บ (b) า (aa) ท (t) spell a word you already know and can see every day (if you’re in Thailand): บาท (baht, or bath as the Thais often spell it). Look for it on a Thai banknote or coin.
า (aa: a long ah sound) is easy to remember. Think of an old man struggling with a walking stick and saying “aaaaah”.
บ (b) you can remember by thinking of it as a bathtub. As with all Thai characters, when writing it, you start by drawing the small circle. Then, without removing pen from paper, draw three sides of a square: down, across, up. Make sure the left and right sides are the same length. The bit you can see sticking out of the bottom left corner with some fonts is not important.
ท (t). Start with a small circle and then continue by drawing n. The sound of most Thai consonants depends on whether they’re at the start or end of a syllable. In Thai there is never a d or t sound at the end of a syllable. Instead it is a cross between the two: a ‘dt’ sound. Scary? No. This sound already exists in European languages. Try saying star and sdar. Sound the same, don’t they? The t in star is exactly the dt sound we need at the end of บาท. Put your hand close to your mouth and say Bart and Bard. You should feel a small puff of air at the end. Now say a cross between the two so that you can’t hear if it is really a t or d at the end: Bardt. If you’re doing it right, there is no puff of air. The final dt is almost inaudible but the word should still sound different from Bar.
- ทา (taa) = to spread, apply (e.g. butter, cream)
Note that ท is often transliterated as ‘th’ although there is no ‘th’ sound (as in ‘the’ or ‘thin’) in Thai. See L7 for more on this.
See L0 for an overview of this blog.
Next lesson: L2.
If a two-syllable word with a dead ending starts with a high-class consonant and then a transparent consonant, both syllables have the low tone.
- สนุก (sà-nòok), สนุกสนาน (sà-nòok sà-nǎan) = fun
- ขยะ (kà-yà) = rubbish
- สมัคร (sà-m(à/ù)gk) = to apply; application
- สมัครงาน (sà-m(à/ù)gk ngaan) = to apply for a job
- ฉลาด (chà-làadt) = intelligent
- ขนาด (kà-nàadt) = size
- ขนาดกลาง (kà-nàadt glaang) = medium size
- สลับ (sà-l(à/ù)bp) = to swap
- สนิท (sà-nìdt) = close (e.g., friend)
- สมุด (sà-mòodt) = notebook
- สรุป (sà-ròobp) = summary; to summarize
- สงบ (sà-ngòbp) = peaceful
- ขยับ (kà-y(à/ù)bp) = to move
- ขณะ (kà-nà) = while; moment
- สระ (sà-rà) = vowel [note this is spelled the same way as the (one-syllable) word for pool]
- ถนัด (tà-n(à/ù)dt) = comfortable
- แผนก (pà-nàirgk) = division, section, department
If a vowel symbol precedes or encloses a high-class followed by transparent consonant symbol pair the vowel sound (with a rising tone) follows the transparent consonant as in the following examples.
- เสมอ (sà-měr) = always
- เสนอ (sà-něr) = to present, to propose
- เฉลย (chà-lěree) = solution (of a problem)
- เขมร (kà-měhn) = Cambodian
- เฉลิม (chà-lěrm) = to celebrate, to praise
All the words listed here have two syllables and start with a high-class consonant symbol (other than a ห) which is immediately followed by a transparent consonant symbol which is the start of a syllable with a live ending. The high-class nature of the first consonant is transferred to the second syllable and results in it having a rising tone.
