December 25, 2007

Click SEAlang Firefox add-on

There's a new tool in beta over at called Click SEAlang. It's a Firefox add-on that was developed by Roger Sperberg and Doug Cooper. I'm affiliated with SEAlang, but I've only been involved with the development of this tool as far as testing, so I'm just as much a user as anyone. And I think it's quite handy.

The idea is pretty simple. Highlight any word on a webpage and right-click it. Choose the Click SEAlang search option from the context menu. This pops open the Click SEAlang panel on the left side of the browser (or alternately on the bottom of the browser). If it's an English word you've selected, you can do a reverse-search in SEAlang's Thai, Khmer or Lao dictionaries. If you've selected a Thai, Khmer, or Lao word, it can tell by looking at the Unicode which language the word is and will look it up in the appropriate dictionary.

After you've installed the extension, the SEAlang bullseye logo sits in the bottom
corner of your browser window, as you can see the in the screenshot, along with other extensions you might have installed. The Click SEAlang panel opens automatically whenever you highlight and right-click search, but you can also use this icon to manually pop the panel open and closed.

Be sure to set your preferred reverse-search language in the settings. You can find that under the Tools menu in Firefox, and then selecting Add-ons, then clicking the Options button for the Click SEAlang extension. If you're like me, even when you're reading in English, you'll run across a word and say to yourself, "I wonder what the Thai word for that is..."

The answer's a click away.

[More screenshots available here.]

December 19, 2007

On blogs and babies (or, how I learned to overcome my lack of sleep and get back to blogging)

Well, I let the blog go unattended a bit longer than I would've liked. Two weeks! I have a good reason, I promise. 6 pounds, 9 ounces of a good reason:

My wife delivered a baby girl on December 11, 2007 at 1:14 a.m. Her name is Leslie Tida Dockum (เลซลี่ ธิดา ดอกคำ), and she's healthy and hungry and enjoying life as a newborn. While this isn't typical subject matter for Thai 101, hey, I'm a proud first-time papa, so indulge me. My grandfather passed away at 92 three weeks before Leslie was born, and it turned out that after all our struggling to pick a name over the last nine months, his middle name (Leslie) was the one that finally clicked for both of us. And it wasn't even in the running before. Things are funny that way.

On to other news, yesterday saw the welcome return of Jason over at Thai Language Tricks, after a couple months. Welcome back, Jason. Whatever grand scheme he has in store (as intimated in his latest post), I look forward to finding out more about it. If you know of any freely distributable electronic resources for studying Thai, be sure to let him know.

December 5, 2007

Happy Birthday to His Majesty the King

I'm far away from the Grand Palace this morning, but I've just watched the tribute given to His Majesty there on TV. Back in 2002, when I had been in the country for just five months, I sort of accidentally went to the King's traditional birthday-eve speech on December 4th at the Royal Plaza (ลานพระบรมรูปทรงม้า). At that time, seeing the King didn't mean a lot to me. I didn't know who he was, except that I'd seen his pictures everywhere. It was his 75th birthday that year, and the next evening at Sanam Luang (สนามหลวง), I was amazed at the massive number of people who turned out for the celebrations.

The evening of December 5, 2002, is memorable to me for a number of reasons. For one thing, I tried fried insects for the first time, purchased from a street vendor at Sanam Luang (I waited to eat them until I got home, so I could both build up my courage and properly document the event with photographs). Serving as a volunteer missionary at the time, I had ridden my bicycle to the celebrations with another missionary who I was assigned to work with in that area. I spent my first four months in Thailand in the area of Mueang Nonthaburi (เมืองนนทบุรี), and had just moved into an apartment on the Phayathai (พญาไท) side of Samsen (สามเสน) train station a few weeks prior.
In the midst of the masses, I got separated from my companion. My Thai was decent by that point, but I rarely strayed far from home, so I didn't know how to describe where I lived. Not being familiar with the area around Sanam Luang, and not really knowing how to ask directions home, I began to make my way through a veritable ocean of people, nervously backtracking my way to our apartment. Until I could locate some familiar landmarks, the massive pictures of the king and the lights all along Ratchadamnoen (ราชดำเนิน) Road very literally pointed my way home that night.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of pomp and circumstance, or as one might say in Thai, พิธีรีตอง. I imagine the King must be used to it by now, but I'm sure it takes it out of him, at his age. In last night's birthday speech, the King again showed that he is a beacon for the Thai people, and presents a stark contrast from other Thai public figures. He deserves all the love and admiration the Thai people shower upon him. And while it's nice to say you love the King, it's doing one better to show it, by understanding and following the principles he advocates. In this respect there's still a long road to be traveled ahead. Good thing there's a light to show the way.

Happy 80th Birthday to His Majesty the King.

November 30, 2007

Know Your Dictionary: Symbols in RID99

[Note: See also in this series introduction, sorting, orthography, pronunciation guides, and word senses. Forthcoming: etymology and list of abbreviations.]

Lest you, dear reader, should run out reading material, let's plow ahead with part four of the Know Your Dictionary series (the original Thai can be found here):

Part 3: Symbols
1. Comma ( , )
A. Used between similar senses of a word within a definition, e.g. กระตือรือร้น ก. รีบร้อน, เร่งรีบ, ขมีขมัน, มีใจฝักใฝ่เร่งร้อน.
a. Separates the definition from synonyms, e.g. เข้าโกศ ก. บรรจุศพลงในโกศ, ลงโกศ ก็ว่า.
b. When a synonym comes after a sense followed by a semicolon (;), it means that synonym applies only to the sense after the semicolon, e.g. ไข่ข้าว น. ไข่ที่ฟักไม่เป็นตัว ต้มแล้วแข็งและเหนียวผิดปรกติ; ไข่ปอกเสียบ ไม้ปักไว้บนยอดบายศรี, ไข่ขวัญ ก็เรียก. (ดู ขวัญ).

B. Used after the last sense before an illustrative example to show that the example applies to all preceding senses, e.g. ขวย ก. กระดาก, อาย, เช่น แก้ขวย ขวยใจ. If there is no comma, it shows that the example applies only the immediately preceding sense, e.g. ขีดคั่น ก. ขีดกั้นไว้, กำหนดไว้โดยเฉพาะ เช่น อ่านหนังสือไปถึงไหนแล้ว ให้ทำเครื่องหมายขีดคั่นไว้.

C. Used after the last definition before more details about the headword, e.g. ถลอก [ถะหฺลอก] ก. ลอกออกไป, ปอกออกไป, เปิดออกไป, (มักใช้แก่สิ่งที่มีผิว) เช่น หนังถลอก สีถลอก.

D. Used between etymological abbreviations, particularly those from Pali and Sanskrit whose orthography is the same as the headword, e.g. ทวิ has parentheses giving the etymology as (ป., ส.).

2. Semi-colon ( ; )
A. Used between each definition that has many senses, and those senses are different but are still related to the original sense, e.g กิ่ง น. ส่วนที่แยกออกจากต้น, แขนง; ใช้เรียกส่วนย่อยที่แยกออกไปจากส่วนใหญ่ แต่ยังขึ้นอยู่กับส่วนใหญ่ เช่น กิ่งอำเภอ กิ่งสถานีตำรวจ; ลักษณนามเรียกงาช้างว่ากิ่ง; ชื่อเรือชนิดหนึ่งในกระบวนพยุหยาตรา.

B. Used between definitions of a word with unrelated meanings, e.g. เจริญ [จะเริน] ก. เติบโต, งอกงาม, ทำให้งอกงาม, เช่น เจริญทางพระราชไมตรี เจริญสัมพันธไมตรี, มากขึ้น; ทิ้ง เช่น เจริญยา, จำเริญยา ก็ว่า; ตัด เช่น เจริญเกศา, จำเริญเกศา ก็ว่า; สาธยาย, สวด, (ในงานมงคล) เช่น เจริญพระพุทธมนต์.

C. Used at the end of a definition, before the synonyms, for headwords with various definitions, to show that those synonyms apply to all senses of the headword, e.g. ปทัสถาน น. แบบแผนสำหรับยึดถือเป็นแนวทางปฏิบัติ; เหตุที่ตั้งเป็นเครื่องถึง, เหตุอันใกล้ที่สุด; บรรทัดฐาน หรือ ปทัฏฐาน ก็ว่า. (ส.; ป. ปทฏฺ?าน).

D. Used between etymological abbreviations, particularly those form Pali and Sanskrit whose orthography is different from the headword, e.g. ศีรษะ has parentheses giving the etymology as (ส.; ป. สีส), and เขม-, เขมา has the etymology (ป.; ส. เกฺษม).

3. Hyphen ( - )
A. Used in place of the omitted first part of a double, e.g. –กระส่าย ใช้เข้าคู่กับคำ กระสับ เป็น กระสับกระส่าย. –กระเฟียด ใช้เข้าคู่กับคำ กระฟัด เป็น กระฟัดกระเฟียด.

