soc.culture.thai Language FAQ

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Dec 13, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/13/98
Archive-name: thai/language
Soc-culture-thai-archive-name: language
Version: $Id: language,v 2.2 1996/10/31 07:49:30 trin Exp trin $

The "soc.culture.thai Frequently Asked Questions" periodic postings are
divided into 6 parts plus an index. Requests for inclusion, correction
or update can be made by posting a public message or follow-up to this

The current release of these FAQs can be fetched by anonymous FTP from (or its mirror sites) under directories:

The current copy of the FAQs can be viewed by appropriate tools at the URLs


Language and linguistics information

* Language
L.1) The de facto Thai transcription scheme for soc.culture.thai
L.2) Learning Thai abroad
L.3) Learning Thai in Thailand
L.4) Poetry
L.5) The word "farang"



This part describes information on language and linguistics.


Subject: L.1) The de facto transcription scheme for soc.culture.thai

The transcription scheme was put together by Khun Wirote Aroonmanakun
( with great input from many SCT folks,
notably a consonant table from Khun Rob Reed ( and
a vowel table from Khun Parames Laosinchai (CH...@CUNYVM.BITNET).

k kh kh kh kh kh ng
j ch ch s ch y
d t th th th n
d t th th th n
b p ph f ph f ph m
y r l w s s s h l ? h

Final Sounds
Obstruent Endings: k or g, t or d, p or b
Soronant Endings: ng n m y w

Tone Markers
- for normal tone / 0
' for low tone / 1
" for falling tone / 2
^ for high tone / 3
+ for rising tone / 4

a as in ka' (estimate)
aa as in kaa- (crow)
i as in ti' (blame)
ii as in tii- (hit)
U as in ?U' (shit)
UU as in mUU- (hand)
u as in du' (scold)
uu as in duu- (look)
e as in te' (kick)
ee as in thee- (pour)
A as in lA^ (and)
AA as in lAA- (look)
o as in to^ (table)
oo as in to- (big)
O as in kO" (island)
OO as in rOO- (wait)
E as in lE^ (dirty)
EE as in rEE- (Belch)

Compound Vowels
ua as in yua^ (angry)
uaa as in tuaa- (body)
ia as in pria^ (tight)
iaa as in miaa- (wife)
Ua (no example)
Uaa as in rUaa- (ship)

Excess Vowels (sa'ra'kEEn-)
ay or ai as in nay- or nai- (in)
aw or au as in daw- or dau- (guess)

[Editor's note: Two transliteration schemes have been proposed. Both
proposals are available for anonymous FTP at the URL:*

Post your comments back to soc.culture.thai.]


Subject: L.2) Learning Thai abroad

From: Thinakorn Tabtieng
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 1993 16:45:30 -0500

Apart from going to Thailand to study thai, you can also study it at
University of Washington. I know someone who took an intensive program
on Thai language called SEASSI (South East Asian Summer Studies
Institute) which was held at U of Washington during the summer. I
think the university also offers Thai courses during the regular
semesters as well. Anyway, here is some basics about Thai language
which you may find useful:

The Thai language, or Phasa Thai, basically consists of monosyllable
words, whose meanings are complete by themselves. Its alphabet was
created by King Ramkhamhaeng the Great in 1283 by modelling it on the
ancient Indian alphabets of Sanskrit and Pali through the medium of
old Khmer characters. After a history of over 700 years, the Thai
alphabet today comprises 44 letters (including 2 obsolete ones),
representing 20 consonant phonemes, and 15 vowel signs, denoting 22
vowels, diphthongs and triphthongs.

As Thai is a tonal language with five different tones, it often
confuses foreigners who are unused to this kind of language. For
example, they have difficulty in distinguishing these 3 words from
each other --

* Suea (with rising tone) which means tiger in english
* Suea (with low tone) which means mat in English
* Suea (with falling tone) which means clothes in English

Like most languages of the world, the Thai language is a complicated
mixture of several sources. Many Thai words used today were derived
from Pali, Sanskrit, Khmer, Malayan, English, and Chinese.

