Thursday, August 20, 2015

Shan phrases and words: Where is it? Where is the restroom?

You will need a Shan font to read the Shan texts in this post.
This post assumes that the readers have some basic knowledge of Thai and are currently learning Shan. If you do not speak Thai, you will simply have to ignore the parts in which Thai is compared to Shan.
Mi tang laue which means "where is it?" in Shan.

In this post, I will show you how to say "where is it?", where "it" can be replaced by the thing that the speaker is looking for. To illustrate how it works, I will replace it with "restroom"--a word that can be very useful especially when you are traveling to Shan state, Burma. When you want to ask "where is the restroom?" in Shan, you should say hong phai mi tang laue kha (မီးတၢင်းလႂ်ၶႃႈ; corresponding words in Thai: ห้องผ้ายมีทางใดข้า). Below I will take this phrase apart and explain why you should use this phrase and not other words. I will number each part, so that it is easier to read.

1. "Where is (it)?"
mi tang laue 
(gloss: have way which)
IPA: /mí táːŋ lǎɯ/
Shan: မီးတၢင်းလႂ်
Word-for-word translation to Thai: มีทางใด

If you speak Thai, you might be able to change the verb mi to yu: yu tang lue (/jù táːŋ lǎɯ/ Thai gloss: อยู่ทางใด; cf. Thai อยู่ที่ไหน). However, this wording is not as common as the one in (1). So, I advise you against it. Instead I recommend that you use the phrase in (1).

The order: 
[the thing that one is looking for] +  mi tang laue

Incorrect order: 
mi tang laue + [the thing that one is looking for]

(cf. Thai: [the thing that one is looking for] + yu thi nai อยู่ที่ไหน)

Now I will replace [the thing that one is looking for] with "restroom", but before I do that, I will discuss what the words for "restroom" are and explain why you should use hong phai.

2. "restroom"
There are several ways of to say this word, but the most common and the polite one is hong phai (ႁွင်ႈၽၢႆႈ). So, I recommend that you use this one not other synonyms--especially when you are traveling and have to ask a stranger where the restroom is.
hong phai
(gloss: room excrete)
IPA: /hɔ̄ŋ.pʰāːj/
Shan: ႁွင်ႈၽၢႆႈ
Word-for-word translation to Thai: ห้องผ้าย. ผ้าย is not used in Thai, but if this word were to exist in Thai it would probably be spelled this way.

2A. other words for "restroom" are ti ok nok and tang phai.
ti ok nok
(gloss: place exit outside)
IPA: /tiː ʔɔ̀k nɔ̄k/
Shan: တီႈဢွၵ်ႇၼွၵ်ႈ
Word-for-word translation to Thai: ที่ออกนอก

tang phai
(gloss: room excrete)
Shan: တၢင်ၽၢႆႈ
Word-for-word translation to Thai: ถางผ้าย. ถาง is not used in Thai, but if this word were to exist in Thai it would probably be spelled this way.

2B. You do not want to use the following words which are calques from the Thai words hong nam (ห้องน้ำ) and hong suam (ห้องส้วม). While these words mean "restroom" in Thai, they mean different things in Shan:
Hong nam (ႁွင်ႈၼမ်ႉ; /hɔ̄ŋ.nâm/) has two meanings: one refers to a restroom while the other refers to a small river (cf. Thai ร่องน้ำ, gloss: stream water).
Hong som (ႁွင်ႈသူမ်ႈ; /hɔ̄ŋ.sōm/) literally means "sour room" (cf. Lao ห้องส้ม/ຫ້ອງສົ້ມ, gloss: room sour)

Now I will show you how to say "where is the restroom?" in Shan.