B. Used after Pali or Sanskrit words to show that other words can be affixed to them, e.g. อัคร- สม- ศาสตร-

C. Used in place of unambiguous syllables of a pronunciation guide, e.g. ชบา [ชะ-] or ยี่หร่า [–หฺร่า]

D. Used between each syllable of a pronunciation guide for words with ambiguous pronunciation, e.g. เพลา [เพ-ลา] or เสมา [เส-มา]

4. Period ( . )
A. Used at the end of a definition, e.g. กำแหง [–แหง] ว. แข็งแรง, กล้าแข็ง, เข้มแข็ง. ก. อวดดี.

B. Used after parentheses which give the etymology of a word or source of a citation, e.g. กำจาย ๑ ก. กระจาย. (ข. ขฺจาย). กระโสง (กลอน) น. ปลากระสง เช่น กระโสงสังควาดหว้าย ชลา. (สรรพสิทธิ์).
And the commentary:

Insofar as these rules are consistently followed in the dictionary, these symbols are very important to understand for making fine distinctions within the dictionary entry. There are still some unfortunate ambiguities, like points A and B under the semi-colon section (it would be nice if they distinguished these).

Also, the use of the hyphen in headwords is extremely important and one of the things RID does very well, compared with many or most other dictionaries.

If a complex dictionary like this one, complete with this explanation, isn't an argument for the introduction of more Western-style punctuation into Thai, I don't know what is. Thai would lose some of its mystique, perhaps, and no doubt some would claim its "Thainess", but communication would certainly be improved. Reading flowing Thai text without tripping up is hard! So, good thing the Royal Institute took the time to think through and decide to use punctuation.

November 28, 2007

Know Your Dictionary: Orthography in RID99

[Note: See also in this series introduction, sorting, symbols, pronunciation guides, and word senses. Forthcoming: etymology and list of abbreviations.]

In part three of this series I present my translation of the Royal Institute's rules for Thai orthography from the introduction to RID99 (พจนานุกรม ฉบับราชบัณฑิตยสถาน พ.ศ. 2542). The original Thai can be found here.

Part 2: Orthography

1. The following new rules apply to reduplicated and repetitive final consonants:
A. For final consonants which are reduplicated, e.g. กิจจ, เขตต, จิตต, in the case that the final consonant has no accompanying vowel, cut off one of the consonants, leaving กิจ, เขต, จิต. Even if it is the prefix of a samasa compound, the final consonant can be pronounced a little bit without reduplication the letter, e.g. กิจกรรม, นิจศีล, จิตวิทยา. The final consonant is to be reduplicated only when accompanied by a vowel or other consonant, e.g. วักกะ, กิจจา, อัคคี, รัชชูปการ, บุคคล, ประภัสสร.
B. For final consonants with repetitive consonants from the final consonant group ฏ, e.g. รัฏฐ, อัฑฒ, in the case that the last consonant has no accompanying vowel, cut off the first of the two final consonants, leaving only the last consonant, e.g. รัฐ, อัฒ. Even if it is the prefix of a samasa compound, the final consonant can be pronounced without repetition, e.g. รัฐบาล, อัฒจันทร์. The final consonant is to be repeated only when accompanied by a vowel or other consonant, e.g. รัฏฐาภิปาลโนบาย, กุฏฐัง, unless the vowel on the last consonant is ิ, e.g. วุฑฒิ, อัฏฐิ, ทิฏฐิ, in which case cut off the first of the two final consonants, using only the last consonant, e.g. วุฒิ, อัฐิ, ทิฐิ. The full form from the original language is given for words of this type in parentheses after the word. When you find a word written differently from these rules, compare how the word would be written according to these rules, how it would be spelled, and look up that word, e.g. for the word จิตต์ or ทิฏฐิ, look up จิต or ทิฐิ.

2. The following rules apply to use of the vowel symbol ะ:

A. Words which in the original language have two consecutive initial consonants, but in Thai an extra อะ vowel is pronounced, are not to use ะ, e.g. ผจญ, ผทม.
B. Words from Pali and Sanskrit, for which the final syllable is to be pronounced with an อะ vowel, are to use ะ, e.g. ลักษณะ, ศิลปะ, สาธารณะ, หิมะ.
C. Words from other languages which have customarily been written with ะ will continue to be written with ะ, e.g. ระเบียบ is not written รเบียบ after the Khmer. Words which are of uncertain origin, if pronounced with the vowel อะ, are to use ะ in keeping the traditional Thai spelling.
D. Words beginning with the letter ส which has been altered to ตะ or กระ, even if not written with ะ in the original language, in Thai are to be written with ะ, e.g. สะพาน = ตะพาน, สะเทือน = กระเทือน.
E. Various words with an added ร, which are mostly used in poetry, if the original word uses ะ, are to use ะ after adding ร as well, e.g. จะเข้ = จระเข้, ทะนง = ทระนง. If the original word does not use ะ, it is not necessary to use ะ after adding ร, e.g. จมูก = จรมูก.

Therefore, for words that have previously been written with ะ, if not found, look them up without ะ.

3. The following rules apply to use of ไม้ไต่คู้:
A. Do not use ไม้ไต่คู้ for words which are modified from Pali and Sanskrit, e.g. เบญจ, เพชร.
B. Use ไม้ไต่คู้ for words which are pronounced short.

4. For words which have an initial consonant or consonant cluster, when expanded to two syllables, the second syllable will have the same tone as the original word, thus no silent ห is necessary, e.g. กลับ = กระลับ, กวัด = กระวัด, ตรวจ = ตำรวจ. Even if the word is borrowed from Pali and altered along these lines, no silent ห is used, e.g. กนก = กระนก.

5. For words from Pali and and Sanskrit which have several pronunciations and are commonly compounded with other words, several forms are given for convenience, e.g. ศิลป gives three forms: ศิลปะ-, ศิลป์, ศิลปะ. The form ศิลป- is used for compounding with other words, e.g. ศิลปกรรม, ศิลปศาสตร์; the form ศิลป์ is used for the pronunciation “สิน”, e.g. นาฏศิลป์; and the form ศิลปะ is used for standalone use, and for the desired pronunciation “สินละปะ”, e.g. ศิลปะการแสดง, งานศิลปะ.

6. For words written according to ancient orthography, e.g. วงง, วยง, อนน, เกรอก, which nowadays are written as วัง, เวียง, อัน, เกริก, if not found under the archaic spelling, look them up under the modern spelling.
And a bit of commentary:

These guidelines are particularly interesting and significant insofar as they do not simply apply to the organization of the dictionary. As the official dictionary of the Thai language, RID also functions as a standardizing, normative dictionary. If a word's spelling is changed in RID, the new spelling is supposed to be followed. By whom? Everyone, although in reality this is not the case. Several competing spellings may co-exist. But the Royal Institute doesn't generally go changing common spellings. In fact, perhaps the most significant spelling policy change between RID82 and RID99 is the explication of all word-final short /a/ vowels, in Indic-derived words. Whereas RID82 would, say, have the headword ภว with the pronunciation [พะวะ], RID99 would simply have the headword ภวะ, with no pronunciation, since the new spelling's pronunciation is transparent.

Another thing that occurs to me is that since people often take license with them, or because they may have been designated when a different spelling was in use, proper nouns (particularly surnames) are both a historical spelling record and a rich source of former or alternate spellings. For example, in rule 3A for ไม้ไต่คู้ above, เพชร is given as an example. It was once alternately spelled เพ็ชร, and is still pronounced as if it were spelled that way. But that spelling hasn't been common for decades. So why does it turn up so darn many hits on Google? Take a look for yourself and you'll see all the proper nouns.

This also reminds me: In another post for another day, I'll discuss the Royal Institute's rules for transcribing English loanwords, and how these are reflected (or not) in the recent Dictionary of New Words. (Sneak preview: In their attempt to impose new systematic spellings for words that already have de facto standards in the media, the Royal Institute is really only confusing the situation and undermining standardization.)