From: (Matt Barney)
Date: 20 Dec 1993 17:47:10 -0600

Suwasdee Krap

I am going to be attending the South-East Asian Studies Summer
(SEASSI) Institue's program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
this summer.


* Fellowships are available for both tuition and stipend
* Cost to non fellows: $1600.00 U.S. dollars
* Dates Held: June 13, 1994 to August 12, 1994.

This is intensive study for Thai, and many other S-E Asian languages
that equivalealent to 2 full semesters of learning.

Teive an application call or write: Center for Southeast Asian
Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 4115 Helen C. White Hall,
600 N. Park St. , Madison, WI 53706; internet:

From: (Andrew Atzert)
Date: 16 Dec 1993 13:27:16 GMT
Organization: University of Pennsylvania, School of Arts and Sciences

There are Thai language tapes produced by the U.S. government (the
Foreign Service Institute). They're old, use an outmoded methodology,
and don't (I'm told) reflect many changes that have occurred with Thai
since the 60's, when the tapes were produced. They also do not cover
the Thai writing system, using transcription instead. Nonetheless, I
and others have found them useful as a supplement to other means of
study. There are two levels available, with about twenty tapes each;
they sell for about $140.00 a set. They can be ordered from:

The National AudioVisual Center
8700 Edgeworth Drive
Capitol Heights, MD 20743-3701
Phone: 800-638-1300
Fax: 301-763-6025

As for the writing system, you might try getting hold of two volumes
by William Kuo: "A Workbook for Writing Thai" and (if I remember
correctly) "Teaching Grammar of Thai." They're available from:

Center for South and Southeast Asia Studies
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720

From: (Putnam Barber)
Organization: Eskimo North (206) For-Ever
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 1993 12:53:18 GMT

The Seattle Public Library has two 20-cassette sets called "Basic
Thai" and created by the Foreign Service Institute. Each comes with a
text that reproduces and extends what's on the tapes.

Mary Haas, "Thai Reader", is a progressive introduction to written
Thai that can be used by a student working alone. It comes from Spoken
Language Services, PO Box 783, Ithaca, NY 14850.

She is also the author of "Thai-English Student's Dictionary",

After getting myself to the point where I could pretty much find
things in Haas' dictionary (not always a straightforward task, as
spelling is sometimes flexible), I got a lot out of struggling with a
book on how to learn English that seems to be aimed at a non-academic
reader. I won't try to transliterate the title. In English it's "How
to Learn English in 75 Hours" by Manit Manitcharoen. An 'hour' turns
out to be a chapter, and there are 75 of them.... Using the
dictionary, it took me longer than an hour to read through a chapter,
but it was useful and interesting to see how familiar quirks of the
English language are explained in terms of Thai examples. I suspect it
would be a 'challenge' to get this book in North America. It does have
an ISBN in it, so you could try: 974 245 413 2. That's just about the
only English outside of the examples.

Speaking of transliteration, the FSI "Basic Thai" books do not use the
Thai written language at all (!). Instead, they depend on a careful
transliteration scheme that seems to be all their own and which I
found as hard to learn as Thai writing (and +much+ less useful -- they
don't publish any newspapers or magazines for the general reader :-)

There are also numerous publications and tapes from AUA's language
school in Bangkok. The copies at the Seattle Public Library were only
intermittantly on the shelf, and vol. I was +never+ there for me to
sample it to see if I wanted to launch myself on their self-study
programs. I have listened to a couple of their tapes (courtesy of the
Univ. of Washington language lab); they were very methodical and
clear, even without the texts.

There are probably many University Thai courses around. I know that UW
has one, because there are texts in the bookstore at the start of
every semester and lots of tapes available at the lab. I don't know
anything about the program. Write for info to UW, Seattle, WA 98195.