3. "Where is the restroom?" (The formula: [thing one is looking for] +  mi tang laue)
hong phai mi tang laue
IPA: /hɔ̄ŋ.pʰāːj mí táːŋ lǎɯ/
Shan: ႁွင်ႈၽၢႆႈမီးတၢင်းလႂ်
Word-for-word translation to Thai: ห้องผ้ายมีทางใด

Now when you actually ask the question in (3) to a stranger, you will want to add the Shan polite ending word, which can also be a polite personal pronoun, kha (lit. "servant/slave") as shown in (4). Not adding the polite word as in (3) might make you sound rude.

4.  "Where is the restroom?" (polite and recommended)
hong phai mi tang laue kha
IPA: /hɔ̄ŋ.pʰāːj mí táːŋ lǎɯ kʰā/
Shan: ႁွင်ႈၽၢႆႈမီးတၢင်းလႂ်ၶႃႈ
Word-for-word translation to Thai: ห้องผ้ายมีทางใดข้า

You can compare this Shan polite word to other self-deprecating words which overlap with personal pronouns in other Tai languages. In related language speaker may use self-deprecating words to do two things: to be polite and to elevate his/her listener. Some of these are kha (ข้า, "servant") in older form of Thai which later became kha (ค่ะ), khanoi (ຂ້ານ້ອຍ/ข้าน้อย "little servant/slave") in Lao, and khoi (ข้อย "servant/slave") in Tai Lue, and chao (เจ้า, "lord/master") in Northern Thai which does the opposite to achieve the same effect.

In case, you do not have a Shan font and are terrible at pronouncing things (especially when I have not provided Shan audio files), but you still want to communicate to the Shan people in Shan, I have created a picture containing the phrase for you. Of course in reality you might be able to ask them in English or Burmese, but I personally think that the people will respect you more if you try your best to attempt to speak their language. Anyway you can print it and use it while you are traveling:

Acknowledgement: I would like to thank my Shan consultant, Korndai Tongfah for sharing his knowledge with me and the readers.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

When in (Vientiane) Laos, do as the Laotians do: sip phan over muen

The post assumes that the readers already have some basic knowledge of Lao and Thai.

As of August of 2015, 1 US dollar equals to 8175.95 Lao kip. When shopping in Laos, you will have to know how to say ten thousand.

10,000 - (หนึ่ง)หมื่น vs สิบพัน
10,000 - (ໜຶ່ງ)ໝື່ນ vs ສິບພັນ
10,000 - (nueng) muen vs sip phan

20,000 - สองหมื่น vs ซาวพัน (Lao ซาว sao = Thai ยี่สิบ yi sip)
20,000 - ສອງໝື່ນ vs ຊາວພັນ
20,000 - song muen vs sao phan

30,000 - สามหมื่น vs สามสิบพัน
30,000 - ສາມໝື່ນ vs ສາມສິບພັນ
30,000 - sam muen vs sam sip phan
90,000 - เก้าหมื่น vs เก้าสิบพัน
90,000 - ເກົ້າໝື່ນ vs ເກົ້າສິບພັນ
90,000 - kao muen vs kao sip phan

The word muen which means "ten thousand" exists in both Thai and Lao. In both languages numbers ranging from 10,000 to 99,999 are built on this word, as illustrated above. However, from my experience traveling to Vientiane, Laos, it seems that it is more common to use, literally, "ten-thousand" which is sip phan than muen. But if you use muen, people will still understand you. I did not go to other Laotian cities and provinces, so I do not know if this generalization can be applied to the whole country.

In contrast to (Vientiane,) Laos, in Thailand it is more common to use muen, and many people will be confused if you use sip phan. So, while in Thailand you might not want to use sip phan; do not expect everybody to understand you if you use sip phan.

Since it is more common to use sip phan in Vienetiane, Laos, whenever you go to Vientiane, you might want to consider using sip phan and not muen, even if you will still be understood with the latter. Using sip phan might make communication smoother. I personally like to try my best to talk like a local wherever I go in order to fit in (and I sometimes try my best to sound as differently as I can whenever I do not want to fit in). It might also be easier for you especially if you are a native speaker of English. In English, we do not have a word that means "ten thousand" like muen; we instead have to use two words to say it. So, you can just translate the numbers in this range word-for-word from English.