November 24, 2007

Old News: The original Siamese twins

I think everyone knows (or at least figured) that the expression Siamese twins comes from a pair of actual conjoined twins from Siam. There are quite a few books written about them (in English and Thai, among other languages, no doubt). From the same issue as my previous post from the Bangkok Recorder comes another interesting piece of news from America.
First published November 3, 1865:
อนึ่งมีข่าวมาใหม่ว่า, คนสองคนที่เปนฝาแฝดที่เกิดในเมืองสยามนี้, ที่ไปอยู่เมืองอเมริกานั้น. แต่ก่อนเขาก็ได้ทรัพย์สมบัติมาก, เพราะเที่ยวสำแดงตัวให้คนทั้งปวงเหน, เขาก็ได้เมียทั้งสองคนเกิดลูกทั้งสองฝ่าย. ลงไปอยู่เมืองอเมริกาฝ่ายใต้, ทำบ้านทำสวนสบายอยู่. แต่เมื่อเกิดศึกสงครามนั้น, ทรัพย์สมบัติเขาก็หายไปหมด. เขาหมายใจว่าจะเที่ยวไปสำแดงตัวเหมือนอย่างก่อน, แต่จะเอาลูกเมียไปด้วยเพื่อจะหาทรัพย์อีก.
Which translates to:
Furthermore, news has arrived on the two people who are twins born in Siam, who went to live in America. Before, they got very wealthy, because they toured around showing themselves for everyone to see. They both got married, and they both had children. They went to live in the south of America, built comfortable homes and gardens. But when the war broke out, their wealth all disappeared. They intend to tour around showing themselves as before, but they will take their wives and children with them, in order to earn more money.
Their names were Chang and Eng Bunker, and they were discovered in Siam by British businessman Robert Hunter in 1829. At the time of this article, they would have been 54 years old, and living as naturalized citizens in Wilkesboro, North Carolina for more than two decades already. The war mentioned is, of course, the American Civil War. General Lee surrendered in April of that year, and interestingly, the last of the Confederate forces to surrender finally did so on November 4, just one day after this issue of the Bangkok Recorder went to press.

For those who haven't read about the life stories of Chang and Eng, Wikipedia is a serviceable introduction. The twins had 22 children between them (with separate wives--sisters Adelaide and Sarah Anne Yates), they owned a plantation complete with slaves, their sons fought for the Confederacy, and they eventually expired a few hours apart on January 17, 1874, four months short of their 63rd birthday. And despite being rather curious celebrities, and spawning an idiom which has been translated back into Thai (แฝดสยาม) and is still used both in their homeland and adopted land, they wanted to have a normal life. This is why they settled down, and why they chose the last name Bunker, and from this piece in the Bangkok Recorder we learn just how normal a life they achieved, complete with financial pitfalls. And somehow I find this surprising mundaneness to their life just as fascinating as their "Siamese twin-ness". It makes me glad that even a presumably austere Christian missionary like Dan Beach Bradley wasn't above a little celebrity gossip in his newspaper.

November 21, 2007

Old News: Siam's first newspaper

As with several Western innovations, the first Thai printing press in the Kingdom of Siam* was brought over by Christian missionaries. And with the printing press, along with techniques of Western medicine, Dr. Dan Beach Bradley, a native of New York state, managed to revolutionize life in Thailand in many ways, despite his failure to convert the natives to Christianity. Known popularly to this day as หมอบรัดเลย์ (or one of several spelling variations**), Dr. Bradley performed the first modern surgery, published the first newspaper, and other publishing firsts, including the first printed Thai-Thai Dictionary.

Bradley's printing press arrived in Siam in 1836, the year after he did, and promptly was put to work. His newspaper, the Bangkok Recorder, had two printing runs. One in the 1840s, and then again in the 1860s, eventually being shut down because it couldn't break even. Recently I've acquired a scan of the entirety of the 1865-1866 year, or the first year of the newspaper's second run. It's truly fascinating. The range is broad, with everything from local and foreign news to translations of selections from the U.S. constitution to explanations of anatomy or other scientific principles--even the occasional joke. Naturally, then, I can't keep it to myself. So I will periodically post interesting articles or tidbits from the Bangkok Recorder, known in Thai as หนังสือจดหมายเหตุ (which means, essentially, "newspaper", though that term has long been supplanted by หนังสือพิมพ์, and is now used to mean "record of events", which is another literal interpretation of the term), or by the transliteration of its English name, บางกอกรีคอเดอ. Here's my first selection, an explanation of advertising, published November 3, 1865:

In modern type with extra spaces between words removed:
ข้าพเจ้าผู้เจ้าของจตหมายเหตุนี้ได้ยินข่าวว่า, คนที่ซื้อบางกอกรีคอเดอสงไสว่า, เหตุไรได้เอาความลงซ้ำนัก. เหมือนอย่างที่ว่าด้วยอู่ใหม่นั้นได้ลง ๒ หน ๓ หนแล้ว. ข้ออื่นก็มีหลายข้อที่ลงซ้ำหลายครั้ง. เหตุผลประการใดจึงเปนอย่างนี้. หาความใหม่ ๆ ไม่ได้ฤๅ. เขาสงไสบ่นเพ้อไปอย่างนี้, เพราะเขาไม่รู้ธรรมเนียมจตหมายเหตุ. ข้อที่ลงซ้ำอย่างนั้นเปนความอย่างหนึ่ง, ที่เจ้าของเนื้อความนั้นปราถนาจะให้คนทั้งปวงดูทุกทีทุกครั้งไม่ลืม. เหมือนเรื่องอู่ใหม่นั้นเขาก็จ้างให้ลงพิมพ์ทุก ๆ ครั้ง, ด้วยให้ค่าจ้างราคาครั้งละ ๒ เหรียน. ข้อความที่ลงซ้ำ ๆ อย่างนี้, อังกฤษเรียกว่าแอดเวอไตศเม็นต์. ใคร ๆ ปราถนาจะให้ลงซ้ำก็จำเปนให้ลงตามธรรมเนียม, ที่จะปัดเสียไม่เอาก็ไม่ได้. บางทีข้อความที่ลงซ้ำ ๆ เช่นนี้, ในจตหมายเหตุฉบับหนึ่งมีถึง ๓ น่า ๔ น่าก็มี, เนื้อความใหม่ ๆ มีแต่ ๒ น่า. แต่แรกข้าพเจ้าหมายว่าจะทำเนื้อความใหม่ ๆ ลงในจตหมายเหตุให้ได้ ๔ ใบทุกที ๆ. เหนคนชอบใจได้มากจึงได้จัดแจงให้มี ๖ ใบ. แต่ในใบที่ ๕ ที่ ๖ นั้น, ก็คงจะมีเนื้อความซ้ำต่อไปบ้างเล๊กน้อย. อย่าให้ผู้ซื้อว่ากะไรเลย, ด้วยให้เกินไปมากกว่า ๔ ใบที่ได้สัญญาไว้แล้ว.
And a translation:
I, the owner of this newspaper, have heard that those who purchase the Bangkok Recorder wonder, "Why are so many things reprinted? Like the article about the new dock, it's run 2 or 3 times already. There are many other items which have been reprinted many times. What is the reason for this? Can't they find new material?"
They wonder and complain ramblingly like this, because they don't know the customs of newspapers. Those items which are reprinted are a type of article, the owner of which wants everyone to read and remember. Like with the story about the new dock, they pay for it to be printed every time, paying 2 dollars per time. An article that is repeated like this, in English is called 'advertisement'. Whoever wants to reprint something must be allowed according to the custom, and can't be rejected. Sometimes in an issue of the newspaper there are up to 3 or 4 pages of reprinted articles like this, with only 2 pages of new material. From the start I intended to publish 4 sheets of new material in the paper every time. I saw that a lot of people liked it so I arranged for 6 sheets. But in sheets 5 and 6, there will likely be some of these repeated articles. No one should criticize, because I'm already giving more than the promised 4 sheets.
In this day and age it's rather bizarre to imagine when--just a century and a half ago!--anyone would have been puzzled by advertising. Times have changed.

From a language perspective, it's interesting to see the differences in spelling. In this brief piece we see สงไส, น่า in the sense "page", ฤๅ meaning หรือ, and เปน and เหน without ไม้ไต่คู้, among other things. We also see that spelling English as อังกฤษ dates back at least this far. Overall, quite comprehensible for the modern reader.

If you have a particular request for what feature from this newspaper you want to see, drop me an email

* The actual first printing in Thai script was done out of the country, also by missionaries. Bradley's press was the first physically in Thailand.
** I've also seen หมอบรัดเล, หมอบลัดเล, หมอปลัดเล, and หมอปรัดเล, among other possible permutations.

November 17, 2007

Know Your Dictionary: Sorting in RID99

[Note: See also in this series introduction, orthography, symbols, pronunciation guides, and word senses. Forthcoming: etymology and list of abbreviations.]

Today, in part two of this series, is my English translation of the first part of RID99's introductory material. I'm happy to entertain questions about my translation (the original Thai is here). It is, for the most part, strict. I haven't generally attempted to revise the material to make it clearer, though I have occasionally translated loosely where I thought Thai structure or word choice unnecessarily obscure the meaning.

Part 1: Sorting and word collection method

1. Consonants are ordered by letter, i.e. ก ข ฃ ค up through อ ฮ. They are not ordered by sound, i.e. if you look up the word ทราบ, you must look in the ท section; if you look up the word เหมา, you must look in the ห section. ฤ ฤๅ are ordered after ร and ฦ ฦๅ are ordered after ล.

