Saturday, February 16, 2008

Brief Thai lesson

This started out as a post on the village fair I went to Thursday night. But the intro seems worthy of a separate post all its own.

All Thais have nicknames. The person at work who took me to the village is nicknamed 'Doc'. Actually, I think I've spelled it 'Doc' in English because he's a doctoral student, but I don't think it means that in Thai. I'm not sure how it's spelled in Thai so it's hard to look up. I think (I started to write 'know' but I realize most things that people have told me in Thai, it's safer to think of as "might be') someone said his nickname starts with the letter rather than
The has a little dip on top and is pronounced as though you were saying Tea, but without breathing out a puff of air. If you put your hand in front of your mouth when you say Tea out loud, you'll feel a little air coming out. Linguists call this an 'aspirated' sound - because breath comes out. Now try to say it without the air coming out. (Unaspirated.) That's the sound. The is like the English letter D. The two letters are very similar, but not the same. Listen here to the difference. NOTE: Click on the yellow arrow NOT the link which will take you to jamglue.

Default-tiny Thai letter ต imported by AKRaven

Default-tiny Thai Letter ด imported by AKRaven

(In the second audio clip he says the Thai sound of the letter - is we would say "dee" - and then the word that starts with the letter that is used when kids are taught the alphabet. In this case the word is 'dek' or child.)

It can be pretty hard to hear the difference, but think how people learning English must feel. We have so many more different sounds and some with very subtle differences. This is no more difficult than the difference between, say, "rode" and "wrote". And if you listen to how people actually say these in a sentence, they often don't even say the sounds. The difference is really that you hold the 'o' in rode but you stop it quickly in 'wrote.' Or bead and beat. Or 'slip' and 'slipped'. We barely make the sound. For Thais who don't have a final 'd' sound or a 'pt' sound it is very hard to hear the differences.

Another subtlety of Thai are the loops in the letters. I didn't look closely enough and instead of ด, I typed , which is one of the aspirated K sound letters. Can you see the difference between the two letters?*

Attribution and Technical Note: I got the sounds from (You can go to each letter through the purple box on the left panel.) But to embed them in the blog so you could listen to them here instead of finding the right buttons on the website, I uploaded them to and then took the embed code and put that in my post. It is pretty incredible what tools are available to do this with. Thanks to the invisible techies who make all this possible.

*Difference between the letters: Look at the direction of the loop in the middle of each.

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