As for 100,000 I am not completely sure on this, but I believe that the people of Vientiane use saen (แสน/ແສນ) just like Thai people. So, for 100,000 and higher, you might not be able to translate word-for-word from English. If you have information on this, please do let me know! :)

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Thai word for "week": "athit" over "sapda" any day.

This post assumes that readers already have some basic knowledge of Thai.
The main argument in this post seems to hold true in Lao also. So, if you are a Lao-language learner, do read on.

This post is related to a larger issue in language learning: should a second language learner learn and use "classroom/formal" words or should he/she learn and use "real world" words?

In sum, I think that in spoken speech, you should use athit (อาทิตย์) not sapda (สัปดาห์) to say "week". This is because most Thais use the former not the latter. You will also connect with more people if you use athit. You should still learn what sapda means so that you read Thai texts and so that you can understand the people who actually do use it.


I have seen that many Thai language courses tell you that the word for "week" is sapda. However, in reality many native speakers prefer to use athit to sapda--especially in spoken Thai. Athit is a more common term, while sapda is more "elaborate" and "fancy".

So, which one should you, as a Thai-language learner, use when conversing with a Thai person?
If you, for example, want to say "we went to Chiang Mai last week", which phrase would you use?
A) อาทิตย์ที่แล้ว เราไปเที่ยวเชียงใหม่มา
B) สัปดาห์ที่แล้ว เราไปเที่ยวเชียงใหม่มา

Well, you can use whichever you want, but if I were you, I would use athit not sapda. So, I would go with A. I would use athit simply because most Thais use it. To be part of the Thai-speaking community, it is a good idea to use whatever words that most Thais use. Using sapda might make you sound snobby and pretentious, and consequently you will set yourself apart from members from the Thai-speaking community.

Have you ever tried speaking like a small child when you are speaking to a child? For example, have you ever said "do you love your mommy?" or "does your tummy hurt?" to a child? In general, when you and your listener use the same words, or as close/similar words as possible, the two of you will likely to connect more; this way you are creating solidarity with the listener. This might be one of the reasons why a person code-switches to make his/her speech sound like that of his/her listeners. This way he/she is narrowing the social distance between himself/herself and his/her audience. Deliberately making one's speech different from that of the listener can cause the opposite effect. Particularly, when a person makes his/her speech different from that of the audience, he/she is making himself/herself different from the audience. Therefore, using athit in spoken speech is a good idea!

This does not mean that knowing what sapda means is useless; you should still know what it means because you might see this word in the written language, or you might actually hear somebody use it in speech. Not knowing what sapda means could make it hard for you to get by in Thai settings.

Now another questions arises: "but wait, doesn't athit mean 'Sunday'"? Well yes and no because the full word for "Sunday" is wan athit (วันอาทิตย์); you actually need the word for "day" (wan วัน) to disambiguate between "Sunday" and "week".

This preference seems to hold true for Lao as well. Lao also has athit (ອາທິດ) and sapda (ສັບດາ sometimes pronounced sappada ສັບປະດາ, and less commonly sattawaan ສັດຕະວານ, sattaha ສັດຕາຫະ)

In Shan, my dictionary tells me that the words for "week" are wong (ဝူင်ႈ ว่ง) and pat (ပၢတ်ႈ ป้าด), but a Shan person has informed me that the first one is more common.

Thai vocabulary: animals from the Lion King

This post assumes that readers already know how to read Thai script.

The Lion King is one of my favorite Disney films. I had never bothered looking up the terms of the animals in Thai until today. Below I present Thai words for the animals that are the main characters in the film.

Many of these animals are not native to Thailand. Although there are Thai people who know what these animals are, do not expect every single Thai person to know what these creatures look like. The animals that many Thais might not know are those whose Thai names are loanwords from English. So, when speaking to a Thai person, I suggest that you explain which animal you are talking about. Or you can talk about the Lion King and go from there. Do not use terms like maen driu แมนดริล (mandrill) and expect every Thai person to know what it is.

