด, จาก เอกสส์) - Écosse
Edinburgh - เอดินบะระ - ເອແດມບວກ  (เอแดมบวก, จาก เอแดมบวกก์) - Édimbourg
Wales - เวลส์ - ການ  (กาน, จาก กาลส์) - Galles
English/England - อังกฤษ - ອັງກິດ  (อังกฤษ, จาก อังกริส) - Anglais/Angleterre
Cornwall/Cornish - คอร์นวอลล์-ກອກນູອາຍ  (กอกนูอาย, จาก กอกนูอายล์ส) - Cornouailles
Catalonia - คาตาโลเนีย - ກາຕາໂລຍ  (กาตาโลย, จาก กาตาโลย/กาตาโลญ) - Catalogne
Catalan - คาตาลัน - ກາຕາລັງ  (กาตาลัง) - Catalan
Montreal - มอนทรีอาล - ມົງເລອານ  (มงเลอาน, จาก มงเรอาล) - Montréal
Pacific (ocean) - แปซิฟิก - ປາຊິຟິກ  (ปาซิฟิก) - Pacifique
Atlantic (ocean) - แอตแลนติก - ອັດລັງຕິກ  (อัดลังติก, จาก อัตลังติก) - Atlantique
Great Britain - บริเตนใหญ่ - ເບຕາຍໃຫຍ່  (เบตายใหย่, จาก เบรตายใหย่) - Grande-Bretagne
Turkey - ตุรกี - ຕວກກີ  (ตวกกี) - Turquie
Norway - นอร์เวย์ - ນອກແວດ  (นอกแวด, จาก นอกแวช) - Norvège
Scandinavia -สแกนดีเนเวีย-ສະການດີນາວີ   (สะกานดีนาวี, จาก สกานดีนาวี) - Scandinavie
Paris - ปารีส - ປາລີ  (ปาลี, จาก ปารีส์) - Paris
Australia - ออสเตรเลีย-ອົດສະຕາລີ  (อดสะตาลี, จาก อสตราลี) - Australie
New Zealand - นิวซีแลนด์ - ນູແວນເຊລັງ  (นูแวนเซลัง, จาก นูแวลล์เซลังด์) - Nouvelle-Zélande
Greek - กรีก - ກະເລັກ  (กะเล็ก, จาก เกร็ก) - Grec
Latin - ละติน - ລາແຕງ  (ลาแตง) - Latin
Switzerland - สวิสเซอร์แลนด์ - ສະວິດ  (สะวิด, จาก สวิสส์) - Suisse
Iceland -ไอซ์แลนด์ - ອີສະລັງ  (อิสะลัง, จาก อิสลังด์) - Icelande
Armenia - อาร์เมเนีย - ອາກເມນີ  (อากเมนี) - Arménie
Argentina - อาร์เจนตินา - ອາກຊັງຕີນ  (อากซังตีน) - Argentine
Egypt - อียิปต์ - ເອຢິບ   (เอยิบ, จาก เอยิปต์) - Égypte
Russia - รัสเซีย - ລັດເຊຍ  (ลัดเซีย, จาก รัสเซีย) - Russie
Canada - แคนาดา - ການາດາ (กานาดา) -  Canada
USA ("America") - อเมริกา - ອາເມລິກາ  (อาเมลิกา, จาก อาเมริกา) - Amérique


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Shopping in Laos: Quick Note on How People Say "Ten Thousand" and Higher

This entry is a part of my Thailand and Laos summer trip in 2013.

It took me about 10 hours to ride a tour bus from Chonburi province, Thailand to Nongkhai province, Northeastern Thailand. Nongkhai was where I crossed the Mekong river to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. The trip costed me about $25. I left Chonburi around 8pm and got to Nongkhai in the morning.

"Why did you travel at night? It's dangerous, you know?" A friend asked, "People are sleepy. Your driver could have been sleepy. Accidents happen when people are sleepy."

"I wanted to get to Vientiane in the morning, not at night," I said, "Getting around a foreign place at night is also dangerous, you know."

Once I crossed the border, I stayed at a small hotel near the morning market (Talat Sao)--a popular shopping place in Vientiane. This was the place which everyone visiting Vientiane goes to.

The hotel was in a good location, and the price was reasonable for the location. Not only could I walk to the morning market, but I could also walk to Patuxay, aka the Victory Monument, a gate dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. It costed me about $25 pay night at the hotel.