There are at least two non-profit language training centers in Seattle
that offer lessons in Thai in their catalogs. I've never been to one,
but it seems like a good idea (and now that I'm heading back to
Thailand -- today! -- I wish I had).


Subject: L.3) Learning Thai in Thailand

From: (Lee Hopper (Portland,OR))
Date: Tue, 5 Oct 1993 14:38:03 GMT

Lonely Planet Thailand Travel/Survival Kit 10/92:

"Chulalongkorn U. in Bangkok, the most prestigious university in
Thailand, offers an intensive Thai studies course called
'Perspectives on Thailand'. The four-week program includes classes
in Thai language, culture, history, politics and economics. Classes
meet six hours a day, six days a week and are offered twice a year:
January and July. Sutdents who have taken the course say they have
found the quality of instructioin excellend. Tuition is US

Have any readers tried this? Any advice on learning Thai in


From: (Samart Srijumnong)
Date: 2 Mar 1994 05:54:10 GMT

[Chiangmai University] has at least two collaborated programs with
the US institutions: one is U of Wisconsin via College Year in
Thailand Program (CYIT), and, the St.Olaf College, Minnesota. The
first one recruits students from any college in the US. The
students will stay one year in Chiangmai studying Thai language,
history, culture and people. They get some academic credits from
that. The latter program takes only on semester. It is designed
specially for the St.Olaf College students.

In both program, [Chiangmai] faculty members have help them learn
Thai via their facilities at the Humanities Faculty there. I don't
have any independent source of evaluation to rate them.

Faculty of Education, Division of Teaching Thai, had(s?) provided
cooperation to a Korean university (....some kind of U of Foreign
Affairs) whose Thai-studies students come to stay in Chiangmai for
a semester and learn solely Thai language.

As far as other provincial universities are concerned, my adviser
was in the Thai language program at Kon Kaen University. I don't
know much about it. My advisor said it was good.

As for Chiangmai, would you want to contact a friend of mine, Khun
Steve? He is Ajaan Sompong Witayasakpan, of Thai Department there
at [Chiangmai U]. I have heard he helps carry out Thai language
programs there. He was also at the East-West Center of U of Hawaii
for some time. His email adress is: .
In contacting with him tell him also that it's my suggestion. I
believe he should provide you the needed information.


Subject: L.4) Poetry

From: (Jaray Chomchalao)
Date: Tue, 1 Feb 1994 03:21:53 GMT


In fact, Thai poetry is nothing I've seen elsewhere. English poetry,
French, Chinese poetry seem trivial when compared to the rhyme and rhythm
that are required in Thai poetry. For example, most if not all English and
Chinese poetry required /sam+pas'nOOk"/, or rhymes between lines. And
that's it. Thai, on the other hand. reuires /sam+pas'nai-/ as well as
/sam+pas'nOOk"/. This may be because Thai language is richer in choice of
words. For example there are at least six ways to say a horse ie, /maa^/,
/?aa-cha-/, /?aa-cha-nai-/, /as'sa'dOOn-/, /sin+thop^/, /as'sa-wa^/. The
following is an extreme example that best demonstrates the richness of Thai
Language. It is a /klOOn 8/ that, when wriiten out in Thai, uses only one
syllable to make a meaningful, no-nonesene poem.


(Composed by Unknown)


There are five different styles in Thai poetry altogether. You might say
six, with the sixth being anything that arenot included in the follwing

1) /kloong-/: /kloong-/ is probably one of the most difficult to
appreciate, since the rhyme and rhythm are not obvious to beginners. But
once you appreciate how difficult to write one, and learn their rhyme
and rhythm, they are very beautiful indeed. They come in variety, but
with one particular /kloong-/ the most emminent: /kloong-sii'su'paap"/

saai+yud'yud'klin'fung^ yaam-saai+
(/saai+yud'/ [flower] stops its late morning)
saai+bOO'yud'sa'nee'haai+ haang' saw"
([But] your charm never stops..sad to leave it.)
tuk^khUUn-tuk'wan-waai- waang-ta-weet' laa-mAA'
([I'm] Crying the whole night and day through)
ta'win+tuk^khuab'kam"chaaw^ yud'daai"chan+dai'
([I] Miss you in the evening, yet in the morning...How could I stop?)