2. Vowels are not ordered by sound, but are ordered by symbol as follows: -ะ - ั -า - ิ - ี -ึ - ื -ุ -ู เ- แ- โ- ใ- ไ-. The many combined vowel symbols are sorted by the linear vowel symbol order as given above, resulting in the following order:


-ั (กัน)

-ะ (ผัวะ)



- ิ

- ี

- ึ

- ื




เ-ะ (เกะ)

เ-า (เขา)

เ-าะ (เจาะ)

เ- ิ(เกิน)

เ- ี (เสีย)

เ- ีะ (เดียะ)

เ- ื (เสือ)

เ- ืะ (เกือะ)


แ-ะ (แพะ)


โ-ะ (โป๊ะ)



The letters ย ว อ are always sorted as consonants.

3. Word sorting is ordered foremost by initial consonant, and then by vowel symbol. Words without a vowel symbol thus come first, e.g. กก comes before กะ, or ขลา comes before ขะข่ำ.
Words which have both consonants and vowel symbols are sorted by the same method as above, e.g. จริก จริม จรี จรึง จรุก, and normally are not sorted by tone marker, e.g. ไต้ก๋ง ไต้ฝุ่น ไต่ไม้; tone markers is counted in sorting order only for words which otherwise are spelled the same, e.g. ไต ไต่ ไต้ ไต๋, or กระตุ่น กระตุ้น. Words with the symbol -็ (ไม้ไต่คู้) are ordered before tone markers, e.g. เก็ง เก่ง เก้ง เก๋ง.

4. Among words which begin with กระ-, some words can only be spelled with กระ-, but others can also be spelled with กะ-. Those which can alternately be spelled with กะ- are also collected under กะ-, but only the words are given, without definitions. Therefore, for a word beginning with กะ in that section, see the definition under กระ-, e.g. กระทะ กระเปาะ, except for those which are spelled both ways with different definitions, e.g. กระแจะ-กะแจะ กระด้าง-กะด้าง, in which case definitions are given for both words.

5. There are words with an extra prefixed syllable as used in ancient compositions, e.g. มี่ as มะมี่, ริก as ระริก, ครื้น as คะครื้น or คระครื้น, แย้ม as ยะแย้ม, etc., according to the method called in Pali อัพภาส, and in Sanskrit อัภยาส, which translates as "method of overlapping letters", e.g. ททาติ or ททามิ. There are large numbers of these words, in some cases they are included under the prefix, e.g. คะครื้น is included under คะ, which states "prefixed to words which begin with the letter ค, with the same meaning as the original word". In other cases they are included according to their spelling, e.g. มะมี่, but all instances are probably not included, therefore if a word cannot be found under its spelling, see the original word, e.g. ยะแย้ม see แย้ม.

6. Some regional dialects truncate their speech, e.g. กะดะ shortened to ดะ (without กะ), กะง้อนกะแง้น shortened to ง้อนแง้น (without กะ), but the meaning is the same as the full word with กะ. Such words are kept only under กะ.

7. Words with reversed pronunciations, e.g. ตะกรุด as กะตรุด, ตะกร้อ as กะตร้อ, and ตะกรับ as กะตรับ, are normally kept in both ก and ต, but if not found in ก, look in ต.

8. The follow words are used often in poetry:
A. Words which append อา, อี or อิน to the end, e.g. กายา, กายี, กายิน.
B. Words with append เอศ to the end (in poetry terms this is called ศ เข้าลิลิต, making the word called a "toneless word" into a "first tone word" according to khlong poetry rules), e.g. กมเลศ, มยุเรศ.
C. Words which append อาการ to the end, e.g. จินตนาการ, คมนาการ, ทัศนาการ.
D. Words which append ชาติ to the end, e.g. กิมิชาติ, คชาชาติ.

These words typically have the same meaning as the original, and are collected in this dictionary, but perhaps incompletely, because there are so many. If not found under a given spelling, look under the spelling of the original, e.g. กายา, กายี, if not found under กายา or กายี, look under กาย. Whatever the meaning of กาย is, กายา and กายี have the same meaning. Look up other words after this same pattern.

9. Words with the same root that can take many forms, e.g. หิมวัต can can take the forms หิมวันต์, หิมวา, หิมวาต, หิมวาน, and หิมพาน without a change in meaning, are defined only under the original word, in this case หิมวัต. Words which have changed form from the original word are collected separately, but include a note to see the original word, e.g. หิมวันต์, หิมวา, หิมวาต, หิมวาน [หิมมะ]- น. หิมวัต.

10. Words which are subordinate names, e.g. ตะนอย, ช่อน, คา, are not included with the corresponding common noun as used in speech, e.g. มดตะนอย, ปลาช่อน, หญ้าคา, but rather the common nouns มด, ปลา, หญ้า are included according to their spelling, and subordinate names ตะนอย, ช่อน, and คา are included separately according to their spellings, except for words cannot be separated, because the whole word is the name of something, e.g. แมลงภู่, which is types of mussel or fish, and thus it is included whole under the letter ม; or, ปลากริม, which is a type of sweet, not a fish, is included whole under the letter ป. Nevertheless, there are some words which cannot be sorted according to these rules, therefore if a word after this pattern after this pattern is not found under the subordinate name, look it up under the common name, e.g. น้ำตาลกรวด is not found under กรวด, so see น้ำตาล.

11. When two words are compounded, with the first word the same as the headword, and has a meaning related to the headword, it is a subhead of that headword, e.g. กดขี่, กดคอ, กดหัว, are subheads of กด, except for compound words which have an independent meaning or a different meaning from the headword, in which case they are included as separate headwords, e.g. ขวัญอ่อน, meaning an easily startled person, i.e. a child or woman who tends to become frightened frequently, is included as a subhead of ขวัญ; whereas ขวัญอ่อน, referring to a type of dancing song, is a separate headword, because it has a different meaning. Words of this type are also numbered, e.g. ขวัญอ่อน ๑ and ขวัญอ่อน ๒. Compound words which have the same word-for-word meaning as the original words are not included, e.g. ข้าวผัด is not a subhead of ข้าว, because its meaning is the sum of its parts.

12. For words which can be compounded to either the beginning or end of other words, e.g. น้ำ, are compounded in various words, e.g. แม่น้ำ, ลูกน้ำ, น้ำใจ, น้ำต้อย, if the word that comes before the word น้ำ is spelled differently, it is ordered by spelling. For example, the word แม่น้ำ is ordered under ม; ลูกน้ำ is ordered under ล; they are not ordered under น. But if the word น้ำ comes first, it is ordered under น, as a subhead of the word น้ำ, e.g. น้ำกรด, น้ำแข็ง, น้ำย่อย.
[Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with the Royal Institute, nor have I made them aware of my translations. This is intended for educational and research purposes.]

November 16, 2007

Know Your Dictionary: RID99

[Note: See also in this series sorting, orthography, symbols, pronunciation guides, and word senses. Forthcoming: etymology and list of abbreviations.]

Today I'm kicking off a series of posts about what I often refer to on this blog as RID99. That's right, once again I'm talking about the venerable Royal Institute Dictionary. The most recent edition is the 2542 edition, which corresponds to the year 1999.* As the official standard dictionary of Thai, it is a must own for any serious student of the language. That is, unless, the somewhat flawed online edition is sufficient for you.**

It's known in Thai as พจนานุกรม ฉบับราชบัณฑิตยสถาน พ.ศ. ๒๕๔๒.*** And while the print version has plenty of flaws of its own, it's the best monolingual dictionary out there (although I'm fond of Matichon's dictionary, too).

I dont' know about you, but I had been using the dictionary a long time before I ever took the time to carefully read the introductory material. And as it turns out, there's quite a bit of good stuff to learn in those introductory pages. You can find them in the original Thai linked from the main page of RID99 online, underneath the headings for all the letters of the alphabet. It includes these sections:
  • การเรียงลำดับคำและวิธีเก็บคำ (Sorting and word collection method)
  • อักขรวิธี (Orthography)
  • เครื่องหมายต่าง ๆ (Symbols)
  • การบอกคำอ่าน (Pronunciation guides)
  • ความหมาย (Senses)
  • ประวัติของคำ (Etymology)
  • บัญชีอักษรย่อและคำย่อที่ใช้ในพจนานุกรมนี้ (List of abbreviations used in the dictionary)
My small contribution is that I have translated these into English for personal use, and I'm going to post my translations here, in hopes that they help you to get more out of your dictionary experience, as they did me. These explanations provide a better understanding of the thought process and effort that has gone into the structure and contents of the Royal Institute Dictionary, and the structure of the Thai language in general. As I have said, RID is not without its flaws, but see if you don't just learn a thing or two from it. Stay tuned.

*It was actually first published in 2003, but is still branded as such so as to associate itself with the auspicious year of H.M. The King's sixth cycle--72nd--birthday in that year, and to honor him.
**See my previous posts about RID99 online and its problems here, here, here and here.
***You can read a bit about the Royal Institute on Wikipedia, but be warned--I wrote most of the article, so you only have my word to take for it. Feel free to add to the article.