Shopping at the morning market was exciting. People visiting Laos typically buy textiles. I bought a pha biang, aka sabai, for myself, and a bunch of sinhs for other people. For those who don't know what they are: pha biang is a part of the traditional Lao outfit called "xout lao", (cf. traditional Thai outfit, "chut thai"). It's a sash-like cloth typically worn on the left shoulder. It can be worn by both men and women in ceremonial events. Sinh is a type of traditional skirt worn exclusively by women. In Laos, a lot of women wear sinhs walking on the streets.

When I was done with the textiles, I went straight to a bunch of bookstores and bought about 40 books.

"Alif, you're crazy! Why did you buy so many freaking books?" A friend asked.

"First of all, I love books, and I love the Lao language," I replied, "And second of all, books written in Lao are extremely hard to find outside of Laos. And don't even think of buying them via the internet because there are none due to many reasons such as the postal services in Laos etc."

"Sabaidee," the owner of a bookstore greeted me.
"Sabaidee," I replied, "An nii thaw dai?" I asked him how much a book I was holding costed.
"Sip haa phan kip," he said fifteen thousand kips.
Sip haa phan? (สิบห้าพัน) I thought. Oh he meant nueng muen haa phan (หนึ่งหมื่นห้าพัน), as that is how you'd say fifteen thousand in Thai.

"Chaw (เจ้า)," I replied, then I asked him how much it was in bahts, knowing that they accepted Thai money too.
"Hok sip baht," he said sixty bahts.

Then I went on buying a bunch more from this store and also from other stores.

Lesson to be learned
If you're not familiar with the numbering system in Thai and Lao, I'm afraid you won't understand this part. In both Thai and Lao, muen means ten thousand, but at least in Vientiane, it is uncommon for people use muen. So, instead of saying neung muen haa phan, one says "sip haa phan".

Another note for Thai and Lao beginners: there are A LOT of Thai books in the bookstores in Laos. So, for those who want to buy Lao books but can't tell Thai and Lao scripts apart, do ask them.


Me standing in front of Patuxay, Vientiane, Laos.

Some of the Lao books I bought.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Eating Water Video

I have turned my previous post, in which I discussed how a lot of Tai languages allow the verb "to eat" to be used for "to drink," into a YouTube video:
Interestingly, I have never seen a Tai language that allows "to drink" to be used as "to eat" and "to drink."

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Merging of /ai/ and /aɯ/ Sounds

Before reading this post, I recommend that you look at this post first.


  • Over a period of time, two (or more) sounds can merge into one sound.
  • Today we will look at an example from Thai (and some other Tai languages).
  • Specifically, we will look at ไ (/máaj.malaaj/) and ใ (/máaj.múan/) which in modern Thai are pronounced as /aj/ (or /ai/~/aɪ/ depending on your preference of transcription).
  • During the time in which the Thai script was being created, each symbol represented a distinctive sound.
  • This claim is supported by at least two factors: (i) the creator of the Thai script probably had heard the two sounds that is why two symbols were created, and (ii) many other Tai languages still have the distinction.
  • Other Tai languages including, Shan (Shan State, Burma/Myanmar), Tai Dam (Northern Vietnam), and Luang Prabang Lao (Northern Laos) etc. still have this distinction.
  • From looking at the data from other Tai languages, we can propose that during the time in which the Thai script was being created, ไ was used to represent /aj/, whereas ใ was used to represent /aɯ/.
  • Perhaps, the merging of the two may have been influenced by the fact that /ai/ and /aɯ/ are similar sounds. 
  • In particular, /i/ and /ɯ/ are high vowels.
  • Other Tai languages including Lao (except Luang Prabang), Tai Lue, and Northern Thai have also merged the two sounds into /aj/.
  • Interestingly, it is quite rare to see a Tai language merging the two sounds into /aɯ/.
  • This may be due to the fact that cross-linguistically the /aɯ/ sound is quite rare.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Tai Sound Review: Northern Thai

In Tai Sound Review, I will mainly discuss sound merges across Tai languages. I will use Thai alphabet to represent all Tai languages.

Northern Thai aka Kam Mueang (คำเมือง lit. "city language") is mainly spoken in the Northern region of Thailand.