- ขนม (kà-nǒm) = sweet (thing to eat)
- ขนมปัง = bread
- ถนน (tà-nǒn) = road
- สนาม (sà-nǎam) = field
- สนามบิน (sà-nǎam bin) = airport
- ขยัน (kà-y(ǎ/ǔ)n) = hard-working
- สยาม (sà-yǎam) = Siamese
- ขนุน (kà-nǒon) = jackfruit
- ขยาย (kà-yǎiy) = to magnify
- สมอง (sà-mǒrng) = brain
- ฉลาม (chà-lǎam) = shark
- สลึง (sà-lěung) = 25 satang
- สมัย (sà-mǎi) = era
- สลัว (sà-lǔa) = dim
- ฉลอง (chà-lǒrng) = to celebrate
- ถวาย (tà-wǎiy) = to offer (to royalty)
- สนิม (sà-nǐm) = rust
- ถนอม = to cherish; to preserve
- สงวน = to conserve, to reserve
We will refer to the low-class consonant symbols น ม ล ง ร ว ย as the ‘transparent’ consonants since in two-syllable words where a middle or high class consonant symbol immediately precedes one of these, the syllable starting with the transparent consonant follows the tone rules as if the transparent consonant were middle or high class respectively.
We have already met something similar to this with the consonant symbol ห immediately preceding the first 6 of these transparent consonants along with ญ rather than ย. When this happens, the syllable behaves as if the transparent consonant were high class (see L50, L51, L52, L73, L78).
So how can you remember these special 7 characters? They spell three very common words we already met in the reading practice much earlier on: นม ลง รวย. But maybe a more logical way is to realize that these characters have no equivalent high (or middle) class consonant symbol with the same consonant sound. In Thai, this set of consonants is therefore referred to as being unpaired low class (ต่ำเดี่ยว).
This is in contrast to low-class consonant symbols such as ภ (for which there is a high-class equivalent, ผ) which means that the second syllable in สภา has a neutral tone rather than a rising one.
As we have just seen in L83, when there are two consonant syllables which are not a consonant cluster (L82) and not the last syllable in the word, a short ‘a’ between them is implied. But what if they are preceded or surrounded by a vowel symbol? Then the corresponding vowel sound ends up following the second consonant symbol. Hopefully this will be made clear in the following examples.
- แสดง (sà-dairng) = to show
- เกษียณ (gà-sǐan) = retired
- เกษตร (gà-sèhdt) = agriculture
- เสด็จ (sà-dèhdt) = to proceed (used when describing actions of royalty)
- เจริญ (jà-rern) = to prosper
We have seen, starting in L2, that the addition of a short ‘o’ sound is implied in the final syllable of a word when that syllable consists of just two consonant symbols. This was our first example of an ‘invisible vowel’. When all vowels are written explicitly except in one syllable which is not the last syllable and is written as just one consonant symbol, then the ‘invisible vowel’ implied in that syllable is a short ‘a’ sound (i.e., the ะ vowel). Since it is a syllable with a dead ending, it has a low tone if the consonant symbol is middle or high class.
- สบาย (sà-baiy) = well
- สตางค์ (sà-dtaang) = satang (100 satang = 1 baht)
- สถานี (sà-tǎa-nee) = station
- นามสกุล (naam sà-goon) = surname
- ไปรษณีย์ (bprai-sà-nee) = post office
- อภัย (à-pai) = to apologize
- ผสม (pà-sǒm) = to mix
- สเต็ก (sà-dtègk) = steak
- อนามัย (à-naa-mai) = health
- สตรี (sà-dtree) = lady
- ขโมย (kà-moyee) = to steal
- ฉบับ (chà-b(à/ù)bp) = volume (of a book)
- สติ (sà-dti) = consciousness
- อดีต (à-dèedt) = past
- สมาคม (sà-maa-kom) = club
- สภา (sà-paa) = committee
- อรุณ (à-roon) = dawn
- อสุจิ (à-sòo-jì) = sperm
- กษัตริย์ (gà-s(à/ù)dt) = king
- สหาย (sà-hǎiy) = friend
กร- (gr-) กล- (gl-) กว- (gw-) ปร- (bpr-) ปล- (bpl-) ตร- (dtr-) ขร- (kr-) ขล- (kl-) ขว- (kw-) ผล- (pl-) are the possible consonant clusters starting with middle or high class consonant symbols. The tone applied to the vowel that follows is determined by the class of the first symbol in the cluster.