1. lion
sing to

2. warthog (Pumba)
mu pa na hut
+mu pa (หมูป่า) means "hog, wild boar"

3. hornbill (Zazu)
nok ngueak

Loanwords from English:

4. meerkat (Timon)
(tua) mia kaet

5. mandrill (Rafiki)
ลิงแมนดริล, (ตัว)แมนดริล
ling maen driu, (tua) maen driu
/līŋ.mɛ̄ːn.drīw/, /(tūa).mɛ̄ːn.drīw/
+ling (ลิง) means "monkey"

6. hyena
hai yee na

*(ตัว) = optional; it is sort of like an indicator for animals; you should use it with a word to cue the listeners that the word is a name for an animal.

Just for fun:
Chinese is one of the languages that do like to borrow foreign words. Chinese instead creates new words by compounding existing words.  If Thai had calqued (word-for-word translation/ loan translation) from Chinese instead of borrowing words from English, what would "meerkat", "mandrill", and "hyena" look like?

1. meerkat
狐獴 lit: "fox mongoose"
(พังพอน = mongoose, (หมา)จิ้งจอก = fox)
phang phon ching chok

2. mandrill
山魈 lit: "mountain elf"
This one is hard to calque because I do not know what 魈 translates to in Thai, and "elves" that we know in the West do not exist in Thai culture (the word for "elf" in Thai is "elf" but said with a Thai accent.) The radical for 魈 is "ghost", and the word for "ghost" in Thai is phi ผี. Thus, the calque or I should say almost-calque would be phi phu khao ผีภูเขา "mountain ghost" which sounds kind of scary to me.
(ผี = ghost, ภูเขา = mountain)
phi phu khao

Since "mountain ghost" sounds frightening, I decided to use the Vietnamese word for mandrill instead. Vietnamese is another language that often creates new words by compounding native words.
The word for mandrill is
khỉ mặt chó lit: "monkey face dog"
So the Thai calque would be
ling na ma

 3. hyena
鬣狗 lit: "mane dog"
(หมา = dog, แผงคอ = mane)
ma phaeng kho

Turning an abstract noun into a modifier: "science" to "scientific"

This topic also applies to other Tai languages including Lao and Northern Thai, but I will only use examples from Thai.

This post assumes that the readers have some basic knowledge of Thai and already know how to read Thai. The tones are omitted in the transcription. 

You probably know how to say these nouns: wit tha ya sat (วิทยาศาสตร์) "science", sat sa na (ศาสนา) "religion", and kot mai (กฎหมาย) "law". But, do you know how to say "scientific knowledge", "religious belief", and "legal issue"? How do you turn an abstract noun into a modifier?

In Thai, you use thang dan (ทางด้าน, lit. way-side) which sometimes gets reduced to just thang (ทาง).* You add thang dan in between the main noun (e.g. knowledge, khwam ru ความรู้) and the modifier noun (e.g. science/scientific): khwam ru thang dan wit tha ya sat (ความรู้ทางด้านวิทยาศาสตร์): "scientific knowledge".

In some cases, you can completely omit thang dan and put the noun immediately in front of the modifier noun: knowledge ø wit tha ya sat (ความรู้วิทยาศาสตร์). In this second option, you are somewhat creating your own compound noun. However, with this method, some listeners might not understand you because it might sound like a word is missing to them. So, I personally do not recommend this second option and instead suggest that you should always use thang dan or its reduced form thang to make communication smoother.

You do not use khong (ของ) which can also turn a noun into a modifier.  Khong turns a noun into a possessive noun: khwam ru khong wit tha ya sat (ความรู้ของวิทยาศาสตร์) "science's knowledge" or "knowledge of science". Similarly you do not use haeng (แห่ง) which functions similarly to khong but it is often used to denote the origin of the noun: khwam ru haeng wit tha ya sat (ความรู้แห่งวิทยาศาสตร์) "the knowledge which originates from science". Plus it sounds very strange in Thai.