Common Features (after Tone Split)
  • Distinction between r (ร) and l (ล). The former has become /h/.
  • Some distinction among ʔj, j, and ɲ (อย, ย, ญ respectively). The j and ɲ merged into /ɲ/, while ʔj became /j/. Thus, there is a distinction between j (อย) and ɲ (ย/ญ).
  • Some may pronounce tr (ตร) as k (ก). Thus for these people, there is no distinction between tr and k.
  • No distinction between kʰ (ข) and x (ฃ). Both are pronounced as kʰ (ข).
  • Distinction between historic g (ค) and ɣ (ฅ). The former is pronounced as /k/ and the latter as /kʰ/.
  • No distinction between historic cʰ (ฉ) and s (ส). Both are pronounced as s (ส).
  • All consonant clusters are simplified, e.g. kl (กล) becomes k (ก), except stop+w clusters, e.g. kw (กว).
  • Historic unaspirated stops + r (which became /h/) merged with aspirated voiceless stops. E.g. pr (ปร) > pʰ (ผ). Thus, there is no distinction between pr and pʰ.
  • No distinction between -aj (ไ) and -aɯ (ใ). Both are pronounced as /aj/.
  • Historic voiced stops became unaspirated voiceless stops. E.g. *d > t (ท > /ต/). Thus, unlike Thai, there is a distinction between historic d (ท) and dh (ธ). The former is pronounced as /t/ and the latter as /tʰ/.
  • s + w is a possible cluster. E.g. สวัสดี is pronounced as swúat.sá.dii Cf. Thai sa.wàt.dii.
  • Distinction among six tones. Unlike Thai, tone 3 and tone 5 are pronounced differently, e.g. หญ้า and ย่า are pronounced differently. The former has glottalized high level tone, while the latter has falling tone (Chiang Mai) or mid tone (Naan).

Tai Sound Review: Lao

In Tai Sound Review, I will mainly discuss sound merges across Tai languages. I will use Thai alphabet to represent all Tai languages.

Lao is mainly spoken in Laos and Northeastern region of Thailand where it is known as Isaan (อีสาน).

Common Features (after Tone Split)
  • Distinction between r (ร) and l (ล). The former has become /h/.
  • Some distinction among ʔj, j, and ɲ (อย, ย, ญ respectively). The j and ɲ merged into /ɲ/, while ʔj became /j/. Thus, there is a distinction between j (อย) and ɲ (ย/ญ).
  • Some may pronounce tr (ตร) as k (ก). Thus for these people, there is no distinction between tr and k.
  • No distinction between kʰ (ข) and x (ฃ). Both are pronounced as kʰ (ข).
  • No distinction between cʰ (ฉ, ช) and s (ส, ซ). All are pronounced as s (ส, ซ).
  • Vowel reduction in words with kw and kʰw (กว,ขว,คว). E.g. kwaan (กวาน) > kuan (กวน).
  • All consonant clusters are simplified, e.g. kl (กล) becomes k (ก), except stop+w clusters, e.g. kw (กว).
  • Except for Luang Prabang dialect, no distinction between -aj (ไ) and -aɯ (ใ). Both are pronounced as /aj/.
  • Historic voiced stops became aspirated voiceless stops. E.g. *d > tʰ (ท).
  • There is no distinction between tone 2 and 5, e.g. ข่า and ค่า are pronounced the same way, i.e. kʰaa. Both have mid tone.

Tai Sound Review: Colloquial Thai (Central Thai/Siamese)

In Tai Sound Review, I will mainly discuss sound merges across Tai languages.
Siamese aka Spoken Thai is mainly spoken in the central region of Thailand. Such area includes Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. The standard form of Siamese is called Standard Thai which is an official language of Thailand.

Common Features (after Tone Split)

  • No distinction between r (ร) and l (ล). The former is pronounced like the latter; both are pronounced as /l/. 
  • No distinction among ʔj, j, and ɲ (อย, ย, ญ respectively). All are pronounced as /j/ (ย).
  • Older generation may pronounce tr (ตร) as k (ก). Thus for these people, there is no distinction between tr and k.
  • No distinction between kʰ (ข) and x (ฃ). Both are pronounced as kʰ (ข).
  • A few may pronounce kw and kʰw (กว,ขว,คว) as f (ฝ, ฟ). Thus, no distinction among kw, kʰw, and f.
  • All consonant clusters are simplified, e.g. kl (กล) becomes k (ก), except stop+w clusters, e.g. kw (กว).
  • Some may pronounce s (ซ, ส, ศ, ษ) as /ɬ/.
  • No distinction between -aj (ไ) and -aɯ (ใ). Both are pronounced as /aj/.
  • Historic voiced stops became aspirated voiceless stops. E.g. *d > tʰ (ท).
  • There is no distinction between tone 3 and 5, e.g. ข้า and ค่า are pronounced the same way, i.e. kʰâa. Both have falling tone.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Merging of Kho Khai and Kho Khuat (ข and ฃ)

Note for people with no background in linguistics:
For English speakers, especially Americans, when trying to understand a merging of two (or more) sounds, think of the way in which some people pronounce "which" and "witch" differently and those who do not. In the former case, it is more common among older people. For them, the "wh" in "which" is pronounced like someone is blowing air through a straw. In the latter case on the other hand, the two words are pronounced exactly the same way. Thus for the latter group, the "wh" and "w" have merged into one sound-particularly a "w".