(From Lilit Taleng Paai when Maha Upparat was smelling the flowers named
/saai+yud'/ and saying that the flowers name means it will stop spreading
its scent late in the morning, as opposed to him who never stop thinking
of her no matter what time, day or night. He later died fighting against
Phra Naresuan, a Thai King. But that's another story.)

2) /chan+/: /chan+/ or /kam-chan+/, or /sa-look'/, is probalby the hiest
form of Thai poetry, since besides the common rhyme and rhythm required
by all other styles, /chan+/ also requires that words used are in a
particular order, such that the particular syllables are accented
(/karu^/) and others are non-accented (/lahu'/). There are too many
types of /chan+/ to enumerate, but probably the accepted two most
beautiful /chan+/'s are /wa^san+ta'di'lok'chan+/ (/chan+/ as beautiful
as the blooming season (Spring)) and /in-ta-ra^wi^chian-chan+/ (/chan+/
as beautiful as the Intra's jem: Intra is the most powerful god in the
second level of the six-level heaven, the /taaw-wa'ting-sa'/ or
/daaw-wa-dUng-/). The following example is my own /chan+/ written in
Intrawichian Chan style.

Silvery Moon

jEd'jan-na^wan-pen- dam-ruu-den'wi^la-wan-
(Bright moon on the full moon night...has unique beauty)
faa^ngaam-araam'pan' pi^las"ras(sami)^jam-ras'sAAng+
(The sky's suddently beautified...lightened up by the moon shine)
naam^khang^kOO"prang"praai- pra^paai-chooy-mi^rooy-rAAng-
(Dew dropped the wind breezingly blew)
miang-maan"pra^chan-jAAng" kra'jang'ut'ta^yaan-sruang+
(Peeking face contested those lights in the heavenly park)
sak'suung+sa'wet'hong+ duj'ong-rat^cha'nii-duang-
(Her sky-high grace...can easily upset the moon)
praai-mas"mi^aaj'luang" sup'pa^lak^sa'naa-choom+
(Highly valued gold beauty would not dare to compare hers)
yAAm^yim^lAA-prim^pak^ phi^las'lak^khUU-khAA+khoom-
(When smiling, her face was brightened up easily matching the moon)
yol-yos^la^laan-loom- ra^thuaay-thOOd"rU^thai-thOOn+
(Looking at her beauty only made my body weak, my heart shrunk)
yOOb"wan-ta^naa-kaan- wing-waan-rat^cha-nii-kOOn-
([Or I] should knee down, begging this noble woman)
oo-phaas"pra'phaa-phOOn- ru^jii-ras^sa'mii+saan+ (saan+=message)
(To release her golden and silverly words)
saad'sOOng'na^hOOng"hOO+ mi^rang^rOO-hai"luaang"kaan-(time)
(Extend to me, at the lonely love place, at this time)
jAAng"jaw"ma^tu^maan- ma^na^nAAb"maai+AAb'ai-
(....[?]......who had always wanted to be with you)
riam-lOOb"ram-luk^nak^ phi^laap"rak^lA'aa-lai-
(I had made a lot of thinkings, a lot of sufferring as well)
jong-phEEy+pha^jii-khai+ hai"klaay-khOO"thii"khOOng"suaang-
(Would you say a word to answer my heart's question?)
lUaam-rai^phra^phaai-luaang" raa-trii-jan- ...kra'nan^rUU- ?