Given what I have written above, how would you use translate the following?

1) religious belief = "ความเชื่อถือ________ศาสนา"
    (belief = ความเชื่อถือ)
2) legal issue = "ปัญหา________กฎหมาย"
     (issue = ปัญหา)

answers: 1) ความเชื่อถือทางด้านศาสนา 2) ปัญหาทางด้านกฎหมาย

*Another form is thang dan khong (ทางด้านของ), but this form is sort of like the opposite form of the reduced form thang. This form sounds strange to me. So I recommend that you stick to either thang dan or thang.

Thai vs Lao vocabulary: Fruits and Vegetables

Hi guys,
I know I've been gone for a while. I hope everyone is doing well.

Anyway, in this post, I listed some of the words for fruits and vegetables in Thai and Lao that are different. I am leaving out those that are the same. For every Lao word, I've provided a Thai transliteration, not phonetic transcription. So, I basically converted Lao letters to Thai in the parentheses.

I've also posted photos for the fruits and the vegetables that I think many people living in the Western world don't know what they look like.

Thai: ผลไม้ (common), ผลหมากรากไม้ (elaborate, which is read "ผน-ละหมาก-ราก-ม้าย")
Lao: ໝາກໄມ້ (หมากไม้)

In Lao, the word mak (ໝາກ/หมาก) is a prefix for fruits. It corresponds to ma (มะ) in Thai. However, ma is not an active prefix in Thai anymore. So, this means that the Thai correspondence is no longer productive. If a new fruit is introduced to Thai society, ma will not be prefixed to the name of the new fruit, whereas if it was in Lao society, mak, being a productive word, will be prefixed to the new fruit.

1. kabocha squash
ໝາກອຶ (หมากอึ)
Lao: mak ue (IPA:/mà(ː)k.ʔɯ́ʔ/)
Thai: fak thong (IPA:/fák.tʰɔ̄ːŋ/)

2. jackfruit
ໝາກມີ້ (หมากมี้)
Lao: mak mi (IPA:/mà(ː)k.mîː/)
Thai: khanun (IPA:/kʰa.nǔn/)

3. pineapple
ໝາກນັດ (หมากนัด)
Lao: mak nat (IPA:/mà(ː)k.nāt/)
Thai: sapparot (IPA:/sàót/)

4. rose apple
ໝາກກຽງ (หมากเกียง), ໝາກຈຽງ (หมากเจียง)
Lao: mak kiang (IPA:/mà(ː)k.kīaŋ/), mak chiang (IPA:/mà(ː)k.tɕīaŋ/)
Thai: chomphu (IPA:/tɕʰōm.pʰûː/)

5. orange
ໝາກກ້ຽງ (หมากเกี้ยง)
Lao: mak kiang (IPA:/mà(ː)k.kîaŋ/)
Thai: som (IPA:/sôm/)

6. papaya
ໝາກຫຸ່ງ (หมากหุ่ง)
Lao: mak hung (IPA:/mà(ː)k.hūŋ/)
Thai: malako (IPA:/má.lá.lɔ̄ː/)

7. guava
ໝາກສີດາ (หมากสีดา)
Lao: mak si da (IPA:/mà(ː)k.sǐː.dāː/)
Thai: farang (IPA:/fá.ràŋ/)

8. custard apple
ໝາກຂຽບ (หมากเขียบ)
Lao: mak khiap (IPA:/mà(ː)k.kʰìap/)
Thai: noi na (IPA:/nɔ́ːj.nàː/)

9. grapefruit, pomelo
ໝາກພຸກ (หมากพุก), ໝາກກ້ຽງໃຫຍ່ (หมากเกี้ยงใหญ่)
Lao: mak phuk (IPA:/mà(ː)k.pʰūk/), mak kiang nyai (IPA:/mà(ː)k.kîaŋ.ɲāj/)
Thai: som o (IPA:/sôm.ʔōː/)