Improve Your Accent: How to pronounce ง.งู

[I've revised the following from a post I made on a message board quite a while ago, after someone asked for help figuring out how to pronounce ง.งู, that pesky little consonant. I recently ran across it again, and it's actually a pretty good explanation. Enjoy.]

In pronouncing ง (or any sound), consider two important pieces of information:

Place of articulation
Manner of articulation

The sound of ง is pronounced with the back of the tongue touching the soft palate (that is the place of articulation), and it is pronounced by expelling air through the nasal cavity (that's the manner of articulation).

I would guess that tongue position is the problem for most people. To help you pronounce ง correctly, compare it with other sounds that have the exact same place of articulation. In English, these are /g/ and /k/. In Thai, it's ก, ค, etc. Move your tongue back as if you were going to so say a word like "go". When you prepare to say "go," you should notice that your tongue forms a seal so that no air comes out until you expel it in a sudden burst. So /g/ has the identical *place* of articulation as ง, but has a different manner of articulation of articulation. So prepare to say /g/ again, but this time, instead of letting air come out through your mouth, relax your throat so that the air comes out through your nose instead. It's critical here that your tongue *does not move* from where you first positioned it. You'll know your doing it right if while you are saying the sound ง, and you plug your nose, no air comes out of your mouth. That is, the air is blocked.

So ง shares the same manner of articulation with น and ม, but they each have different places of articulation. That is, for each different nasal sound ง น ม, you form a seal, blocking air from flowing out of your mouth, and let it flow through your nose instead. So the trick is to form the seal in the right place. If you form it with your lips, the sound is ม. If you form it with your tongue right behind your top teeth, the sound will be น. And if you form the seal against the soft palate at the back of your mouth, the sound will be ง. If you're not moving your tongue far enough back, and forming the seal at the hard palate, the sound will be like "ny", like the Spanish ñ in word like "año".

Good luck, and keep it up. You'll get it. :)

October 29, 2007

Different directions

One of the things I like learning is synonyms, which are plentiful in Thai, what with the combination of different speech registers and slews of Indic loanwords. I'm often surprised to make connections with words I've heard but didn't know the meaning of.

Case in point: the Indic-derived words for the compass directions:
อุดร (as in the name of the province, อุดรธานี, "northern city")
South: ทักษิณ (the name of a certain Prime Minister; also, the express train south is called the "Thaksin Express")
East: บูรพา (the author กุหลาบ สายประดิษฐ์ wrote under the pseudonym ศรีบูรพา, roughly, "the glorious east")
West: ปัจฉิม (most commonly seen in the phrase ปัจฉิมลิขิต or ป.ล., the Thai version of "p.s."--บูรพา and ปัจฉิม have alternate meanings of "front" and "back", respectively)
Northeast: อีสาน (the northeastern region of Thailand!)
Northwest: พายัพ (there's a Payap University in Chiangmai)
อาคเนย์ (seen in the phrase เอเชียอาคเนย์ "Southeast Asia", or in the สนธิ-compound of the same meaning, อุษาคเนย์)
Southwest: หรดี (haven't seen this one around much, frankly)

October 28, 2007

Etymologist 11: ปฏิ- words and language modernization

Thai, like many languages, has been undergoing a conscientious process of modernization for several decades. This means there are people who intentionally coin new Thai words to correspond to words in English or other languages. The work is never really through, however, as new words are always coming up that need Thai equivalents. One option is to simply borrow the foreign word directly (such words are known as ทับศัพท์), but some view this as a corruption of the language. In Thailand, the many committees of the Royal Institute do most of this work. They give us words like โลกาภิวัตน์ for 'globalization', and คณิตกรณ์ for 'computer'. Sometimes they catch on (as with วัฒนธรรม 'culture' or นโยบาย 'policy'). Other times they fail miserably (คณิตกรณ์ 'computer' is a great example of failure--คอมพิวเตอร์, and its abbreviation คอม, are ubiquitous).

One possible strategy for simplifying this never-ending process is to create a set of tools in Thai to correspond to English. That is, to systematically use one Thai morpheme* to correspond to a given English morpheme. This sounds great in theory, but it's difficult in practice, because any given morpheme can have any number of meanings. Thus, this has only been done haphazardly in Thai.

Consider the example of ปฏิ-. It's a prefix borrowed from Indic, meaning (according to RID99) ตอบ, ทวน, กลับ. I
n several coinages, ปฏิ- corresponds to the prefix re- in English:

ปฏิรูป = reform
ปฏิวัติ = revolt
ปฏิกิริยา = reaction
ปฏิกรณ์ = reactor (e.g. nuclear)

These are calques (a.k.a. "loan translations") from English:
ปฏิ + รูป = re + form
ปฏิ + วัติ = re + volt (meaning 'turn back', related to revolve)
ปฏิ + กิริยา = re + action
ปฏิ + กรณ์ = re + actor/agent

Here are a few less common ones, which are looser calques:
ปฏิกรรมสงคราม = reparations
ปฏิสังขรณ์ = restore/renovate (a building)

There's also the common word ปฏิเสธ "reject", but it isn't a recent coinage, rather an existing word expanded to include the meaning "reject". It's a long-standing term for the "negative" mood in grammar (i.e. the opposite of "affirmative").

Beyond that, there are a number of relatively common Thai words with this prefix that don't correspond to re- words in English:

ปฏิทิน = calendar
ปฏิบัติ = to carry out, to put into practice
ปฏิญาณ = to vow, swear an oath

Given the success of neologisms like ปฏิรูป and ปฏิวัติ, you'd think it would be easy to expand ปฏิ for other re- words like recycle, renew, etc. The problem you run into is that re- has a related meaning which doesn't quite match ปฏิ-: "again". In fact, this is probably the primary meaning of re- in most English words its found in. So while ปฏิ- fits some words, it doesn't quite fit others.

But what can you expect? Systematically capturing the nuances of one language in another would require a pretty massive restructuring, for two languages as different as English and Thai. And for a language like Thai, language modernization has always been a tightrope walk across the fine line between keeping up with the pace of the world and sacrificing what Thais view as
the most significant aspect of their society and culture: their language.

A morpheme is the smallest meaningful language unit. For example, the word bicycles has three morphemes: bi-, cycle, and -s. This tells you it's a plurality of two-wheeled things.

October 27, 2007

Royal Institute Dictionary of New Words

Back in June of this year, the Royal Institute held a press conference on the topic การจัดทำพจนานุกรมคำใหม่ "Making a Dictionary of New Words" (the page about it on the RI site is here, the PDF press release is here). This was widely covered in the Thai press, but also widely misunderstood.

The main confusion appears to surround the Thai term ศัพท์บัญญัติ, and specifically the word บัญญัติ. The term is frequently translated as "coin", in the sense of "coining a word", but in English, to coin a word simply means to come up with it, while บัญญัติ carries an air of authority. More broadly applied, as a verb it means to prescribe or legislate, and as a noun, law or regulation. So ศัพท์บัญญัติ literally means something like prescribed words. Usually these take the form of technical vocabulary, coined into existence to match some equivalent term in English or another foreign language. This type of coining/prescribing is necessary in the process of modernizing a language like Thai.

Let me switch tracks for a second. Notice that in English (or at least American English as I'm familiar with it), we say "the dictionary". This use of the definite article implies that there is some sort of authoritative dictionary out there, the official arbiter of all things linguistically correct. I regularly hear the sentiment "that's not a real word". And who can forget that childhood taunt, "ain't ain't a word 'cause it ain't in the dictionary"? Popular opinion aside, though, English is notable because it doesn't have such a dictionary, nor does it have any organization empowered to regulate "standard" or "proper" use of the language.

Thus, for English, those who would seek to prescribe proper usage must assume the authority themselves. English dictionaries of the last century or more have not usually attempted to do this, though many still read them as if they did. Early notable lexicographers of English, namely Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster, included some element of prescriptivism in their dictionaries, but Webster was notable for bucking British prescriptive trends and helping to define American English as a separate linguistic entity, canonizing many spellings and pronunciations we still use today. More recently, lexicographers like James Murray (Oxford English Dictionary) and Philip Gove (Webster's Third) saw their tasks as being to describe the language as it was a
nd is used, and employ usage notes to differentiate standard from non-standard. Still, it is the everyday users of the language who clamor for a linguistic king--demanding a final answer on things like who vs. whom (which provided great fodder for an excellent scene in a recent episode of The Office), whether ain't is "really a word", or how to "correctly" spell such-and-such word. While I believe that a standard language is important, and you will be judged socially and professionally by your ability to use the standard language conventionally, you, dear reader, may be picking up what I'm putting down: I don't much care for arbitrary prescriptivism.