3) /kaab'/: One of the most popular. There are three of them:

3.1 /kaab' cha'bang- 16 (sip'hok')/ because there are 16 syllables in one
verse. Ex:

khao+suung+phuung+hong+long-riang- rEnag-roong^song^siang+
klaang-pai-kai'khan+ban-leeng- fang-siang+piang-pleeng-
yuung-tOOng-rOOng^ka'toong"hong'dang- priang-prong^kloong-ra^khang-

(From /muul-la'bot'ban'pa^kit'/, the first Thai book for teaching by Phraya
Sri Suntorn Woharn (Noy^ Ajarayangkool))

The rhymes in this example are extreme, since Phraya Noy really demontrated
his talent beyond that requires by the Kraab Chanabang structure.

3.2 /kaab' su'raang-ka^naang- 28/. The example I can think of is the one
that describes how to compose Surangkanang itself:

jet'wak^jak'waang- hai"thuuk'wi^thii-
wak^nUng'sii'kam- jong-jam-haii"dii-
bot'nUng'jUng-mii- yii"sip'pAAd'kam-

sam+pad'throng-nai+ jam-hai"mAAn"yam-
kam-thaai^wak^saam+ tid'taam-pra'jam-
sam+pad'kab'kam- thaai^bot'thon"lAA-

3.3 /kaab yaanii 11 (sip'et')/: got the name from the fact that there are
eleven syllables in one line. The structure, rhyme and rhythm are
similar to Intrawichain Chan+ except that there's no
accented/unaccented syllabes reuired. The one of the most beautiful
Thai Poetry, IMO. Ex:

daaw-duaan-kO"luan"lab^ saang+pa'yap^pa'yom-bon-
juaan-jAAng"phra^su'ri^yon- ya^yiam"yOOd'yu^khuun-thOOn-
som+dej'ha'ri^ya^wong- put^ta^pong-ti^paa-kOOn-
sa-dej'long-song+saa+khOOn- kab'phra^lak^a'nu^cha-
see+naa-prUd^tha-maat' taam-phra^baat'sdej'kraa-
juaan-klaai"ja'thUng+sa+ kha^rees"thii'tha^song+chon-
phra^leng-lAA-nEn-saai- thAAb"sUng^saai+cha'lee-yol-
Yaw-wa^ruup"a'su'ra^kol- an-klaai-klAAng"pen-sii+daa-

....He further studied the faked Sida.

(From Rammakian: when Phra ram saw nang Benjakaai impersonating his wife
Sida floating downstream as if drowned)

4) /klOOn-/: There are two major /klOOn-/s around Klon 6 (/klOOn-hok'/) and
Klon 8 (/klOOn-pAAd'/) with Klon 8 the most popular form of poetry among
all Thai poetry. Ex:

4.1 /klOOn- 6/: So named since there are six syllables in one (what the
heck is it called in English) wak^: [....]

dAAd'OOn'din-un'krun'klob' tha'la^lob'lom-pAAw'pAAw'naaw+
sod'chUUn"khUUn-wan-naan-yaaw- mUaan+khaaw'kwaam-rak^jak'maa-

(By Nawarat Pongpaiboon)

4.2 /klOOn 8/: So named for the same reason: The following example is both
beautiful in sound and structure, and elegant in meaning. The guiding
light for me, and should be for you as well:

The Ultimate Dream

(To dream the impossible dream)
(To fight the unfightable foes)
(To bear the unbearable sorrow)
(To reach the unreachable far)
(To right the unrightable wrong)
(To defend the beloved land till the last breath)
(To rather die than to loose dignity)
(To do things for others for nothing in return)

(Will not be discouraged but do what should be done)
(Will not wasting time doubting)
(Will not blame anybody for {one's} poor fate)
(Will not feel bad if life ends)

(This is my quest)
(To establish justice)
(Despite on my suffering)
(I still persist with pride)

(Then the world would be better than this)
(As many never give up though being doubted)
(They have determined to win)
(And will devote their life for the benefit of other THAIS)

(phra^rat'cha^ni^phon- nai-pra^bat'som+dej-phra^ chaaw"yuu'huaa+
phuu-mi'phon-a'dun-ya^dej, rat^cha^kaan-pat'ju'ban-)

(Composed by His Majesty The King, King Bhumibhol Adulyadej)

Translator's Note: Some sentence above are the recollection of my
memory of the song "The Impossible Dream." I have noticed the
similarity between the Thai words and those in the song and
have come to concluded that though the King composed the song,
the person who filled the melody with words was inpired by if
not plagiarizing it. I didn't have the whole text of words of
the song in hand while attempting this translation. I could
only recall some while created my own sentences, the lengthy
ones, for the others.