10. apple
ໝາກໂປ່ມ (หมากโป่ม), ໝາກປົ່ມ (หมากป่ม)
Lao: mak pom (IPA:/mà(ː)k.pōm/)
Thai: aep poen (IPA:/ʔɛ́p.pɤ̂n/)

11. apricot
ໝາກຄາຍເຂົ້າ (หมากคายเข้า)
Lao: mak khai khao (IPA:/mà(ː)k.kʰáːj.kʰa᷆w/)
Thai: aep pri khot (IPA:/ʔɛ́p.pri.kʰɔ̀t/)

12. cantaloupe
ໝາກແຕງລາຍ (หมากแตงลาย), ໝາກແຕງໃຫຍ່ (หมากแตงใหญ่)
Lao: mak taeng lai (IPA:/mà(ː)k.tɛ̀ːŋ.láːj/), mak taeng nyai (IPA:/mà(ː)k.tɛ̀ːŋ.ɲāj/)
Thai: khaen ta lup (IPA:/kʰɛ̄ːn.tāː.lúːp/)

13. date
ໝາກຕາວນ້ອຍ (หมากตาวน้อย)
Lao: mak tao noi (IPA:/mà(ː)k.tàːw.nɔ̂j/)
Thai: inthaphalam (IPA:/ʔīn.tʰa.pʰǎː.lām/) *pronunciation doesn't match spelling

14. durian
ໝາກຖົ່ວລຽນ (หมากถั่วเลียน)
Lao: mak thua lian (IPA:/mà(ː)k.tʰūa.lían/)
Thai: thurian (IPA:/tʰú.rīan/)

15. marian plum
ໝາກຜາງ (หมากผาง)
Lao: mak phang (IPA:/mà(ː)k.pʰǎːŋ/)
Thai: ma prang (IPA:/má.prāːŋ/)

16. grape
ໝາກລະເຊັງ (หมากละเซ็ง), ໝາກອາງຸ່ນ (หมากอางุ่น)
Lao: mak la seng (IPA:/mà(ː)éŋ/), mak a ngun (IPA:/mà(ː)k.ʔa.ŋūn/)
Thai: a ngun (IPA:/ʔa.ŋùn/)

17. jujube
ໝາກກະທັນ (หมากกะทัน), ໝາກທັນ (หมากทัน)
Lao: mak kathan (IPA:/mà(ː)k.ka.tʰán/), mak than (IPA:/mà(ː)k.tʰán/)
Thai: phut sa (IPA:/pʰút.sāː/)

18. kaffir lime
ໝາກຂີ້ຫູດ (หมากขี้หูด)
Lao: mak khi hut (IPA:/mà(ː)k.kʰi᷆ː.hùːt/)
Thai: ma krut (IPA:/má.krùːt/)

19. peach
ໝາກຄາຍ (หมากคาย)
Lao: mak khai (IPA:/mà(ː)k.kʰáːj/)
Thai: luk tho (IPA:/lûːk.tʰɔ́ː/)

20. persimmon
ໝາກເບັນ (หมากเบ็น)
Lao: mak ben (IPA:/mà(ː)k.bèn/)
Thai: luk plup (IPA:/lûːk.pʰláp/)

21. santol
ໝາກຕ້ອງ (หมากต้อง)
Lao: mak tong (IPA:/mà(ː)k.tɔ̂ŋ/)
Thai: krathon (IPA:/kra.tʰɔ́ːn/)

22. pomegranate
ໝາກພິລາ (หมากพิลา)
Lao: mak phila (IPA:/mà(ː)k.phi.láː/)
Thai: thap thim (IPA:/tʰáp.tʰīm/)

23. tomato
ໝາກເລັ່ນ (หมากเล่น)
Lao: mak len (IPA:/mà(ː)k.lēn/)
Thai: ma khuea thet (IPA:/má.kʰɯ̌a.tʰêːt/)