  • Kho Khai (ข) and Kho Khuat (ฃ) are pronounced the same way in modern Thai (and many Tai languages including Lao, Shan, Northern Thai, Tai Lue, and Tai Dam).
  • In particular, both are pronounced /kʰ/ (but /x/ in Northern Thai and Tai Lue). 
  • This suggests that in Thai, Kho Khai has replaced Kho Khuat. This may explain why Kho Khuat is now obsolete.
  • Historically, Kho Khai and Kho Khuat were pronounced differently.
  • Specifically, Kho Khai was pronounced /kʰ/ as the c in cat, and Kho Khuat was pronounced /x/ as the ch in loch in Scottish Gaelic.
  • There are two facts that support this claim: (1) The creator of the Thai script had to create the symbols for a reason. The distinction between the two sounds must have caused the creator to create the two symbols, and (2) White Tai, a Tai language spoken in Northern Vietnam, is one of some Tai languages that still have the distinction between the two sounds.
  • Tai-Kadai linguists such as Li, Fang Kuei propose that originally Kho Khai was used to represent /kʰ/ while Kho Khuat /x/.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Basic Color Words in Thai and Lao

This video shows that not all color terms are the same in Thai and Lao. However, the ones that differ are only the minority. These include gray, dark blue, and pink.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Eating Water

Image via WRD

Many Southwestern Tai languages have a word for "to eat" and one for "to drink". "To eat" is kin (กิน) in Thai, kìn (ກິນ) in Lao, kǐn in Northern Thai, kín in Tai Lue, and kǐn (ၵိၼ်) in Shan, whereas "to drink" is dɯ̀m (ดื่ม) or sót (ซด) in Thai, dɯɯm (ດື່ມ) and sot (ຊົດ) in Lao, dɯ̀m in Northern Thai, dɯ᷄m and hìip in Tai Lue, and sôt (သူတ်ႉ) in Shan.

However, in colloquial speech, speakers often do not make a distinction between "to eat" and "to drink". In particular, they use "to eat" to say "to drink". In other words, "to eat" can both mean "to eat" and "to drink." Thus, colloquially "to eat" and "to drink" is kin (กิน) in Thai, kìn (ກິນ) in Lao, kǐn in Northern Thai, kín in Tai Lue, and kǐn (ၵိၼ်) in Shan.

Learners of a Tai language, whose native tongue makes a distinction between "to eat" and "to drink," may find this information useful when speaking with a native speaker of a Tai language. Specifically, this information may benefit the learners in at least two areas. First, they will comprehend better when a native speaker chooses to converse in the colloquial speech. In addition, since there are times when it is more "proper" to use colloquial speech, the learners will be able to use the colloquial way of "to drink" correctly without sounding awkwardly too formal. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Improve Your Thai (and Also Other Tais) - Final p, t, k Sounds

This post may require that readers have some knowledge of phonetics. Please watch the video below for a simplified version.

In order to sound like a native Thai speaker, learners of the language must do many things. One of these things involves mastering unreleased final stop sounds.

In English, stop sounds in a coda position are often released. These sounds include /p/, /t/, and /k/. Speakers, producing words ending in these sounds, let out a small puff of air as the constriction of each sound is released (not to be confused with aspiration). These sounds can be found in words such as "nip", "lit", and "kick" respectively.

In Thai, on the other hand, the final stop sounds /p/, /t/, and /k/ (and also the glottal stop) are rarely let out. In particular, the constriction creating each sound is often unreleased. Therefore, when producing words ending in these sounds, learners of Thai must not let that small puff of air out.

Watch the video that I made a while back to hear some examples:

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Learn Thai while Cooking #1

Khai phalo (IPA: kʰàj.pʰa.lóo, Thai: ไข่พะโล้) is one of my favorite Thai Chinese dishes.  Its main ingredients include eggs, fried tofu, chicken, cinnamon, and star anise. 