Back to Thai. Unlike English, the Thai language has just such an organization. It is the Royal Institute. And surrounding the issue of this "new words" dictionary, I'm seeing confusion among the Thai people in the opposite direction from English. That is, since the Royal Ins
titute exists, and is formally endowed with the power to prescribe proper, standard language use, people think that anything that comes from them is being prescribed. With respect to the forthcoming พจนานุกรมคำใหม่, this means that people are misunderstanding the publication of this volume as an endorsement of the words contained therein. And given the RI's past tendency to keep slang at arm's length, it's understandable. The inclusion of slang was one of the reasons why the Matichon Dictionary (พจนานุกรม ฉบับมติชน) was such big news upon its release.

There is a great mirror for this sort of controversy in English, actually. In 1961, Merriam-Webster published Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged (commonly known as Webster's Third or W3), which was met by a fair amount of criti
cism at its inclusion of--you guessed it--ain't, among other words. The funny thing was, ain't had been in dictionaries for a long time, but Webster's Third became a whipping boy for dictionary "permissiveness". (Read more on Wikipedia. This is also the subject of an excellent book.)

Things haven't gotten quite so far in Thailand (though the Royal Institute has taken some beatings over the years), and I doubt things will, unless the Institute announces plans to incorporate the contents of the "new words" dictionary into the next edition of RID (very unlikely). Nonetheless, some folks seem to be responding with displeasure that such an august institution as the RI would even bother with what they see as teenage language abominations. The Institute is quite clear on this thoug
h: this is not a collection of ศัพท์บัญญัติ, but rather a compilation of new words currently in use, ostensibly for the benefit of later generations, who may be confused by the wacky slang of today's popular media. (I think, in some ways, they're referring to themselves, being mostly elderly folks.)

Consider a couple of quotes from the web board of the Royal Institute website (my translations):
"อยากทราบว่าในพจนานุกรมฉบับใหม่ที่กำลังถกเถียงกันอยู่ตอนนี้ มีคำอะไรบ้างคะที่จะบัญญัติลง..."
(I'd like to know what words are prescribed in the new dictionary being argued over right now...)
"ต้องการทราบเรื่อง การบัญญัติคำศัพท์ใหม่ ที่ออกรายการช่อง 3..."
(I want to know about the prescribed new words that were reported about on channel 3...)

If this is what people took away from media reports on the June press conference, it seems that the press missed the message on this one. Now, there are those on the message board who are trying to point out that these aren't ศัพท์บัญญัติ, but I wouldn't be surprised if many folks are still under the misconception.

In late September, the Royal Institute had another press conference to show off the newly printed book (on the left in the photo at right). The formal premier of the book was this past Monday, October 22nd, at the national book fair. It's available exclusively there until the fair ends (tomorrow).

In all, I think this is a good move on the part of the Royal Institute. I think it's a bit silly and unnecessary that they have to go through a bunch of logical gymnastics to justify the new dictionary, but I'm glad they did it. While this idea has basically been done before in the form of Matichon's พจนานุกรมนอกราชบัณฑิตยฯ (Dictionary of Words Not in RID, the out-of-print predecessor to Matichon's full dictionary), this will still be a legitimately valuable reference work for not just future generations of Thais (one of the Royal Institute's justifications for the book), but for all the Thai language learners who've ever worn a bald spot into their scalp scratching their heads over the seemingly bottomless fount of new Thai words. I hope เล่ม ๒ comes sooner rather than later.

[Note: I wrote this without having gotten my hands on the book. I bought a copy tonight. I'll post my thoughts soon.]

October 26, 2007

Classifiers! Get your classifiers!

The Royal Institute, your friendly neighborhood language regulating organization, is all about the dissemination of knowledge. Their website is, frankly, not very good (too much style over functionality--their fancy menus don't display correctly in any browser but IE, blech), but I'll be darned if it isn't packed with goodies. Difficult to access, often half-baked goodies, but goodies nonetheless.

Case in point: classifiers. In Thai we know them as ลักษณนาม [ลัก-ษะ-ณะ-นาม, in case the four consonants in a row was throwing you]. As the Thai word indicates, they are a type of นาม (noun, though this word also means name), which tells you a characteristic (ลักษณะ). So, ลักษณะ + นาม (the vowel disappears
because of สมาส combining rules).

Now, classifiers can be quite a chore to remember. I mean, how often do you use กระบอก, the classifier for gun? Or remember that a pair of pants is only a ตัว, but a pair of socks is a คู่? And many a learner forgets, in the heat of the conversation, that a pencil is a แท่ง but a pen is a ด้าม.

There is some research that suggests that native speakers don't employ nearly so complex a set of classifiers as the textbooks would lead you to believe, and use a lot of generic and repeater classifiers (nouns which can be used as their own classifiers, like ร้านร้านหนึ่ง "a store"). Interestingly, it also shows that younger speakers are better at using the Royal Institute's prescribed classifiers (presumably because, statistically, younger Thais are more well-educated than their elders). In my uninformed opinion, I find it's a matter of situation. In a more formal situation, or especially in writing, it's more important to know the standard. In informal conversation, it's easy to get by using a lot of อัน and ตัว.

Which all brings me to this link. It is the full text of the Royal Institute's useful (if unimaginatively titled) booklet, ลักษณนาม ฉบับราชบัณฑิตยสถาน (roughly, The Royal Institute Book of Classifiers). It's the text of the sixth printing, to be precise. Kudos to them for putting it online. It is organized alphabetically by the word you want the classifier of. In other words, look for นาฬิกา to find เรือน. The most glaring error is the lack of searchability, followed closely by the decision to arbitrarily number the 22 pages of text, sometimes with multiple consonants-worth of classifiers on one numbered page. Even when you know the letter of the alphabet, you still have to hunt around to find exactly which page it's on. The next obvious shortcoming is the inability to see what words share a certain classifier. For example, to be able to look up in one shot all the words the Royal Institute says it's okay to use ตัว as a classifier for.

In an effort to remedy this, and completely without the Royal Institute's knowledge or permission, I've taken their text and put it in a Google Spreadsheet, viewable here. I've divided it up into different "sheets" by letter. This doesn't solve all of the problems, but it's a start. This should serve to make the Royal Institute's date more valuable to language learners like you and me. (Feel free to contact me for the XLS or DOC or TXT files I made from the RI data.)

And let me know in the comments if you find a particularly interesting classifier you didn't know existed before.

October 20, 2007

More Thai Wikimedia love

The other day I wrote about Thai Wikipedia, so I wanted to highlight another cool Wikimedia project: Thai Wiktionary. In a comment on the Thai Wikipedia post, Jason had a great thought:
The gap between Thai Wikipedia and English Wikipedia is an aspiring translator's dream: plenty of material and no penalty for mistakes.
Now, I knew that in theory, but it took him saying that to get me to fully realize it. So I've decided to hone my Thai skills and get more involved. For no real reason, I created an article on Herman Melville (though I focused mostly on a list of his works). I created a "navbox" for the important technological fields, which you can see at the bottom of pages like วิศวกรรมชีวเวช (biomedical engineering). Among other things.

Enter Thai Wiktionary. Very much in its infancy. Little consistency, and as of yesterday, a mere 248 entries. By comparison, English Wiktionary has 551,000, and little ol' Vietnamese Wiktionary has an astounding 225,000 words. So I decided to double Thai's number of entries. And right now it stands at 415. I'm not really that prolific--I added pages for almost 200 Thai abbreviations. I figured that was an easy way to start. Doesn't require much definition (at least not yet), just a single word saying what it stands for. Gets the job done on a basic level. Get involved! The important thing is to look at what's been done and copy the style and the standard.

When Thai Wiktionary hits 1,000 words it moves up to the next bracket on the homepage. I'm thinking an ETA of next week sounds reasonable. Wanna help?

October 16, 2007

Bangkok at nightfall .. กรุงเทพฯ ยามรัตติกาล

Even a seemingly endless sea of concrete and glass has its charm. Here are a couple of beautiful pictures of Bangkok at night from Wikipedia. I have a soft spot for this particular vantage point. The skytrain stop visible here is Sala Daeng ศาลาแดง Chong Nonsi ช่องนนทรี. Before we were married, my wife used to work on the 48th floor of Empire Tower, the tall building on the left, and I used to regularly meet her around here after work. The view from the skytrain station ain't too shabby, either.

And here's Chinatown. Something about sunset shots. Beautiful.

Thai Wikipedia

I wonder how many people know about Thai Wikipedia. I recommend it--and I recommend getting involved. I've been a member since July 2006, and while I've only made 100 or so edits, I try to do what I can. Particularly, since I'm not quite confident enough to start full blown articles, I create a lot of redirect pages for things with more than one name, correct obvious typos, interlink with Wikipedias of other languages, and use the Thai info to create or expand English pages about various Thai things, like authors, or the Royal Institute.