5. /raai"/: Is probably the least structured of all Thai poetry. But don't
take that for easy, it's not. I for one never can compose a /raai"/. Too
difficult since you have to be a master of Pali and Sanskrit to write
one as beautiful as those poets before us did. So maybe this is least
structured but the most difficult nonetheless. They come in some
variety, with probably the most prominent being /raai"yaaw-/ used to
praise the King or a new Capital. One of such well known example is the
name of Krung Rattanakosin or Bangkok that many of us got it wrong
recently. I'll present another /raai"yaaw-/ praising Ayudthaya, the
former Capital of Siam.

srii+a'yud^tha'ya-rom-ma'yees- pi^ses'suk'bam-thEEng-
sam+rEEng-rat'cha^sa'than+ sam+raan-rat'cha^sa'thit'
pi^pit^pok'kha^som+bat' pi^pat^pok'ka^som+buun-
phuun-phi^phop^dab'khen+ yen-phi^phop^dab'yuk^
sa'nuk'khan+ta^see+maa- sam'see+naa-nOOb"klaaw"
sam'snom+faw"faai'nai- sam'phon-krai-krEEk'haan+
sam'phon-saan+sin+thop- sop'sat'traa-sOOn+plEEng-
tha'kEEng-phra^kiat'fung'faa^ rUU-ta'la^lob'lAAng'laa"


Subject: L.5) The word "farang"

From: Gwyn Williams
Date: 29 Mar 1994 04:24:21 +1000


A wide-spread belief in Thailand is that the word "farang" (Caucasian)
is derived from the French word "francais". This derivation is implausible
on phonetic and historical grounds. It is in fact a popular misconception.
It is true, however, that these words have the same ultimate source.

The word is attested in various forms in languages in Europe, Africa,
the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. It is clear that the
word orginated as "Frank" in Europe and spread eastwards along Muslim
trade routes.

Thai most likely borrowed the word from influential Muslim Persian or
Indian traders in the 17th century or even earlier. The Persian word was
"farangg". The term probably was used to refer to early Portuguese
traders and subsequently to all Europeans (ie., non-Muslims).

It is possible that the Thai word "farangset" ("French") is a blend
of the word "farang" and the French word "francais", ie., "farangset" is
actually derived from "farang", not vice versa. Certainly, the word
"farang" existed prior to, and independently of, "farangset".

The following is an edited collection of discussions on the origin of
the Thai word "farang". PART 1 includes the initial discussion on
soc.culture.thai (PART 1). I forwarded the topic to LINGUIST LIST for
information on the word in other languages (PART 2).

[Editor's note: Both articles are available for anonymous FTP as files
the-word-farang-1.txt and the-word-farang-2.txt from
from directory /soc.culture.thai/SCTinfo/languages.]



The original soc.culture.thai FAQ was proposed, put together and initially
maintained by Thanachart Numnonda (

Sincere appreciations for valuable contributions from:
Andrew Atzert ( for L.2;
Gwyn Williams for L.5;
Jaray Chomchalao ( for L.4;
Jessada Jongsukvarakul ( for correction to L.4;
Lee Hopper ( for L.3;
Matt Barney ( for L.2;
Parames Laosinchai (CH...@CUNYVM.BITNET) for input to L.1;
Putnam Barber ( for L.2;
Rob Reed ( for input to L.1;
Samart Srijumnong ( for L.3 and translations of
poems in L.4;
Thinakorn Tabtieng for L.2;
Unalome Techamuanvivit ( for passing on L.1 and;
Wirote Aroonmanakun ( for L.1.

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