Wednesday, May 17, 2017

How I'm able to learn other Tai languages: Compound words

The post assumes that you can read Thai script.

When I started learning other Tai languages, I was able to guess the meanings of many compound words because I knew at least one of the words in each compound (it does not have to be a compound; it could be words that frequently occur together).

If you have been learning a Tai language, you may have noticed that many compound words (not all!) are composed of words that are either semantically similar or semantically the same. For example, in Thai some disyllabic compounds or two words that frequently appear together are composed of one word of Tai origin and the other word of a different origin:

  1. โง่เขลา (ngo5 khlau1, gloss: stupid-stupid) "stupid": โง่ (ngo5) is of Tai origin, meaning "stupid," while เขลา (khlau1) is of Khmer origin, also meaning "stupid" (Khmer: ខ្លៅ).
  2. ลักขโมย (lak6 kha-mooy4, gloss: steal-steal) "to steal": ลัก (lak6) means "to steal," and it is a descendant of Proto-Tai, and ขโมย (kha-mooy4) also means to "steal," and it is not of Tai origin (Is it from Khmer? ខ្មួយ: ស. ខមោយ អ. ថ. ខ្មូ៎យ​, ន. “​​ល្មួច”, កិ. “​លួច​”​, chuon67)
  3. แบบฟอร์ม (bɛɛp2 fɔɔm4, gloss: form-form) "form": แบบ (bɛɛp2) and ฟอร์ม (fɔɔm4) both mean "form." The former is of Khmer/Tai (?) origin, while the latter is a borrowed word from English.
  4. ตรวจเช็ค (truat2 chek6, gloss: check-check) "check": Just like แบบฟอร์ม (bɛɛp2 fɔɔm4), the first word is a descendant of older form of Khmer/Tai (?), whereas the second word is an English loan.
It should be noted that in colloquial speech, speakers tend to only say one of the two words in each compound. That is, one of the two or more words often gets dropped. For example, instead of saying โง่เขลา (ngo5 khlau1), they will just say โง่ (ngo5), and similarly instead of saying ลักขโมย (lak6 kha-mooy4)  they will just say ขโมย (kha-mooy4) or ลัก (lak6) (I think it is more common to say ขโมย kha-mooy4 in Standard Thai) etc.

Consider the following Lao words:
  1. ສອບເສັງ (สอบเส็ง) (sɔɔp2 seng1, gloss: take an exam-take an exam) = "to take an exam"
  2. ວັດແທກ (วัดแทก) (wat6 thɛɛk5, gloss: measure-measure) = "to measure"
  3. ຈົບງາມ (จบงาม) (cop2 ngaam4, gloss: beautiful-beautiful) = "beautiful" 
  4. ເຝິກແອບ (เฝิกแอบ) (fɤk2 ɛɛp2, gloss: train-train) = "to train" (cf. ฝึก fɯk2)
  5. ມ້າງເພ ທຳລາຍ (ม้างเพ ทำลาย) (maang6 phe4 tham4 laay4, gloss: destroy-destroy) = "to destroy". I should note that ມ້າງເພ (maang6 phe4) can occur by itself, but sometimes it occurs in front of ทำลาย (tham4 laay4) as well.

The words in bold also exist in Standard Thai, while the unbolded words do not. The meanings of these unbolded words are similar or the same as the words with which they form a compound. For example, เส็ง (seng1) means "to take an exam," แทก (theek5) means "to measure," and "แอบ" (ɛɛp2) means "to train" etc.

Now let us look at a few words in Tai Lue (Xishuangbanna, China):

  1. ᦊᦱᧃᧈᦉᦱᧂᧉ (หย่านสร้าง) (yaan2 saang3, gloss: build-build) = "to build"
  2. ᦃᧅᦖᧃᧈ (ขักหมั่น) (khak2 man2, gloss: diligent-diligent) = "diligent, hard-working"
  3. ᦶᦖᧈᦟᦱᧄ (แหม่ลาม) (mɛ2 laam4, gloss: increase-spread) = "to spread"
  4. ᦊᦳᧄᧈᦵᦋᦲᧈ (หยุ่มเชื่อ) (yum2 cɤ5, gloss: believe-believe) =  "to believe"
  5. ᦂᧆᦐᦱᧁ (กัดหนาว) (kat2 naaw1, gloss: cold-cold) = "cold"

The bolded words are also Thai words. I was able to guess the meanings of these compounds because I knew the bolded words.

