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.


Alex Wei said...

Thanks. Was there any distinction between ไ and อัย though? Both seem to pronounce the /ai/ sound...

Alif Silpachai said...

Thank you for asking! I will copy and paste my previous comment on my Facebook page:

The vowel อัย as in ชัย "victory" is essentially /aj/ (where /j/ represents the "y" sound in English). It is the same sound as ไ. The spelling with ไ is more commonly used with native Thai/Tai words, whereas, -ัย is more common with loanwords. ชัย is from Pali (or Sanskrit) jaya. The final vowel gets dropped: jaya > jay. The j corresponds to ช and the y to ย. The ย reflects the original Indic final y. Do you see how we end up with ย with this type of words?

Alex Wei said...

Thanks for your fantastic explanation!

John Doe said...

Thank you for this post I found it very interesting. So I am guessing that อำ and อัม is a similar concept, but perhaps not. Do you mind explaining the different between อำ and อัม? I would greatly appreciate it, thank you.