It occurred to me today that, ironically, sometimes the English words in Thai trip me up the most.
A recent example from my life: เบนซ์ Benz, meaning a Mercedes-Benz automobile. I know this isn't technically an English loan, but I'm counting it because we use it in English. I've been pronouncing this [เบ็น] for a long time now, and my wife has corrected me before (it's pronounced [เบ๊น]). But I don't use this word particularly often, so when I found myself saying it the other day, I overthought it and mixed myself up. Is it [เบ๊น], but I've pronouncing it [เบ็น], or vice versa? Somehow I ended up saying [เบ็น] again.
The problem is, there are some de facto rules (complete with exceptions) about how to pronounce English words in Thai. Thai people inherently know them as part of the phonology of the colloquial language, though they usually can't explain the rules to you.
So I'm going to try to infer them.
But in this post, let's first talk about why it's easy to pronounce English loans differently from Thais. (I'm saying "differently" and not "wrong," because heck, I'm a native speaker. But loanwords have to be pronounced with the proper nativized phonology or else your audience might not เก็ท.)
Things that can trip up your accent when using English loanwords:
(1) Unfamiliarity with the limits of Thai phonology. You have to know, say, that Thai doesn't end syllables in fricatives to know that a Thai will pronounce ชีส "cheese" as [ชี้ด]. And if they do use a fricative, it's going to be one found within the phonology elsewhere, namely /s/, and not /z/ like it is in English. The "proper" word for cheese is เนยแข็ง, but at places like Pizza Hut, the loanword is more common (e.g. ขอบชีส, Thai for "(cheese) stuffed crust").
(2) Unfamiliarity with the exceptions to the limits of Thai phonology. Thai is allowed to break its own rules. New phonemes are sneaking into syllable final positions, due to the influence of loanwords. So more and more people are pronouncing แก๊ซ with the final fricative instead of [แก๊ด], for example. And there's the Amway-esque Thai company Giffarine,กิฟฟารีน, which I recall always hearing pronounced [กิฟฟา-], not [กิบฟา-]. The moral is, go with the flow. Don't insist on an overly strict nativized pronunciation.
(3) Not knowing what tone to use. We'll talk about this more in the next post.
(4) Official Thai spelling of English loans prefers not to use tone marks. And often no ไม้ไต่คู้ ( -็). If you read Thai, this is a problem, because the spelling can be misleading. This seems to be a modern spelling trend for official spellings. Mary Haas' 1962 dictionary gives "apple" as แอ๊ปเปิ้ล, with a tone mark on both syllables, but the prescribed spelling today is แอปเปิล, for both the fruit and Steve Jobs' company. On the internet, though, แอปเปิ้ล is more common (452,000 hits vs. 152,000 for แอปเปิล), and เปิ้ล is a common Thai nickname derived from it, spelled with the tone mark. Hence, also เบนซ์ and not เบ็นซ์ or เบ๊นซ์ (but both are common misspellings).
Next time we'll look at some of the "rules" and how apply them.