Consider the last set of examples. Let us look at a few compounds in Shan (Shan state, Burma):

  1. ၶၢၼ်ႉဢိူၼ် (คร้านเอิน) (khaan6 ɤn1, gloss: lazy-stupid) = "lazy"
  2. ယၢၵ်ႈ​​ၽၢၼ် (ยากผาน) (yaak5 phaan1, gloss: poor-poor) = "poor"
  3. ၵွၼ်ႇ​ဢွၼ် (ก่อนออน) (kɔn2 ɔn1, gloss: formerly-formerly) = "before, formerly"
  4. ႁူမ်ႈတုမ် (ร่วมตุม) (hom5 tum1, gloss: be together-assemble) = "to join together in unity"
  5. ပူၼ်ႉပႅၼ် (พ้นแปน) (pon6 pɛn1, gloss: exceed-exceed) = "to go beyond, transgress"
Just like Lao and Tai Lue, the bolded words also exist in Standard Thai, but the unbolded ones do not. These bolded words gave me clues that helped me understand the Shan passages in which the compounds occurred.

As I learned more words from Tai languages other than Thai, it was easier for me to guess the meanings of some words. For example, I was able to use my knowledge of กาด (kaat2) which is Northern Thai for "market" to guess the meaning of ᦂᦱᧆᦟᦲ (กาดลี) (kaat2 li4, gloss: market-market) which is a compound for "market" in Tai Lue.

As I wrote above, sometimes, especially in colloquial speech, speakers drop one of the words in a compound, and so they may drop the word that you happen to know. However, I believe it can still be useful to keep in mind how certain compounds are formed in Tai languages.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Shan vs. Thai: some false friends: หนาว, หนุ่ม, ม่าน, แต้ม, ครัว

You might need to download a Shan font in order to see the Shan words.

"...converting the the Thai sounds to the corresponding Shan sounds or vice versa is not enough because some of these words may actually be false friends..."

A cognate is “a word in one language which is similar in form and meaning to a word in another language because both languages are related” (Richards et al., 1985, p. 43). Figuring out the cognates between two languages may help you learn the languages faster.  But does it always help? You may have heard the term "false friend" which refers to a word in one language which looks and sounds like a word in another language but these two words carry a different meaning (e.g., parent in English vs. pariente in Spanish which means "relative"). These false friends are "especially problematic for language learners as they tend to overgeneralize and assume they know the meaning of these words, which are actually misleading" (Beltrán, 2006, p. 29).

So you have finally figured out which Shan segments (consonants and vowels) and tones correspond to which Thai sounds. For example, you may now know that Thai words with the mid tone beginning with middle class consonants (ก, จ, ต, ป, อ + อย) correspond to Shan words with (almost) the same segments but with the Shan rising tone, e.g., กิน is กิ๋น (ၵိၼ်) "to eat", ปลา is ป๋า (ပႃ) "fish", ตา is ต๋า (တႃ) "eye", and อา is อ๋า (ဢႃ) "younger sister of one's father" etc. You may have found out that the trilled r (ร) and certain aspirated consonants (พ, ท, ค, ช) in Thai correspond to the h and some of the unaspirated consonants (ပ, တ, ၵ, ၸ) in Shan respectively, and you also learned that the diphthong vowels in Thai correspond to certain monophthong vowels in Shan (e.g, เอือ and เอียง in Thai = เออ and เอง in Shan respectively). In fact, you may even know that the Thai d (ด) and b (บ) sounds correspond to the Shan l (လ) and m (မ) sounds respectively, e.g., ด่า is หล่า (လႃႇ) and บ้า is หม้า (မႃႈ). However, you will soon realize that converting the the Thai sounds to the corresponding Shan sounds or vice versa is not enough for you to learn the words because some of these words may actually be false friends. Below are some examples of these false friends which I came across when I first started learning Shan.