On the Wikipedia frontpage, which lists languages in groups by number of articles, Thai is firmly in the 10,000+ group (with 28,135 as of just now). It has more articles than the respective Wikipedia sites of all of mainland Southeast Asia (assuming I'm interpreting their statistics pages correctly):

Vietnamese Wikipedia: 25,150 articles
Malay Wikipedia: 23,659 articles
Khmer Wikipedia: 373 articles
Lao Wikipedia: 228 articles
Burmese Wikipedia: 101 articles

As for the island portions of Southeast Asia,
Tagalog Wikipedia has 9,722 articles, and only Indonesian Wikipedia has more than Thai, with 67,922 articles. Some of the other major Asian languages, like Japanese and Chinese, dwarf Southeast Asia's Wikipedias, but things are well on their way. Thai Wikipedia is a great resource, and great language practice.

Let me get you started: here's a link to the article on Bangkok.

October 15, 2007

Drawn out woooooords

There's something I've noticed about writing Thai. When one wants to indicate a word that is drawn out, like in the title of this post, you typically multiply the last consonant of the word. As in, คิดถึงมากกกกกก "I miss (you) soooooooo much". Now, in both languages, the sound you're actually drawing out is the vowel. That's why it's interesting, I guess. You might expect it to be written มาาาาาาก. And indeed, you can find instances of this on the internet--or a combination of both, e.g. มาาากกก--but not many, versus hundreds of thousands the other way. The exception to this is words that have no final consonant (a.k.a. open syllables). For example, อย่า would be อย่าาา, มา would be มาาาา, etc.

So, I wondered, how do you draw out syllables like รู้ in writing? It's an open syllable, but you can't draw extra vowels without extra consonants. And รู้รู้รู้ would mean repetition of the whole word, not drawing out the vowel. As it turns out, the internet contains instances of both รรรรรรู้ and รู้รรรรร. Which is predictable, since non-linear vowels don't have a obvious strategy. For โอ้โห, the results are similar both โโโอ้โห and โอออ้โห among others.

Of course, this is informal writing, and so there's probably no real standard. I have seen words drawn out like this in advertising. A billboard for condos near where I work that says in huge letters, โดนนนนนสุดๆ (โดน here is short for โดนใจ, "to be to one's liking").

As an exercise, I tried Googling the word มาก with varying numbers of extra ก's. And no matter how long I got, there were always results, with such expected culprits as "น่ารักมากกกกกกกกกกก", "สวยมากกกกกกกกกกกกกกกกกกก", "เยอะมากกกกกกกกกกกกกกก" etc. I also discovered that Google has a limit on the length of a single word. It's 42 characters. After that it tells you X is too long a word. Try using a shorter word. It still carries out the search, though. So I tried even longer. And longer. And longer. I was still getting around 26,000 results! And then it happened: Google just couldn't take it anymore. It told me "
Bad Request. Your client has issued a malformed or illegal request." The internet cops are knocking on my door as I type.

October 4, 2007

Translator, traitor

[When I said the blog would be sparse, I didn't mean the content. Or so I thought. Sorry about the dearth of posts lately. I've just gotten back to Bangkok and started work again in earnest. Life is busy. In the meantime, here is something I'm cross-posting from Language Scraps.]

I'm an amateur translator. Mostly Thai to English, though I've dabbled with English to Thai. Much more difficult. There are some short examples of my work (in English) on my personal blog here here and here. They're excerpts from books I've read, and there's another post about translating titles here.

How do you convey something in another language? There's an Italian saying, "traduttore, traditore." That is, "translator, traitor." I first heard this phrase in an essay by Umberto Eco, which decries, in part, the sentiment behind it, by encouraging the original author to be involved in the translation of his work. I particularly like this statement of Eco's:
The job of translation is a trial and error process, very similar to what happens in an Oriental bazaar when you are buying a carpet. The merchant asks 100, you offer 10 and after an hour of bargaining you agree on 50.
I think this is a great insight into the nature of translation. There is no Perfect Language, so there is no Perfect Translation. Eco's explanation of source-oriented vs. target-oriented translation was quite helpful for me.

This essay on the problem of translating puns gives the following dilemma, thought up by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Translate the following phrase into English:
"Oui, oui, vous m'entendez bien, ce sont des mots français."
You might translate it as, "Yes, yes, you are receiving me well, these are French words." But wait, they're not anymore. In that case, is "Yes, yes, you are receiving me well, these are not French words" a better translation? What about "English words"? You will probably offend some portion of readers with any of these solutions. Eco mentions a similar problem in translating the French dialogue portions of War and Peace into French--there was a specific reason Tolstoy chose to include French dialogue, or why Eco chose to include Latin text in The Name of the Rose, and why the Latin was left untranslated in the English version of that novel.

Eco ends the essay with a lighthearted reference to the Italian maxim by calling translation "admirable treason." I just hope my efforts, leave much to be desired though they may, can too be called admirable. Or am I weaving the noose for my own traitorous neck?

September 27, 2007


The blog is going to look rather sparse for a while. I was using an old Blogger template, and I have to recreate my old template in the "new" Blogger format. Switching allows me to more easily tweak the blog layout, though. Anyhow, don't jump ship in the meantime. Unless you like the minimalist blog look. It has a charm of its own, I suppose.

September 26, 2007

The first Thai expat fiction?

The Internet Archive is an amazing resource. I especially recommend its digitized books. When compared with projects like Google Books, the Internet Archive makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. In particular, their "Flip Book" feature (developed as part of their daughter site makes reading books online quite a joy. It recreates the book experience, complete with animated page turning (not as hokey as it sounds--I quite like it), and the ability to flip to a given page based on its position within the book. Add searching and the ability to download books in a surprising number of formats (text, HTML, DjVu, PDF, TIF, JPG), and you've got an impressive total package. Check it out to see just what I mean.

There are a number of interesting books in their catalog, but I'm posting about this one because of its possible historical significance: Eric Reid's Spears of deliverance : a tale of white men and brown women in Siam, published in 1920. It's a novel, and from flipping through it, it looks like typical expat fiction (although the subtitle would tend to give this away already). I'm not a fan of the genre, but this is the earliest example I've ever seen of expat fiction about Thailand. Can anyone provide earlier examples, or leads?

Both Google Books and the Internet Archive have a number of other accounts of historical Siam, if you're looking for non-fiction fare. Search "Siam" in either place for a start. Lately I've taken to downloading them offline as a personal archive, with the idea of creating a website to be able to read and search historical accounts of the country in a unified place. It remains to be seen whether Spears of deliverance and its ilk have actual historical value in this regard, though I'm inclined to cast the net more wide than narrow.

September 24, 2007

Why is it hard to learn Thai?

Learning another language is difficult. I often hear people classify Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai, and others as "the hardest language" or "one of the hardest languages." But if you were a native speaker of, say, Lao, and attempted to learn Thai, it would be vastly easier than if you were a native English speaker. In my mind, it's not really about how inherently difficult a certain language is, but rather about how different the language you would like to learn is from the language(s) you already know. Relative similarity or difference in the phonology, morphology, and syntax of a language is what counts. Are they typologically similar? That is, do they share many features--word order, for example?

Thai and English have the same basic word order: what we call SVO (subject+verb+object). That means that where in English we say "I eat rice," Thais say ฉันกินข้าว. The subject, followed by the verb, followed by the object (when there is one). This is a huge leg up for English speakers! Sure, you have to remember to say อาหารอร่อย [food+delicious] instead of "delicious food", but if you're an American, where it seems like everyone is exposed to Spanish, you may already know that it shares this word order of noun+modifier with Thai, so it doesn't seem so strange.

Then compare Thai word order with Japanese, which has SOV word order: "I rice eat", or Tagalog, which has VSO word order: "eat I rice". See how you've already got a head start?

Apart from that, however, English and Thai diverge pretty quickly. They are both generally classified as analytic languages, meaning that words tend to stand alone and that word order is usually significant for conveying a given meaning, but English has synthetic features, like attaching /s/ for plurals, or other various prefixes and suffixes.

The phonology is also quite different in many ways, which I plan to tackle in the (long overdue) continuation of my Improve Your Accent series. And I probably needn't even mention tones. If you want to boggle the minds of unsuspecting English speakers, just bust out with a minimal quintet of the five tones: มา หม่า ม่า ม้า หมา (or the classic tongue twister about whether the new wood is burning: ไม้ใหม่ไหม้ไหม ไม่ไม้ใหม่ไม่ไหม้). The flip side of this is that English has crazy spelling, some verb conjugation, many sounds that are foreign to the Thai speaker, including many difficult consonant clusters, etc.

Mastering Thai requires a commitment to learn to speak in new ways. Moving your tongue in new ways, making sounds in different ways, internalizing new word orders, and stepping outside of the way you're used to thinking about the world. It's a difficult task that requires significant self-awareness and dedication. It's not for the faint of heart, but the rewards of knowledge for those who persevere are immense.

