3D Syllables

3D Syllables – Stuart Jay RaJ


I saw the topic of whether splitting or physically ‘parsing’ Thai sentences into syllable blocks was a good thing or a bad thing. This is a very timely discussion as I’m putting the final touches on my CTF vowels module that has been taking forever to finish. I have taken this image which is a screen shot from an animation in the course where we look at developing the skill of seeing or ‘feeling’ Thai syllables in 3D rather than thinking of them in linear strings. Consonants and vowels are different species – vowels breathe life into consonants.

Feeling each syllable as a consonant and vowel frame becomes second nature to Thai kids, but even for them and for my own kids, books like ดรุณศึกษา (darun sɯ̀ksǎ:) parse the words into slight วรรค ‘wak’ to distinguish them in the beginning.
The key skill however is to think of a vowel frame as one object – no matter what ligatures are resting on the frame in 2 dimensions, when you tilt it into 3 dimensions, if a laser was to scan from back to front, the consonant sound is always hit first (note อ is the base throat position and is the default consonant when there’s no other consonant sound) and then the sound of the vowel frame as a whole. The Thai brain quickly learns to effortlessly delineate syllables subconsciously by vowel frames.

I have created many exercises to try and simulate how a Thai child learns to ‘feel’ these frames and stimulate the brain into not having to search for ‘space’. The jump to reading non-spaced Thai text should be fast – and with the right drills, you’ll be surprised how fast it will become second nature.

An interesting side note on the whole concept on วรรค ‘wak’. In English, we talk about ‘spaces’ between words. In Thai, the word วรรค doesn’t mean ‘space’. It’s the opposite. It means ‘group’ or ‘family’ from the Sanskrit word ‘Varga’. Common meaning blocks / phrases are put into a ‘varga’ – the actual space between the different vargas is irrelevant. It could be the equivalent of one character or 5 characters. What’s important is what’s ‘grouped’ or ‘wak’d’ together.
In English we focus on the nothingness (space). In Thai we focus on the family / group (varga).

In this combination, the consonant is ‘b’ – it gets struck first if you look at it in 3D – then the [e:] vowel frame, so b + e: = be: (sorry – in the image should have had the colon after the IPA ‘e’ for the long ‘e’ sound).

The whole thing is to feel words as frames. That way, there is never any confusion as to where something starts or stop except for a couple of words perhaps like เสนา – though ambiguous common words could probably be counted on one hand. As far as multi-syllable (usually pali / sanskrit) words, the subconscious usually picks up on the uncommon letters in use – e.g. ค in a ‘final’ position rather than ก or the use of ษศ ฏฏฆฤ and the like and so you would get a gut feeling that a word would be more than just one syllable – though in pronunciation, the mouth still functions pretty much in syllable blocks and tone rules still apply to syllable blocks. The best training you can do is to scan a normal line of text for a given vowel frame / syllable and just see how fast your brain can get used to picking them out – kind of like in those big square ‘find-a-word’ puzzles in English. Do it for a day and spaces will become irrelevant to your ability to ‘see’ syllables / words.

I don’t like it when I see westerners describe some vowels as being ‘before’ the syllable and some ‘after’ and some ‘above’ etc. Just see every vowel as a ‘frame’ clipping on around the consonant. Some just have bits that are to one side or the other or some or all in relation to the consonant in 3D space. It’s job though is to ‘frame’ the syllable and breathe life into the consonant.

Maarten Tummers Saw applications for the idea “Yeah this is really sweet. I can imagine these being carved/made out of wood, used in classrooms etc. This is not only limited to a computer program (really handy with the sounds etc) but it could be used for “real-life” usage as well! Maybe even as educational toys for kids or whatnot.”

Catherine Wentworth was also inspired to name them “Thai syllable building blocks …”, “It really is a fabulous idea. I can ‘see’ it easily. There’s nothing else like it anywhere that I know of.”

Maarten developed the idea further “Yeah I mean just looking at the picture posted and I can see teachers in front of a classroom grabbing vowels and consonants from a big box of parts and “making it click”..
ครู : อันนี้อ่านว่าาาา ???
นักเรียน: เบบบบบบบบบบบ
It just makes too much sense in some way.. making it “click” is indeed way better than saying.. “well ya know.. geez… some vowels are placed left but then again.. others are not ya know..”
Thai syllable building blocks is where it’s at “

Stuart Announced that he was already looking into the idea but added “The beautiful thing about 3d ones on a device is that the coding to build a syllable then have it pronounce it isn’t too hard. Creating physical tools like this is more costly.”

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