  1. Shan: ၼၢဝ် /naaw1/
    1. Shan meaning: to have a fever 
    2. Thai: หนาว /naaw1/
    3. Thai meaning: to be cold
    4. Comment: To have a fever and to be cold are sort of related. Two words which have similar meanings are probably related. I think these two words used to have the same meaning.
  2. Shan: ၼုမ်ႇ /num2/
    1. Shan meaning: to be young (used to describe both men and women)
    2. Thai: หนุ่ม /num2/
    3. Thai meaning: to be young (used to describe men only)
    4. Comment: /Num2/ in other Tai languages is used to describe both genders. 
  3. Shan: မၢၼ်ႈ /maan5/
    1. Shan meaning: Burmese/Burma
    2. Thai: ม่าน /maan5/
    3. Thai meaning: curtain
    4. Comment: Tai Khuen, Northern Thai, and Tai Lue also call the Burmese /maan5/.
  4. Shan: ဢူၼ်ႈ /on3/
    1. Shan meaning: to be weak, gentle
    2. Thai: อ้วน /uan3/
    3. Thai meaning: to be fat
    4. Comment: Could it be that fat people were viewed as weak in the olden days?
  5. Shan: ၵၼ်ႉ /kan6/
    1. Shan meaning: to rape, to wrestle
    2. Thai: คั้น /khan6/
    3. Thai meaning: to squeeze
    4. Comment: The meanings seem to be related. Any thoughts?
  6. Shan: တႅမ်ႈ /taem3/
    1. Shan meaning: to write
    2. Thai: แต้ม /taem3/
    3. Thai meaning: to smear
    4. Comment: Interestingly, /taem3/ in Lao means "to draw."
  7. Shan: ၽိုၼ်ႉ /phuen6/
    1. Shan meaning: to turn back, rebel, revolt, fight back
    2. Thai: ฟื้น /fuen6/
    3. Thai meaning: to regain, recover
    4. Comment: /Fuen6/ in Tai Lue and Northern Thai has the same meaning as the Shan word. When I was in a museum in Chiang Mai in 2013, I learned the Northern Thai phrase "ฟื้นม่าน" (/fuen6 maan5/) which means "to revolt against the Burmese (who had ruled the Chiang Mai kingdom AKA Lanna)," but back then I thought it meant "to recover from the Burmese rule."
  8. Shan: ၵဝ် /kaw1/
    1. Shan meaning: I/me, to stir up, mix together
    2. Thai: เกา /kaw1/
    3. Thai meaning: to scratch
    4. Comment: Are "to stir up" and "to scratch" similar?
  9. Shan: သုၵ်ႉ /shuk5/
    1. Shan meaning: to be confused, tangled
    2. Thai: ซุก /suk6/
    3. Thai meaning: to hide (something)
    4. Comment: My Shan dictionary says that the Shan word also means "to hide" but this meaning does not seem to be common, at least based on what a native speaker of Shan told me.
  10. Shan: မၼ်း /man4/
    1. Shan meaning: he/she/it, him/her/it (can be used to refer any one including your parents)
    2. Thai: มัน /man4/
    3. Thai meaning: also he/she/it, him/her/it but it is usually used to refer to animals or a person who you do not or do not have to respect (young children)
    4. Comment: I was surprised when I learned that this pronoun can be used to refer to your own mother. You would never do that in Thai because it would be really disrespectful.
  11. Shan: ၶူဝ်း /kho4/
    1. Shan meaning: things, property
    2. Thai: ครัว /khrua4/
    3. Thai meaning: kitchen, things/property (rare) 
    4. Comment: In Northern Thai and Tai Lue, /khrua,khua,kho/ still means "property, things."

Why do these words have different meanings?

There are at least two reasons. First, they may not have evolved from the same Proto-Tai word. In other words, they may not have the same common ancestry. Second, some words may have been derived from the same Proto-Tai words but may have undergone a semantic shift (a process in which a word acquires a meaning different from its original meaning). As time goes by, the meaning of word may change. For example, dēor meant "animal, beast" in Old English, but now in Modern English it means "deer."


Beltrán, M. R. C. (2006). Towards a typological classification of false friends (Spanish-English). Revista española de lingüística aplicada, (19), 29-40.
Richards, J. C., Platt, J., & Weber, H. (1985). Dictionary of applied linguistics. Essex: Longman, 43.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Some Tai Lue and Northern Thai cognates: อุ่นงัน, วันปอย, เลางาม

"Chiang Mai" (top) and "Chiang Rung (Jinghong: the capital of Xishuangbanna)" written in Tai Tham script. 

As I was learning words from reading the articles I came across many words which are very similar to Northern Thai (N. Thai) but not to Thai nor Lao.

