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)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Thai (and Chinese) Visual Dictionary Part 2: Mammals

In case you missed the first part, click here

I tried my best to make a distinction between the alpaca and the llama in the drawings. 

1. Alpaca. The Thai word is from Quechua via Spanish and English. The Chinese word literally means "sheep camel" which makes sense because alpacas are distantly related to camels but they also look like sheep. 

2. Llama. The Thai word is from Aymara via Spanish and English. The Chinese word literally means "big alpaca" (even more literal: "big sheep camel").

In case you need the texts:
  1. Alpaca = อัลปากา = 羊駝 = อูฐแกะ
  2. Llama = ลามา (sometimes ลามะ and ยามา) = 大羊駝 = = อูฐแกะใหญ่

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Thai (and Chinese) Visual Dictionary Part 1: Marine Mammals

     Unlike my previous post, in this post, I had to draw the animals instead of taking pictures; it's quicker this way than going outside and take pictures of the actual animals. :) Anyway, I added the Chinese words because I REALLY love the way the compounds were made. 

1. Dolphin. The Thai word seems to be from Malay lumba-lumba "dolphin". The Chinese word literally means "sea suckling pig". I wonder why. Is it from mereswine in English?

2. Porpoise. For those who don't know, the nose of the porpoise is flat when compared to that of a dolphin. The Thai word is a loanword from English. The Chinese word literally means "mouse dolphin". This is probably because porpoises are smaller than dolphins.

3. Seal. Unlike sea lions, seals can't stand on their two front limbs. The Thai word literally means "water cat". This is because seals look somewhat like cats. The Chinese word literally means "sea leopard". It's super interesting given that "cat" and "leopard" are related animals (feline).

4. Sea lion. As in English, both Thai and Chinese words literally mean "sea lion". 

5.Walrus.  The Thai word is a loanword from English. The Chinese word literally means "sea elephant". This is probably because of the tusks.

In case you need the texts:
  1. dolphin = โลมา = 海豚 = ลูกหมูทะเล
  2. porpoise = พอร์พอยส์ = 鼠海豚 =โลมาหนู (ลูกหมูทะเลหนู)
  3. seal = แมวน้ำ = 海豹 = เสือดาวทะเล
  4. sea lion = สิงโตทะเล = 海獅 = สิงโตทะเล
  5. walrus = วอลรัส = 海象 = ช้างทะเล

I didn't want to add whale initially because the Chinese word is not a compound. But after looking at the components of the character (鯨), I noticed that it is made up of "fish" 魚 and "capital city" 京 (as in Beijing). So I suppose the literal translation of the character is "capital city fish" which in Thai is ปลาเมือง (or ปลากรุง or ปลาเวียง).

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Thursday, July 3, 2014

VISUAL DICTIONARY: Some Thai and Lao words worth checking out

1. Shoes: รองเท้า and เกิบ

2. Giraffe: ยีราฟ and กวางคอยาว
3. Glass: แก้วน้ำ and จอกน้ำ
4. Light bulb: หลอดไฟ and ดอกไฟ
5. Clothes hanger: ไม้แขวนเสื้อ and ขอเกาะเสื้อ
6. Spoon: ช้อน and บ่วง
7. Chair: เก้าอี้ and ตั่ง
8. Scissors: กรรไกร and มีดตัด
9. Rose apple: ชมพู่ and หมากเจียง

10. Razor: มีดโกนหนวด and มีดแถหนวด

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Laos, Laotian, or Lao?

I'm not sure why a lot of people make this mistake. Maybe we just don't hear a lot of news in English about Laos in general. The adjective is Lao/Laotian, and the noun is Laos (the country), so if a person says "I'm Laos", it would imply that the speaker thinks he/she is a country. 

Easy Thai: Start/change a topic or break the silence (พูดถึงอ่ะ)

This is one of hardest Thai phrases to translate into English but it is one of the easiest to learn.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Easy Thai: So what? Whatcha gonna do 'bout it?

"So what" = แล้วไง (not ดังนั้นอะไร) The pronunciation of ไง here often gets reduced to แงะ (but with mid tone): แล้วแงะ.

Link to the video:

10 English phrases that sound weird in Thai - Literal Translation

1 my bad = sorry โทษที

2 to have no life = to have no social life, to have nothing else better to do ไม่มีอะไรดีกว่านี้ทำแล้ว, ไม่มีสังคม
3 to be a thing = to exist, to be 'in', to be the thing that people are currently talking about. ไม่มีหรอก
4 to be sick of it = to be tired of it เบื่อกับมัน
5 cool = awesome เจ๋ง, สุดยอด
6 piece of cake = very easy ง่ายกว่าปอกกล้วย
7 do the math = to figure it out ลองคิดดู
8 to suck = to be inferior ห่วยแตก
9 to kiss (someone's) ass = to flatter excessively ประจบประแจง
10 I'm good/cool = no, thank you ไม่เอา, ไม่เป็นไร (ไม่เอา)

