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.


  1. Bravo for the punctuation suggestion. I notice that Thai contemporary publications use English-style punctuation where the authors and editors believe that such punctuation makes sense. I have not seen punctuation emerge as a fetish, as we often do in English, but the comma and question mark do have a place in developing clarity in understanding. Rikker, do you believe that the RID is suggesting that people use punctuation in Thai as a matter of common usage or that it believes that the punctuation conventions used in the RID are sui generis and only for purposes of the dictionary?

  2. That's a good question that I'm not sure of the answer to.

    There are some punctuation marks that are that are used more or less frequently, but that most Thais are familiar with:

    -Quotation marks in fiction (but not news, go figure)

    -Period (full stop) to indicate abbreviation (e.g. คมช.)

    -Ellipsis to indicate a pause in quoted dialogue or truncation of a quote

    -Question mark and exclamation point

    -Comma and period in numerals (e.g. 10.5 or 50,000)

    Beyond these, punctuation is not very common (although I may be missing a few obvious candidates).

    One reason for complex punctuation in a big dictionary is (1) it helps to conserve space as much as possible, (2) it allows for a compact record of complex relationships between words, their senses, citations, etc.

    When page space is less of a commodity, there's less of a compelling reason to include the punctuation, plus all of the ins-and-outs of English-style punctuation may not be familiar to Thais (native English speakers have plenty of trouble with it already).

    It's hard to say that Thai wouldn't benefit from punctuation. I'm not sure if anyone claims this. To me, it seems clear that even a simplified version of the system could be extremely useful.

    My single biggest problem reading Thai is the ambiguity of a phrase boundary at the end of a line. Normally the end of a phrase is indicated with a space, but when it coincides with the end of a line, and the first word on the next line is a new phrase, there is absolutely no indication of this within the text. It looks just like a regular mid-sentence line break does. I trip up on this all the time, and it's frustrating. Even putting a single space at the beginning of the next line would help, or something--anything! And I'm sure this trips up Thais, too.

    On their website the Royal Institute reproduces most of the text of their book หลักเกณฑ์การใช้เครื่องหมายวรรคตอนและเครื่องหมายอื่น ๆ (Rules for Using Punctuation Marks and Other Symbols), but omits the frontmatter, which would likely be most useful in figuring out their larger attitudes towards the applicability of punctuation to the Thai language. I think my hard copy of the book is in a box on another continent right now.

    They do, however, include sections for period (a.k.a. full stop), dot (distinguished from period in both name and function, although the symbol is the same), comma, semicolon, colon, colon again (different name and usage), colon followed by hyphen, hyphen, dash, question mark, parenthesis, exclamation mark, as well as the usual suspects of the Thai punctuation marks. I'll try to take a closer look and see if there's anything noteworthy about their usage rules.