March 20, 2009

Linguistic puzzler: Chevrolet

I've wondered this for a long time. Chevrolet in Thailand is เชฟโรเลต, pronounced [เช็ฟ-โร-เหล็ด] chef-ro-let. Why?

The company name comes from the surname of its Swiss-French founder, Louis Chevrolet. I can't speak for the French, but in English it's pronounced shev-rol-lay (the emphasis varies between first and last syllable depending on the speaker, in my experience).

It's a classic spelling pronunciation, as with many, many foreign words borrowed into Thai, and which results in Thai pronunciations like "Robert" as โรเบิร์ต row-bert (should be รอเบิร์ต), "magic" as เมจิค may-jik (should be แมจิก), and "Amazon", as in the website, as อเมซอน a-may-zon (should be แอมาซอน). I could list a hundred more.

But there is clear precedent in Thai of French-derived loanwords inheriting the silent t. Off the top of my head I can think of three: "buffet" บุฟเฟต์ [บุฟ-เฟ่], "ballet" บัลเลต์ [บัน-เล่], and "parquet" ปาร์เกต์ [ปา-เก้]. I'm sure there are others.

Looking at the company history on the website (Thai|English), I see it only entered Thailand in 2000. Why on earth would Chevrolet Thailand choose to pronounce the "t"?

I can't imagine that is good for overall brand recognition. English has prestige in Thailand, and if Thais pronounce it the Thai way to their English-speaking counterparts, they're going to sound ignorant.

This even makes it onto the Thai Wikipedia article for คำภาษาอังกฤษที่มักอ่านผิด ("English words that tend to be mispronounced"). A big marketing FAIL, if you ask me.


  1. It's probably unrelated, but it's pronounced chev-ro-leT in Hungary as well (hungarian has lots of strong consonants). I could imagine that the English just simply couldn't put up with the strong consonant at the end of the word, and their version became dominant.

  2. Another French company seen in Thailand, is Carrefour คาร์ฟูร์. This spelling baffled me for a while. In England Carrefour is pronounced car-four, so why is the Thai transliteration car-foor?

    Well, that's how the French pronounce it. Four is foor.

  3. The alternatives for writing the last syllable could be:
    The first syllable is probably close to how Americans would pronounce this word. If Mr. Chevrolet was Swiss-French I am sure he would have used เหละ (our maybe he just gave up correcting everyone after a while and accepted his new name). Anyway, Americans pronounce his name wrong.
    เหละ can, taking into account this is a loanword, be pronounced wrong: เห-ละ
    The third way of writing is rather strange because of the combination of เ-็- followed by -์.
    So, I think that's why they ended up writing it this way. It looks like a logical choice.

  4. I think the most obvious and sensible choice would be to simply put a การันต์ over the ต: เชฟโรลเต์. Problem solved. :)

    But they've already been open for business for 9 years, with 100,000+ Chevrolets on Thailand's roads (says their website). Probably not gonna change.

  5. Yes, but this solution leads to the American pronunciation of the word, which is also not correct, taking into account Chevrolet is a French word and the French would pronounce the second syllable with a short vowel.

    Words like บุฟเฟต์, บัลเลต์, ปาร์เกต์ are also not written correctly. The French pronounce these words with a short vowel (in the second syllable). Thai people pronounce the second syllable with a falling tone, which will shorten the vowel and make the pronunciation sound closer to French.

    If you would write เชฟโรเลต์ you would make the same mistake. However, I agree with you that this is probably the least "bad" way to write the word.

    In my country there are many American and English brands that use a different brand names inside my country only. Some brands choose a similar sounding name that sound more expensive or classic than the original name (often with a French accent).

  6. It's unfortunate. Ironically, Chevrolet entered the Thai market as a replacement for GM's Opel brand. Opel had a few bad models that did poorly here. So GM slapped the Chevy logo on the Astra and the Zafira and problem solved. Except for the pronunciation of the name.