Chiang Mai Thai

Ever wanted to learn Thai, in Chiang Mai? I did just that from November 2010, returning home in October 2011. If you don't want a headache, start HERE, it will explain the preceding posts. I'm Snap, Stray's other half. COOEE is our (other) travel blog.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Transliteration obliterations

I know I tend to harp on about how I don't like transliteration systems...but they are a necessary evil, unless you have time to learn from the alphabet up, completely in Thai.

The other day I was speaking to 'P', an obviously English speaking Thai friend. She showed me an example in her English Language book and pointed to the word 'impossible' and laughed. "How can I learn this properly when it says 'impossibiN'"?

It was written something like this. อิมพอส'ซะเบิล

This made sense to me, because I'm not that advanced and haven't learnt all of the final consonant rules...where ล says 'L' as an initial and 'N' as a final. No wonder words like Hotel are pronounced Hoten. It's obvious that the book was using initial consonant sounds only, but it must be really hard for a Thai person to throw those rules out the window. Anyway it got me thinking, how does the transliteration system for Thais learning English work...or not work?

I rummaged around and found this website, W3 Dictionary and took a look at how this effected other words and their transliteration...ignoring any cluster rules...of which I only know a few.

Witch - transliterates to วิทชฺ becomes Wit
If - transliterates to อิฟ becomes Ip
Dress - transliterates to เดรส becomes Dret (I peeked, there's no such consonant cluster as ดร)

The hardest sounds in Thai for me are words beginning with ง. If I don't think about it too much I can manage to say it, otherwise it sounds like the back of my tongue is glued to the roof of my mouth for a second or so, before I stuff the remainder of the word up. But, at least it can be written with English letters, as NG. And, the other would be ื, which has been described as the 'oo' in good, but said while smiling. That's not a pretty picture. Clearly no English equivalent for that one.

So, what about sounds and consonant clusters, that don't even exist in Thai?

St - Stop transliterated to สทอพ would that become Satop?
Sh - Ship transliterated to ชิพ becomes Chip
Sk - Skip transliterated to สคิพ becomes Sakip?
V - Villa transliterated to วิล'ละ becomes Willa and would explain this sign.
Z - Zebra transliterated ซี'บระ becoming Seebra, that's with an American accent obviously.

I don't have enough Thai language yet to know if I've analysed this correctly, but it was an interesting exercise none the less...and I've learnt a couple of new rules along the way. I'm glad I'm an English speaker learning Thai and not the other way around...well, right now I am, anyway.


See what else we're up to at Cooee!


  1. Snap, great read. One thing I know for sure...every Thai I have ever met all say satop, and never understand my giggles.

  2. Thanks Talen, it pays to put the shoe on the other foot sometimes, doesn't it! My teacher says 'you know Thais can't say the G in German...they say Yerman', I say, 'but there is a J sounding letter in the Thai alphabet...she says 'Yes' and just smiles.??????

  3. And who changed the English spelling of the airport from สุวรรณภูมิ (Suwannaphum) to Suvarnabhumi when there is no 'v' consonant in Thai.

  4. ...and where did the 'I' on the end come from? I keep correcting Stray whenever he says Suvarnabhum, to which I add 'eeeeeeee'. My bad :(

  5. I was right! That is an EEEEE on the brain mustn't have been in gear the other day, not unusual.

  6. thanks for explaining why Thais call me "Mr. Miken" and also say "gai satick." great read, Snap.

  7. Miken...English is even hard for me sometimes ;) I don't envy learning it as a second language! My good friend, Greg, sometimes gets right to the inevitable and introduces himself as Glek.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  8. yes Snap, i do that too. when speaking with Thais i introduce myself as Mr. Miken.


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