Unfortunately, it is one of many awesome dishes not commonly sold in Thai restaurants in the States. So, if you have never had this cinnamony soup, you should give it a try! 

In this video, you will not only learn how to prepare the soup, but you will also learn how to say the ingredients and the tools used in Thai.

This clip is a cooking challenge in which I made this dish for the first time. My recipe turned  out to be just slightly off. The only thing I wish I had done was to reduce the amount of palm sugar because it came out too sweet. Thus, if you are following this recipe, use half the amount of sugar I used, and you will have a perfect khai phalo. 

Vocabulary from This Video:
egg kʰàj (ไข่)
fried tofu tâw.hûu.tʰɔ̂ɔt (เต้าหู้ทอด)
coriander root râak.pʰàk.cʰii (รากผักชี)
cilantro pʰàk.cʰii (ผักชี) - This word was not mentioned in the video.
galangal kʰàa (ข่า)
garlic kra.tʰiam (กระเทียม)
palm sugar nám.taan.píip (น้ำตาลปี๊บ)
salt klɯa (เกลือ)
pepper pʰrík.tʰaj (พริกไทย)
black soy sauce sii.ʔíw.dam (ซีอิ๊วดำ)
thin soy sauce sii.ʔíw.kʰǎaw (ซีอิ๊วขาว)
oil ná (น้ำมัน)
cinnamon stick ʔòp.cʰəəj (อบเชย)
star anise póoj.kâk (โป๊ยกั๊ก) - Although กั๊ก is spelled with high tone, it is pronounced with a falling tone. This is due to the fact that it is a loanword from Teochew Chinese.
mortar kʰrók (ครก)
pestle sàak (สาก)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Stories behind Polite Endings in Thai, Lao, N. Thai, Shan, and Tai Lue


  • Traditionally to be polite when speaking Tai languages, one must lift up the people he is talking to. This process can be achieved via two processes: either put himself down or lift the listeners up (or both).
  • Thus, in many Tai languages, the first person personal pronoun is "servant, slave", while the second person personal pronoun is "lord, master". 
  • In addition to using "servant" and "lord" as personal pronouns, to show politeness in many Southwestern Tai languages, "servant" or "lord" can also be used in two contexts: to end sentences and to say "yes".
  • In Thai "servant" is used to end sentences and to say "yes" by women. Men use "at your service" instead. 
  • In Lao "little servant" is traditionally used to end sentences and to say "yes". However, in present day Laos, the use of this word in this fashion is really rare. Thus, "little servant" is not used to end sentences anymore by most people, and "lord" is used to say "yes" instead. 
  • In Northern Thai, traditionally men and women end their sentences and say "yes" with "lord". However, due to the influence of Thai, men now use "at your service" instead.
  • Note: unlike modern Lao, "lord" is only used by women in Northern Thai.
  • In Shan, unlike Thai, both men and women use "servant" to end sentences and to say "yes".
  • In Tai Lue, unlike other Southwestern Tai languages mentioned above, neither "servant" nor "lord" can be used to end sentences. However, "servant" can be used to say "yes".

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hello, Welcome to Star Bear Express

In Tai Lue, the word for panda is a compound noun literally meaning "star bear" which is mí.dáaw in the language. The word can be Thai-ified to mǐi.daaw (หมีดาว), with mǐi being "bear" and daaw "star".

In Thai, such compound does not exist however. In Thai (and Lao), "panda" is mǐi.pʰɛɛn.dâa (หมีแพนด้า) which literally means "panda bear". The Thai -pʰɛɛn.dâa is most likely borrowed from English which itself is a loanword from Nepalese via French. (source) Therefore, "panda" in Thai is ultimately from Nepalese.

It is not surprising to see why the Thais do not have a native word for pandas since the animal is not native to Thailand.

Interestingly, the Tai Lues apparently did not borrow the term from the Chinese. In particular, the Tai Lue word is not a calque from Chinese. In Chinese, "panda" is xióngmāo (熊猫) "bear cat" or "cat bear" (Taiwan).

Unless they borrowed it from other Chinese dialects, the fact that the Tai Lues did not borrow the term from Chinese creates some interesting questions: Why star bear? What makes the animal starry? At the moment, I cannot clearly see the "star" part in the animal, whereas in other animals with names made up of "star", I do see it more clearly. For example, "leopard" in Tai Lue and Thai is literally "star tiger", sɯ̌a.daaw (เสือดาว). I find this compound sensible. The rosette pattern of the leopard's coat actually looks starry.

