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.

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