My Thai lessons continue. In my blog entitled “Flunking Kindergarten,” I introduced the forty-four consonants in the Thai alphabet. Well, there are also thirty-two vowels and, since I could not find a chart with all of them that I could import into my blog, I created this chart (on the left) in Excel. I then printed it and scanned it as a JPEG document so that I could share it with you. I wanted to do that so that I could share some of my personal frustrations with this language. The vowel on the seventh line from the top was first introduced as a consonant with the sound of a “w” as in the word “win.” But as a vowel, it has the sound of “ua” in the word “dual.” But wait! That same sound can be written a different way, as illustrated on the fifteenth line of this chart. And that same letter, as a consonant, can be paired with other vowels to make totally different sounds.
The two vowels that appear on the fifth and sixth lines from the bottom of the chart make the “i” sound, as in the word “tight.” They both sound exactly the same and both appear at the beginning of a word. But one of the two vowels – the one that looks like a circle on a stick – is only used in twenty words in the Thai language. Kru Paylin (Kru is a title given only to teachers.) tells me that I have to memorize those twenty words. There is no other way to determine which one of the two vowels to use when you are writing.
Then, there is the letter that makes the sound “r” (looks like the number 5 with a loop at the bottom) – and, yes, in Thai, you must roll your “r’s” by flipping your tongue like the Germans do. Some words that have this letter are very straight forward. The first word in the example on the left (and forgive my handwriting, but I do not have the Thai alphabet on my computer yet) is ruhk, which means love. The second word is reeuhn, which means to study or to learn. But then, we have some “exceptions.” The third word, which should read ah-hahr, is actually pronounced ah-hahn, because the “r” at the end of a word is pronounced “n.” The next word nkr has no vowels at all, but you are supposed to know (intuitively) that when “n” and “k” consonants sit together, there is an uh vowel inserted between them and when “k” and “r” consonants sit together, there is an aw (as in awe) sound between them and the “r” at the end of a word changes to an “n” sound, giving you the word nuhkawn which means city. And, oh, by the way, sometimes the “r” consonant at the end of the word is completely silent as it is in wuhnsaow or Saturday, the last word I wrote out in the example above.
Oh, but there is more!! If a “t” and an “r” sit side-by-side, as they do in the first example on the right, that combination is pronounced as an “s” sound, giving you the word sahb, which means to know. But a different “t” sound, following by two “r” consonants, is pronounced “t” and the two “r” sounds become the vowel uh so the next word is tuhmneeahm or culture. But, if the two “r” consonants are not followed by another consonant, then they are pronounced as a vowel-consonant combination uhn. The third word, then, is buhntaow or suffering – which is what I was feeling at about this point in the lesson. But there is more!! In some words, when the two “r” consonants appear together, they can be both a vowel-consonant combination AND the “r” sound as in the final word puhnrahyah which means wife. Thank goodness, I have a week off to travel to Penang to get my new visa. My head hurts!