Given the analysis of the starry pattern of the leopard's coat, we might be able to say that perhaps the "starry" part of the panda is the black circles around its eyes. This suggests that perhaps the Tai Lues interpret the circles as stars. However, I do not know the etymology. If you know it or have a different analysis please leave a reply.

The panda is an animal belonging to genus Ailuropoda, family Ursidae, sharing the same family with bears. The animal is native to Central China.

Here is a video of pandas.

The Tai Lue word was passed on to me by Phet. Check out his blog in which he mainly discusses Khmu related topics.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ain't No Horseshoe Crabs Messin' with Them Hoes

Warning: informal language
A male horseshoe crab (the small one) hitching a ride on the female.

In Thai, pimps are referred to as "horseshoe crabs", which in Thai is mɛŋ.daa (แมงดา).

Why are pimps called "horseshoe crab"?

The answer is simple: pimps (and hoes) behave like horseshoe crabs.

I am not familiar with the animal itself. So, I did some research on the internet, and this is what I found:

Male horseshoe crabs are quite different from their female counterparts. In particular, the males are typically smaller than the females.  They have a small hook like claw which is used to attach to a female's shell in order to be pulled to shore; sometimes multiple males will hang on to a female. (The Girl by the Sea) In addition, since the males are smaller in size, they are weaker. So, the females find food for them throughout the males' lives. The males will not survive if they fall off of the females' backs. (source) Thus, male horseshoe crabs are always dependent on the females.

This is very similar to the relationship between a pimp and his prostitute. In particular, the male horseshoe crab is like a pimp, and the female a prostitute. The pimp depends on his ho. Whatever money she receives from her customers, she gives it to him. One of the differences that I can see is that a pimp can have many prostitutes, whereas a male horseshoe crab can only hang on to one female. On the contrary, a ho usually just has one pimp, whereas a female horseshoe crab can have multiple males on her back.

Or do I have this wrong? Can a hooker have more than one pimp? If you are a pimp or a ho, please leave a reply.

Horseshoe crabs are arthropods belonging to the family Limulidae, order Xiphosurida.

Click on the video below to learn more about the animal. Who knows, maybe you will see some "pimpin'" action.

Many thanks to Wayan's kaos for asking this question.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Basic Tai Dam Phrases

Tai Dam is a Southwestern Tai language mainly spoken in Northern Vietnam. There are about 763,950 speakers of Tai Dam. (source) The word Tai Dam literally means "black Tai."

Since it is easier to see the cognates in Thai, the following phrases written in Thai script are a transliteration of the Tai Dam script. Thus, the phonetic transcription is not written in Thai.

(Tones omitted at the moment. I will update these as soon as I can.)

# Thai transliteration of Tai Dam
pronunciation in semi-IPA*
English translation
Thai translation (slightly archaized in order to show cognates)

*In this "Semi-IPA", I am using < y > to transcribe the /j/ sound.

1 ฅั้นดอควา
khan dɔ kwa
Hello/How are you?

2 ฅั้นซินดอ
khan sin dɔ

3 เจ้าก็ฅั้นดอควา
tsaw kɔ khan dɔ kwa
How are you?

4 ข้อยก็ฅั้นซินดอ
khɔi kɔ khan sin dɔ
I am fine

sɔ waan

5 ข้อยแอแอบปากความไท.
khɔi ʔɛ ʔɛp paaʔ kwaam tai
I want to learn to speak Tai (Dam).

sɔ waan tsaw bɔʔ haɯ khɔi dai baw
Can you please teach me?

6 ได้ ข้อยจิ่บอกเน้อ
dai khɔi tsi bɔʔ nə
Yes, I will teach you.
ได้ ข้าจักบอก(สอน)เน้อ

7 บ่ได้. ข้อยบ่มีเชอบอก.
baw dai. khɔi baw mi tsə bɔʔ
No, I do not have time to teach.
บ่ได้ ข้าบ่มียาม(เวลา)บอก(สอน)

8 ได้ย้อนเน้อ
dai yɔn nə
Thank you

Please Have Pork on Me. I Beg You

Zhuang is a language mainly spoken in China, belonging to the Tai language family. There are about 1,980,000 speakers (2007). (source) The Zhuang ethnic group is the largest minority in China.

Zhuang speakers have an interesting way of expressing gratitude. To say "thank you", one literally says "(I) beg for (your) pork" which in Zhuang is gyo'mbaiq [k(h)jo.?baaj], making up of gyo "to beg" and mbaiq "pork".

