A look at inherent vowels – by Veradej Wisetjarkhun
Another reason for learning Thai script is of course to fully appreciate its beauty and function as Abugida – its inherent vowel properties, how the words should be read in the absence of vowel marking. This will go unnoticed if learners just stick to phonetic transcription.
One of the most beautiful words I see is in relation between “July” and “Cancer”.
In Phonetic Transcription:
July: ka – ra- ka – da:
Cancer: kɔ: – ra – kod
It is not so obvious. But if in Thai script.
By removing long vowel a:, the way it is read changes differently, due to the complex inherent vowels rules involved. (In my opinion, Thai inherent vowel rule is even more sophisticated than its predecessor Sanskrit language.)
General Rules of Thumb that I have observed:
2 consonants (or the last 2 consonants of the words):
There is a hidden ‘o’ between 2 consonants, unless the second one is ร ย ว อ. If the second consonant is ร, the inherent vowel is ‘-ɔ:’ instead of ‘-a’. (Of course, we know -ย -ว do not exist, we can’t read the combination ดย ปว for instance, while -อ is obviously a vowel -ɔ: like รอ คอ ขอ จอ)
3 or more consonants in a row.
*Note if the first two consonants are true clusters like กร กล ปล ปร ตร คร etc, the previous rule applies, with these clusters treated as 1 consonant unit: eg, กรง (krong) กลม (klom) ปลด (plod) ปรบ (prob) ตรง (trong) ครบ (khrob)
Otherwise, starting backward from the 3rd consonant on, the consonant is usually read with short ‘-a’, with exception for letter coming before ร which will be read with vowel ‘-ɔ:’.*
Applying the rule to the word “กรกฎ”, the first ก comes before ร and therefore is read as กอ, ร is the third last letter and therefore is read as ระ, and with ultimate rules, the final two consonants are read as กฎ (กด) – kod. Hence, together we read the word กรกฎ as กอ ระ กด kɔ: – ra – kod.
But when there is a vowel attached to the consonant chain, this system is somehow a little ‘disturbed’. The short ‘o’ rule no longer applies, and the all the unvocalized consonants before vowelized consonant will all be read with ‘-a’. Therefore กรกฎา (กะ ระ กะ ฎา) ka – ra- ka – da:
Sanskrit is simpler in a sense that every consonant without vowel is read with ‘-a’. Thai inherent rule made some Sanskrit loans sound very distinct from their origins.
नरक – ‘naraka’ vs. นรก ‘na – rok’ “Hell”
नगर – ‘nagara’ vs. นคร ‘na -khɔ:n’ “City”
Another interesting word is พล, a word relating to power, strength or energy, from which many words are derived. Standing alone, or used as a last syllable, it is read as ‘phon’. Many names, including the king’s, contain this as the last syllable. ภูมิพล (phumi-phon) อิทธิพล (itthi-phon).
By adding ‘-ang’ to this word, พลัง “energy” is read as pha – lang.
When this word is used at the front of other elements in a compound word พล- , it is read as “pha-la-“, for example พลศึกษา pha-la-suek-sa: or in short พละ pha-la, meaning physical education, a subject in school where students exercise in the field.
There is also this Thai singer named พลพล, and people were making fun of his name, discussing how it should be read. Hence, applying the rules explained earlier, the consonants before the last two will be read with -a, and therefore his name is “Pha-la-phon”.
Oh, yeah! By writing this post, I now know why พล ผล ‘phl’ cluster is so irregular. For native words that already start with ‘phl’, they are true cluster such as ผลัก “phlak” เพลง “phleng” เพลิง “phlerng” เพลิน “phlern”. On the other hand, derivative words are not read as cluster. พลัง is derived from พล, as of above. ผล “phon” (result) is affixed with -it, to become ผลิต “pha-lit” (to produce) and from which we derive the word ผลิตภัณฑ์ “pha-lit-ta-phan” (product).
And there is also another way to read 4 letter words. Instead of first 2 letter acquiring ‘-a’, some words are read as 2 pairs of ‘-o-‘ with or without linking -a from the second letter.
ต.ย. อพยพ – “op-pha-yop” (migrate) and สกปรก “sok-(ka)-prok” (dirty) – sometimes I hear people saying without ka.
Oh, by the way, many Thai people tend to read January มกราคม as mok -(ka) ra: – khom, when it is meant to be read as ma – ka – ra: – khom.
Veradej Wisetjarkhun http://www.sunthornphu.com.sg/