15 Disney Animated film titles in Thai

1 Snow White สโนไวท์กับคนแคระทั้งเจ็ด Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
2 Cinderella ซินเดอเรลลา
3 Peter Pan ปีเตอร์ แพน
4 Sleeping Beauty เจ้าหญิงนิทรา Sleeping Princess
5 The Little Mermaid เงือกน้อยผจญภัย The Little Adventurous Mermaid
6 Beauty and the Beast โฉมงามกับเจ้าชายอสูร Beauty and the Beast Prince
7 Aladdin อะลาดินกับตะเกียงวิเศษ Aladdin and the Magic Lamp
8 The Lion King เดอะ ไลอ้อน คิง
9 Pocahontas โพคาฮอนทัส
10 Toy Story ทอย สตอรี่
11 Mulan มู่หลาน
12 The Princess and the Frog มหัศจรรย์มนต์รักเจ้าชายกบ The Miraculous Love Spell of the Frog Prince
13 Tangled ราพันเซล เจ้าหญิงผมยาวกับโจรซ่าจอมแสบ Rapunzel, the Long-Haired Princess and the Mischievous Thief
14 Brave นักรบสาวหัวใจมหากาฬ The Girl Warrior with a Great Heart
15 Frozen ผจญภัยแดนคำสาปราชินีหิมะ Going on an Adventure in a Land Cursed by the Snow Queen

Monday, May 19, 2014

Lao snack review: Lao vs Thai - Words you need

Jackfruit: ໝາກມີ້/หมากมี้ = ขนุน
Banana: ກ້ວຍ/ก้วย = กล้วย
Taro: ເຜືອກ/เผือก = เผือก
Pineapple: ໝາກນັດ/หมากนัด = สับปะรด
Sweet potato: ມັນດ້າງ/มันด้าง = มันเทศ
Kabocha squash: ໝາກອຶ/หมากอึ = ฟักทอง

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Top 10 Thai words that describe a person's mouth

If you don't know what these look like, I suggest you google them. If you can't write Thai, you can copy and paste the following words and google-image them.

1 ปากหมา
2 ปากเจ่อ
3 ปากห้อย
4 ปากเผยอ
5 ปากจัด
6 ปากเบี้ยว
7 ปากหนา
8 ฟันเหยิน
9 ฟันซ้อน
10 ฟันหลอ

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Indic Lao Script - Script with Pali and Sanskrit letters

The post is an updated version of my previous one
This version of the Lao script is called buddha pait sabhā chandanapūrī. (อักษรลาวสบับพุทธบัณฑิตสภาจันทน์บูรี) It was created by Dr Mahasila Viravong in 1935.

The goal was to use more letters to write Lao words of Pali and/or Sanskrit origin. Consequently, fourteen letters were added in this edition which are ฆ ฉ ซ ญ ฏ ฐ ฑ ฒ ณ ธ ภ ศ ษ ฬ.

The current government of Laos PDR however does not adopt this edition of the script. The current version used in the republic is highly simplified. Unlike Thai, a large portion of Indic letters are missing, and the spelling does not reflect the etymology of the words.

All letters in this edition have Thai counterparts. Thus, if you can read Thai, reading this version of Lao script will be easy.

Why this script?
There are people who argue that Lao should be written with this version of the script. One of the many people includes the author of "phasa lan xang" by Somchit Phanlak (2012) who wrote the whole book with this script. He along with many scholars argue that there are several good reasons why Lao should be written in this version of the script.

1. etymological spellings and elimination of ambiguities (homophones)
Many argue that this Indic Lao script would eliminate certain ambiguities among some words that are homophonous, i.e. different words that sound the same.
For example, this script would make a distinction among sat ฉัตร (a type of ceremonial umbrella), sat ສັຕວ໌ (animal), and sat ສັຕຍ໌ (honest), whereas the current script used in the republic would spell all these three words the same way: sat ສັດ.

2. people would quickly know the meanings of words
Some people argue that due to the ambiguities engendered by the current script, people are uncertain of names that are important to know. Such words include the name of the capital city of Laos, Vientiane "city of sandalwood",  and the names of the speakers themselves which mostly are derived from Pali and/or Sanskrit. People often mistake the city's name for "the city of the moon" because "sandalwood" and "moon" are homophonous in Lao; they are both pronounced as chan (/t͡ɕàn/). If this script was used, different "silent letters" of these two words would disambiguate such ambiguity: "sandalwood" would be spelled ຈັນທນ໌ and "moon" ຈັນທຣ໌. Additionally, some Lao people are not sure what their given names mean. For example, if one's given name was or was composed of wat, he/she might not be sure what his/her name means because wat can mean different things: temple (ວັດ), speech (ວັຈນ໌), feces (ວັຈຈ໌), punishment (ວັຊ), or circle (วัฏ) etc. (Phanlak, 2012)

3. this script would help people learn foreign languages faster
Many argue that the extra letters can be used to write non-Indic foreign words--particularly English, and thus can aid people in learning English or memorizing English spelling. For example, the extra letters will be able to write words such as แลัซ์ "latch" and ฮารธ์ "hearth" (Phanlak, 2012).

There are other arguments in favor of this version by other people. One of them says that if people are write according to how to speak (reflecting their own pronunciations not etymology), there will never be a unified spelling system because there are different Lao dialects with different pronunciations.

Image from the old post