The Zhuang "thank you" is an idiom deriving from the Zhuang culture and tradition. When one is invited to a celebration, he gives pork to the host who in return gives a portion of the pork back before the guest leaves the party. By doing this, the host is expressing his gratitude for the guest's kindness.

The word gyo is a cognate of Thai kʰɔ̌ɔ (ขอ) "to beg, to ask for".

Just for fun: What will learners of Zhuang who do not eat pork think of this phrase?

Information provided by Hienjningz Luengz via Facebook.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Don't Worry! Leave the (Thai) Stress to Me!

In a phonological phrase, the final syllable is often lengthened while the ones preceding it shortened. Therefore, when producing Thai stress, one must keep the last syllables lengthened with the non-final syllables shortened.

Incorrect stress pattern may cause slight confusion to listeners. Speakers uttering the wrong stress may deliver unintended meanings. In particular, they may create more words than intended. For example, "wolf" is a compound made up of mǎa "dog" and pàa "wild, forest". If a speaker does not lengthen the second and shorten the first, he will not have formed a compound noun, and thus creating two words: "dog" and "forest" not "wolf".

Saturday, January 5, 2013

She Houses Her Baby

Image by Andriy Dykun via 123RF

The word for "womb" in Shan and Tai Khuen is really sweet. It can be Thaified to rɯan.lûuk.ʔɔ̀ɔn (เรือนลูกอ่อน) which is a compound made up of rɯan (เรือน) "house" and lûuk.ʔɔ̀ɔn (ลูกอ่อน) "child, baby". Thus, "womb" in these Tai languages literally means "the house of a child/baby".

"Womb" in Thai and Lao is mót.lûuk (มดลูก), which, if I have this right though doubt it, literally means "the ant of a child". What?! This apparent weird meaning suggests that my analysis of this word is probably wrong. In particular, perhaps mót (มด) in this case does not mean "ant."

Now just for fun. Since everyone is talking about Kim Kadashian's pregnancy (which I do not know why we should care), it is not totally off topic to mention her and Kanye West here. So, given our analysis of "womb" so far, I think we can say that Kim Kadashian's baby is sitting in its house, can we? Oh wow, I am beginning to think that it is kind of creepy to talk about her womb. However, this is one of the best ways to learn a new   word; by relating it to something weird, that is!

Image taken from Sara McGinnis's article

Friday, January 4, 2013

De-Khmerization: Body Parts

Thai and Lao have borrowed many words from Old Khmer. When dealing with Tai words in Thai and Lao, I personally use the term "de-Khmerization" to the refer to the process in which words of Khmer origin are removed and replaced with words of Tai origin. The words of Tai origin are typically taken from other Tai languages whose speakers have had relatively less contact with Khmer speakers, including but not limited to the Shans, the Northern Thais, and the Tai Lues. 

Today, we will attempt to de-Khmerize words relating to body parts in Thai and Lao.

The following words in Thai and Lao are of Khmer origin.

1. brain =  sa.mɔ̌ɔŋ (สมอง)
2. hips = sa.pʰôok (สะโพก), ta.pʰook (ตะโพก)
3. nose (Thai only) = ca.mùuk (จมูก)
4. skull = kra.lòok (กระโหลก)
5. stomach =  kra.pʰɔ́ʔ (กระเพาะ)

The outcome of de-Khmerization of these words are the following:

1. brain = ʔɔɔk.ʔɔɔ (ออกออ)
from Northern Thai and Shan

2. hips = kùm (กุ่ม)
from Shan and Tai Lue

3. nose = daŋ (ดัง)
from Lao, Northern Thai, Shan, and Tai Lue

4. skull = dùuk.hǔa (ดูกหัว) Lit. "the bone of the head"
from Shan and Tai Lue

5. stomach = pum (ปุม)
from Northern Thai, Shan, and Tai Lue

0. bladder = kra.pʰrɔ́ʔ pàt.saa.wáʔ (กระเพราะปัสสาวะ)

De-Khmerizes (and de-Indicizes) to

0. bladder = rooŋ.jîaw (โรงเยี่ยว)
From Shan, Tai Lue, and Tai Khuen

And thus, de-Khmerization of body parts in Thai and Lao have been completed.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Where There's a Slut, There's a Sickle Vagina

Warning: this post contains dirty words. 
Image via Wolfhound75
Please excuse my language. If we avoid bad words when learning a language, we will not learn much about the people who speak it and their culture. Or more accurately, we will not learn a lot about the people who created them in the past since the people who use them today are not responsible for creating them.