Lately I have been trying to learn Tai Lue (Lue) words from Hanna's (2012) Lue-English dictionary and from, which seems to be the one and only Lue news website on the Internet. The dictionary is very useful, but it does not have every word that is used on the website, perhaps because some of these words are newly coined or perhaps Hanna had not come across these words when he made the dictionary. This makes it hard for me to read some articles. I just wish I had a Lue friend to help me out.

Why do you think N. Thai and Lue share words which do not exist in Lao and Thai?

  1. Assumption 1: if two languages have the same words, they must have a common ancestry.
  2. Assumption 2: if two languages have the same words, they must have borrowed from each other.
  3. Assumption 3: Thai and Lao had these words in the past, but lost them.

What do you think?

Here is a list of some of these words (Lue - N. Thai - English).

The Lue words are written in the New Tai Lue script. So you may need to download a unicode font to see the words.
  1. ᦀᦳᧃᧈᦇᧃ un2 ngan4 - อุ่นงัน - celebrate v.
    1. E.g., ᦀᦳᧃᧈ ᦇᧃ ᦉᧂ ᦃᦱᧃ ᦔᦲ ᦺᦖᧈ ᦺᦑ 
    2. อุ่นงันสังขานปีใหม่ไท (ฉลองสงกรานต์ปีใหม่ไทลื้อ)
    3. To celebrate the Tai/Thai new year (Songkran)
    4. Note: งัน (ງັນ) ngan4 is in my Lao dictionary and it means "to gather together for a festival or for pleasure." I have personally never heard a Lao person use this word. If you speak Lao and have used this word or heard it used, please let me know! :)
  2. ᦂᦱᧃᧉᦂᦳᧂᧈ kaan3 kung2 - ก้านกุ่ง - be prosperous v.
    1. ᦞᦲᧉ ᦌᦱ ᦶᦎᧄᧉ ᦷᦎ ᦺᦑ ᦵᦍᧂᧈ ᦊᦴᧈ ᦅᦸᧉ ᦵᦍᧂᧈ ᦂᦱᧃᧉ ᦂᦳᧂᧈ ᦣᦳᧂᧈ ᦵᦣᦲᧂ ᦙᦱ ᦋᦴᧈ ᦞᧃ
    2. วิซาแต้มตัวไทเย่งอยู่ก็เย่งก้านกุ่งรุ่งเรืองมาชู่วัน (วิธีเขียนตัวอักษรไทลื้อ ยิ่งอยู่ก็ยิ่งเจริญรุ่งเรืองมาทุกวัน)
    3. Being able to write the Lue alphabet...the longer it stays the more prosperous it will be every day.
  3. ᦞᧃᦗᦾ wan4 paui4 - วันพอย (ปอย) - festival n.
    1. ᦃᧇ ᦝᦸᧃᧉ ᦀᦳᧃᧈ ᦇᧃ ᦞᧃ ᦗᦾ 
    2. ขับฟ้อนอุ่นงันวันพอย (ขับร้องฟ้อนรำฉลองวันงานพิธี)
    3. Singing and dancing to celebrate the festival
    4. Cf. Shan ပွႆး (ปอย) paui4
  4. ᦙᦹᧃ muen4 - มืน (เมิน) - be long (time) v.
    1. ᦏᦹᧂ ᦵᦙᦲᧈ ᦵᦞ ᦟᦱ ᦺᦡᧉ ᦠᦹᧂ ᦙᦹᧃ ᦜᦻ ᦷᦃᧇᧈ
    2. ถึงเมื่อเวลาได้เหิงเมินหลายขวบ (ถึงเมื่อเวลาได้ยาวนานหลายขวบหลายปี)
