Friday, March 15, 2019

Notes on classifiers in Thai, Lao, Tai Lue, and Shan

Thai, Lao, Tai Lue, and Shan use classifiers, and some are different. You should pay attention to the ones that are different when learning these languages.

Classifiers are used with nouns that occur with numbers and/or demonstratives (e.g., "this" and "that"). In Thai, for example, when you count nouns such as หมา (/mǎː/ "dog"), you have to use ตัว (/tūa/). This is a classifier that is used with animals (and a few other types of nouns). If you want to say "two dogs," and สอง [/sɔ̌ːŋ/] is how you say "two", you have to say หมา สอง ตัว (space added) (/mǎː sɔ̌ːŋ tūa/; lit. dog-two-classifier). When you use a demonstrative (e.g., นี้ /níː/ "this") with "dog" to mean "this dog," you have to say หมา ตัว นี้  (space added) (/mǎː tūa níː/; lit. dog-classifier-this). Omitting the classifier in these two noun phrases would be incorrect, although people might still understand you.

The four languages share many classifiers. To say "two dogs" and "this dog" in Lao, Tai Lue, and Shan, you would use cognates of the Thai words above.

Lao cognates: ໝາ (/mǎː/ "dog"), ໂຕ/ຕົວ (/tò/ classifier for animals), ສອງ (/sɔ̌ːŋ/ "two"), ນີ້ (/nîː/ "this")
"Two dogs" = ໝາ ສອງ ໂຕ (/mǎː sɔ̌ːŋ tò/; lit. dog-two-classifier)
"This dog" = ໝາ ໂຕ ນີ້ (/mǎː tò nîː/; lit. dog-classifier-this)

Shan cognates: မႃ (/mǎ/ "dog"), တူဝ် (/tǒ/ classifier for animals), သွင် (/sʰɔ̌ŋ/ "two"), ၼႆႉ (/nâj/ "this")
"Two dogs" = မႃ သွင် တူဝ် (/mǎ sʰɔ̌ŋ tǒ/; lit. dog-two-classifier)
"This dog" =မႃ တူဝ် ၼႆႉ (/mǎ tǒ nâj/; lit. dog-classifier-this)

Tai Lue cognates: ᦖᦱ ([ma˥] "dog"), ᦷᦎ ([to˥] classifier for animals), ᦉᦸᧂ ([sɔŋ˥] "two"), ᦓᦲᦰ ([ni˧ʔ] "this")
"Two dogs" = ᦖᦱ ᦉᦸᧂ ᦷᦎ ([ma˥ sɔŋ˥ to˥]; lit. dog-two-classifier)
"This dog"ᦖᦱ ᦷᦎ ᦓᦲᦰ ([ma˥ to˥ ni˧ʔ]; lit. dog-classifier-this)

Some classifiers, however, are not shared among these languages. One example is the classifier used with nouns referring to sharp objects such as knives, swords, and axes. Consider the words "knife" and "big knife" in these languages:

"Knife"
Thai: มีด (/mîːt/)
Lao: ມີດ (/mîːt/)
Shan: မိတ်ႈ (/mīt/)
Tai Lue: ᦙᦲᧆ ([mit˧])

"Big knife"
Thai: พร้า (/pʰráː/)
Lao: ພ້າ (/pʰâː/)
Shan: ၽႃႉ (/pʰâ/)
Tai Lue: ᦘᦱᧉ ([pʰa˩])

As can be seen, these words look very similar to each other because they are cognates of each other. Now look at the classifier for sharp objects in each language:

Classifier for sharp objects
Thai: เล่ม (/lêm/)
Lao: ດວງ (/dùaŋ/) (cognates with Thai ดวง)
Shan: မၢၵ်ႈ (/māːk/) (If this one word existed in Thai, it would be written มาก)
Tai Lue: ᦵᦏᧃᧈ ([tʰen˧˥]) (If this one word existed in Thai, it would be written เถี่ยน)

Now you can see that the classifiers in these languages are not cognates of each other. Thus, to say "this knife" and "this big knife," you would use a different classifier for each language.

Thai:
= มีด เล่ม นี้ (/mîːt lêm níː/; lit. knife-classifier-this; "these knives")
= พร้า เล่ม นี้ (/pʰráː lêm níː/; lit. big knife-classifier-this; "these big knives")

Lao:
= ມີດ ດວງ ນີ້ (/mîːt dùaŋ nîː/; lit. knife-classifier-this; "these knives")
= ພ້າ ດວງ ນີ້ (/pʰâː dùaŋ nîː/; lit. big knife-classifier-this; "these big knives")

Shan:
မိတ်ႈ မၢၵ်ႈ ၼႆႉ (/mīt māːk nâj/; lit. knife-classifier-this; "these knives")
= ၽႃႉ မၢၵ်ႈ ၼႆႉ (/pʰâ māːk nâj/; lit. big knife-classifier-this; "these big knives")

Tai Lue:
= ᦙᦲᧆ ᦵᦏᧃᧈ ᦓᦲᦰ ([mit˧ tʰen˧˥ ni˧ʔ]; lit. knife-classifier-this; "these knives")
= ᦘᦱᧉ ᦵᦏᧃᧈ ᦓᦲᦰ ([pʰa˩ tʰen˧˥ ni˧ʔ]; lit. big knife-classifier-this; "these big knives")

When you see that two nouns are cognates of each other, you should not assume that the corresponding classifiers are also cognates of each other. Have fun learning.