"Vagina 'reaps' men."

In Lao, the word for "to be promiscuous, slutty, or horny" is hǐi.kʰíaw ຫີຄຽວ (หีเคียว). This word is a compound made up of hǐi "vagina" and kʰíaw "sickle." The word hǐi by itself is considered to be a bad word. Thus, a better translation for hǐi is actually "pussy" since it is considered by many to be a bad word. Therefore, the compound literally means "sickle pussy." In other words, to be slutty is to have a sickle vagina.

Why sickle? Sickles are sharp tools used by farmers to harvest grains. They are used to reap crops. The comparison of a promiscuous woman's vagina and a sickle is a metaphor. In particular, the vagina of a promiscuous girl is like a sickle, while the men are her crops. Thus, wherever a promiscuous  girl goes, she uses her vagina to "reap" men.

Since the compound contains a vulgar way of saying "vagina" ("pussy"), the whole word is considered vulgar. This creates an interesting question: What if the compound had a formal way of saying "vagina" in it, would the whole compound be considered formal?

Also, since this word has "vagina" in it, it is not commonly used to describe promiscuous men. However, I wonder whether one could replace "vagina" with something else that would appropriately describe slutty men .

Sickles can be used as weapons as well. Are vaginas ever used as weapons?

Thai/Lao Saying of the Day

The saying literally means "wherever there's effort there's success," corresponding  to "where there's a will there's a way" in English. 

Don't give up on your goals. Overcome your obstacles.

The saying is ความพยายามอยู่ที่ไหน ความสำเร็จอยู่ที่นั่น in Thai, while in Lao it's ຄວາມພະຍາຍາມຢູ່ບ່ອນໃດ ຄວາມສຳເລັດຢູ່ບ່ອນນັ້ນ. (ความพะยายามอยู่บ่อนใด ความสำเล็ดอยู่บ่อนนั้น)

Vocabulary from This Saying
effort, attempt, endeavor = ความพยายาม
success = ความสำเร็จ
place = ที่, บ่อน (in Lao)
to stay, to exist = อยู่
where = ที่ไหน (in Thai), บ่อนใด (in Lao)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Shan Eyelashes Are the Thai Pubes of the Eyes

The Thai word (also in Lao and Northern Thai) for eyelashes is khǒn.taa (ขนตา) literally "the fur of the eyes", whereas in Shan, eyelashes are called mɔ̌i.tǎa (หมอยตา).

In Thai (and Lao and Northern Thai), mɔ̌i (หมอย) means pubes, while taa (ตา) means eyes .

Although, the compound mɔ̌i.tǎa is meaningful in Thai, it is not used in the language since, interestingly, it means "the pubic hair of the eyes."

The Thai word khǒn.taa is meaningful in Shan but the compound means eyebrows. Thus, khǒn.taa in Thai and Shan are false friends.

The word for beard in Shan also means "the pubes of the chin" in Thai.

For more information, watch the video below.

But wait a sec, why pubes?

Pubes are curly/frizzy. My theory is that the Shan speakers interpret the curliness of the lashes and beard the same way they interpret the frizziness of the pubic hair.

Now, just for fun, when you look at people's lashes, do you see pubes? Does Kim Kardashian have pubes on her eyes?

Image via Flickr, Imdan

Promiscuous Women Are Gibbons in Thai

Photograph by Joe Petersburger, National Geographic
"Whores and gibbons have something in common."

In Thai, "gibbon" (cʰa.nii, ชะนี) is slang for promiscuous women, AKA (excuse my language) whores, sluts, or skanks. 

Why are these women compared to the apes? One explanation might be from the way Thai people interpret the sounds gibbons make. The onomatopoeia for the gibbon's cry is pʰǔa (ผัว). Interestingly, pʰǔa happens to be a homophone of the Thai word for "husband" or colloquially "a man whom one sleeps with". Thus, it is not surprising why promiscuous women are often referred to as "gibbons". They have something in common after all, at least according to Thai people. Both the women and the gibbons are always calling for a man! 

This creates another question: What are promiscuous men who sleep with men called? Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to this. I suppose they are probably called "gibbons" too. If you have this information, do share with us.

Gibbons are apes in the family Hylobatidae. They are widely in Southeast Asia. Gibbons are sometimes called the lesser apes.

Click on the video below to hear the sounds that gibbons make.

And compare it to the Thai onomatopoeia in my Thai Animal Sounds video that I made a while back below.

What do you think?