    3. Reaching this time for many years.
    4. Cf. Shan မိုၼ်း (มืน) muen4
  5. ᦶᦀᧁᧈ aew2 - แอ่ว - visit, go about v.
    1. ᦶᦀᧁᧈ  ᦠᦱ ᦇᦹᧃ
    2. แอ่วหาเงิน (ไปหาเงิน)
    3. To go out looking for money (jobs)
    4. Cf. Shan ဢႅဝ်ႇ (แอ่ว) aew2
  6. ᦈᦳᦟᦻᧈ tsu2 laai5 - จุล่าย (จุ๋ล่าย) - deceive, swindle v.
    1. ᦕᦴᧉ ᦍᦲᧂ ᦈᦸᧉ ᦵᦗᦲᧃᧈ ᦈᦳ ᦟᦻᧈ ᦇᦹᧃ ᧙ ᦖᦹᧃᧈᦶᦍᧃᧉ
    2. ผู้ยิงจ้อเพิ่นจุล่ายเงิน 9 หมื่นแย้น (ผู้หญิงถูกเขาหลอกลวงเงิน 9 หมื่นหยวน)
    3. The woman was swindled out of ¥90,000.
    4. Note: ล่าย (ລ່າຍ) laai5 is in my Lao dictionary, but I am not sure to what extent it is used in the language.
  7. ᦶᦕᧁ phaew1 - แผว - to prep., arrive v.
    1. ᦀᧁ ᦵᦜᧅ ᦚᧂ ᦵᦵᦎᧈ ᦗᦹᧃᧉ ᦗᦻ ᦺᦎᧉ ᦶᦕᧁ ᦣᦸᧆ ᦗᦻ ᦵᦐᦲ
    2. เอาเหล็กฝังแต่พื้นพายใต้แผวรอดพายเหนือ (เอาเหล็กฝังตั้งแต่พื้นทางใต้จนถึงทางเหนือ)
    3. Bury the metal rod starting from the floor up to the top.
    4. Cf. Shan ၽႅဝ် (แผว) phaew1
  8. ᦋᦰ tsa5 - ชะ (จ๊ะ) - be dirty v.
    1. ᦔᦾᧈ ᦓᧄᧉ ᦷᦀᧈ  ᦓᧄᧉ ᦋᦰ
    2. ป่อยน้ำโอ่น้ำชะ (ปล่อยน้ำโอ่น้ำสกปรก)
    3. To release smelly and dirty water
    4. Possibly related to Shan ၸႃႉ (ช้า) tsaa5
  9. ᦟᧁ law4 - เลา - be good-looking, be beautiful v.
    1. ᦍᦲᧂ ᦉᦱᧁ ᦝᦸᧃᧉ ᦟᧁ ᦇᦱᧄ ᦡᦲ ᦕᦸᧈ
    2. ยิงสาวฟ้อนเลางามดีผ่อ (หญิงสาวฟ้อนสวยงามน่าดู)
    3. The women dance beautifully.
    4. Cf. Shan လဝ်း (เลา) law4
  10. ᦗᦸᧅ pauk5 - พอก (ป้อก) - return v.
    1. ᦗᦻ ᦟᦳᧃ ᦺᦡᧉ ᦗᦸᧅ ᦙᦱ ᦠᧃ ᦟᦴᧅ ᦵᦙ
    2. พายลุนได้พอกมาหันลูกเมีย (ภายหลังได้กลับมาเห็นลูกเมีย)
    3. And then he returned to see his wife and child.
  11. ᦊᦸᧉ yau3 - หย้อ (หญ้อ) - scold, mock, be sarcastic v.
    1. ᦊᦱᧈ ᦡᦱᧈ ᦊᦸᧉ ᦵᦗᦲᧃᧈ
    2. อย่าด่าหย้อเพิ่น (อย่าด่าประชดคนอื่น) 
    3. Do not scold or mock others.
  12. ᦙᦱᧃᧈ maan5 - ม่าน - Burma, Burmese 
    1. ᦅᦳᧃ ᦺᦒ ᦘᦸᧄᧉ ᦵᦵᦂᧁ ᦟᦱᧁ ᦙᦱᧃᧈ,ᦃᧁ ᦠᦱᧅ ᦊᦱᧄᧉ ᦵᦅᧀ ᦑᦸᧃᧉ ᦙᦱ ᦵᦵᦀᧁᧈ ᧑᧒ ᦗᧃ ᦓᦱ
    2. คนไธ พร้อมแกว ลาว ม่าน เขาหากหย้ามเคยท้อนมาแอ่ว 12 พันนา (คนไทยและเวียดนาม ลาว พม่า เขาก็เคยมาเที่ยว 12 ปันนา)
    3. The Thai, Vietnamese, Lao, and Burmese used to come visit Xishuangbanna.
    4. Cf. Shan မၢၼ်ႈ (ม่าน) maan3
    5. Note: ม่าน (ມ່ານ) maan5 “Burma/Burmese” is in my Lao dictionary, but it is more common to use พะม้า (ພະມ້າ)

Hanna, W. J. (2012). Dai Lue-English Dictionary. Silkworm Books.