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?