September 21, 2007

Etymologist 10: Mantra

After going on about mantras in my last post, I realized that the word mantra is a good candidate for the next installment of Etymologist. Heading over to etymonline, we see:
1808, "that part of the Vedas which contains hymns," from Skt. mantra-s "sacred message or text, charm, spell, counsel," lit. "instrument of thought," related to manyate "thinks." Sense of "special word used for meditation" is first recorded in Eng. 1956.
This corresponds to Thai มนต์ or มนตร์ (the former is from Pali and the latter from Sanskrit; มนต์ is the more common spelling overall, though in some compound expressions one or the other is conventionalized). RID99 tells us:
มนต์, มนตร์ น. คําศักดิ์สิทธิ์, คําสําหรับสวดเพื่อเป็นสิริมงคล เช่น สวดมนต์, คำเสกเป่าที่ถือว่าศักดิ์สิทธิ์ เช่น ร่ายมนตร์ เวทมนตร์. (ป. มนฺต; ส. มนฺตฺร).

"n. sacred words, words to pray for good fortune, ex. suatmon; incantation that is held as sacred, ex. raaymon, weetmon. (P. manฺta; S. manฺtฺra)" [My translation]
This is a straightforward correspondence, although English obviously borrowed the word from Sanskrit, while Thai has both Pali and Sanskrit forms. สวดมนต์ is a common term meaning to pray, in the sense "to recite a Pali prayer." We might translate น้ำมนต์ as "holy water", meaning water that a Buddhist priest has prayed over
(I'm not sure what term the Catholic church in Thailand actually uses--anyone?).

September 20, 2007

Descriptive vs. prescriptive

The blog separated by a common language looks at the differences between American English and British English. In a recent post, 'Lynneguist' offers some very good mantras that I wish more people would understand and subscribe to, for both English and Thai (though chanting them is not necessary):
  • 'Different' doesn't mean 'better' or 'worse'.
  • 'British' doesn't necessarily mean 'older' or 'original'.
  • 'Older' doesn't mean 'better' either!
  • Let's enjoy each other's dialects AND our own!
Let's examine how these apply to Thai.

First: 'Different' doesn't mean 'better' or 'worse'. Thailand is fiercely proud of its independence. Particularly, they are rightfully proud of the fact that Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation never to be colonized or occupied by a Western nation (note the word Western--Japan occupied Thailand in WWII, and don't forget earlier history, when Thai เมือง (city-states) were เมืองขึ้น
(vassal states) of the Khmer empire*). As a result, they are defensive against the encroachment of foreign culture. This is problematic, because the modern "Thai" culture has been shaped and constructed and subsequently manipulated as a political tool in the last 60 years. The idea of "Thainess" (ความเป็นไทย) as a contrast with everything else is still strong, and still invoked regularly for innumerable causes. Minority languages and cultures that are not part of the "Thai" tradition may never receive full legitimacy. I'm reminded of the Mokken sea nomads in the Southern islands, who are native speakers of a Malayo-Polynesian language, and whose children are now being taught Thai in their island classrooms, complete with pictures of the king and queen at the front of the class, like every other classroom in the country. Nevermind that the ancestors of the Mokkens were in the region centuries (millennia?) before the ancestors of the Thais. I wonder if the irony of this is lost on everyone.

I, like Lynneguist, believe that different is not necessarily bad. Many people in Thailand are very good at manipulating popular sentiment by acting as alarmists. There is a neverending stream of newspaper articles about ภาษาเสื่อม, ภาษาวิบัติ, ภาษาสแลง, ภาษาวัยรุ่น and all the other examples of "corrupted language" out there. But change happens. It's natural. And youth slang doesn't mean the downfall of society. If it gains larger legitimacy, then it's no longer youth slang.

If there is influence from foreign languages, it doesn't mean Thai culture is in danger of extinction, nor the language. This ultra-nationalist bent has been going on for at least 60 years. Back then, it was the economically-dominant Chinese who were vilified. Field Marshal
Plaek Phibulsongkhram (จอมพล แปลก พิบูลสงคราม) was Prime Minister (and one of many military dictators in Thai history--post-coup government included) from 1938-1944 and 1948-1957 (he was overthrown once by one of his generals, but managed to came back into power, later to be ousted again and eventually die in exile in Japan). He was extremely Sinophobic. In the 1930s, the state created corporations to take over production of commodities like tobacco and petroleum from Chinese immigrants, and Chinese-owned businesses were subject to more control and taxes than Thai-owned businesses. This was part of a campaign to use only Thai-made products, because the Chinese hold on the market was too strong. He mandated that all Chinese schools must either switch to instruction in Thai or close. In a 1938 speech, one of his right hand men (in)famously compared the Chinese in Thailand to the Jews in Germany. In some ways, this is just a trend that has never died. In other ways, it's cyclical. Last time it was the Chinese. It has also previously been the Khmer and the Burmese. This time it's the generic ฝรั่ง, the Westerner.

Second: 'Thai' doesn't necessarily mean 'older' or 'original.' This may be a touchy spot. Much of the ราชาศัพท์ "royal speak" of Thai, used in reference to royalty/deity, is borrowed from Khmer, because Khmer was the court language (ภาษาราชการ) when the several Thai groups were vassal states of the Khmer empire. Therefore, Khmer words gained prestige and became associated with royalty. The language is a product of its environment, and its development includes centuries or millennia of contact with Khmer, Chinese and other civilizations and their languages. Sometimes a borrowing is very, very old! Old enough that it "feels" Thai, and is thus not considered a foreign borrowing anymore. When modern youngsters complain about the vast amounts of hard-to-remember and hard-to-understand Indic loanwoards from Pali and Sanskrit, they are told by their Thai teachers that Sanskrit words are Thai words now. We shouldn't look at them as loanwords, but just accept them as Thai.

Third: 'Older' doesn't mean 'better' either! The Thais should recognize this, because they reject older native words like กู and มึง (which everyone knows were used in the Sukhothai era), in favor of words that are often borrowed. This ties in with the second point. The history is complex, and contact and mutual influence has been going on for thousands of years.

Fourth: Let's enjoy each other's dialects AND our own! Contrary to popular belief or understanding, every speaker of a language speaks a dialect (ภาษาถิ่น). The idea of a "standard" language is a myth (English speakers don't understand this either). Standard language is an idealization that only exists in books. No one speaks Standard Thai natively. When most people say "Standard Thai", they usually mean either "textbook Thai" (the idealization) or "Bangkok Thai" (the closest realized form). But Bangkok Thai is a dialect
just as full of regionalisms as ภาษาอีสาน, ภาษาเหนือ and ภาษาใต้, and any other regional variety of the language. Bangkok is a ถิ่น, so Bangkok Thai is a ภาษาถิ่น. Simple as that. But because the majority of television and radio communication is done in Bangkok Thai, the idioms and regionalisms become more widely known, and thus are seen as part of the "standard" language.

I don't have a problem with using the phrase Standard Thai or Standard English, though. I would propose, however, that we use it to mean a given language, allowing for certain variation based on majority use. We can call "drinking fountain" standard English, but "bubbler" is probably regional English. Likewise, มะละกอ is Standard Thai, while หมากฮุ่ง/หมักฮุ่ง/บักฮุ่ง are examples of regional Thai (but may be "standard" parts of their respective dialects).

In linguistics, there is the concept of an idiolect. That is, the language that you (and you alone) speak. No two people have the same idiolect. I can't find a word in Thai for this, so I'm going to propose ภาษาประจำตัว or, as an Indic-derived alternative, สวภาษา [สะ-วะ-ภาษา], meaning ภาษาของตนเอง "one's own language". If you speak Thai, at any level, then you have a particular Thai ideolect. If we recognize that no two people really speak the same language, and that language is conventionalized (oral) symbols standing for concepts, then we begin to see how arbitrary it really is. And how quickly it can change. "Bad words" become acceptable, neutral words become "bad words," borrowed foreign words become "native", new words are coined, and other words fall out of use.

None of this is to say that anything goes. Of course there are certain word orders that are grammatical, and others that aren't.
Of course there are certain words that are inappropriate in one context, and appropriate in another. I'm not saying everything is correct (I find a lot of eggcorns just as annoying as the next guy). It's important that we have standards and conventions to ensure that we understand each another! But at the same time, we can appreciate the vast variety of language, without fooling ourselves into thinking that there is such a thing as a pure language. And this holds equally for Thai, English, and every language.

*Some Thai historians justify this by claiming the ขอม Khom, which is the term the Thais use to refer to the Khmer people of that area, weren't really the ancestors of the modern Khmers, but rather the ancestors of the Thais themselves. This is nationalistic nonsense. That Thais today still use the word Khom, a term of dubious origin, shows that they still don't want to admit that the Khom of yesteryear and the Khmer of today are related.