Thai Language Blog

Thai Vowel Lengths Affect Pronunciation Posted by on Mar 28, 2012 in Beginner

In previous posts I have covered Thai tones, emphasizing the importance of learning them early and pronouncing them properly. In addition to the tones, one must also be aware of and properly pronounce the length of each vowel.

For example, the spelling of a Thai word differentiates between ‘ah!’ and ‘aahhhhhhh!!!’ As all Thai words make this distinction, not accounting for it in an English alphabet transliteration (karaoke) can cause a miscommunication.

For example, in my method, this is how I distinguish between a long and a short vowel when writing karaoke:

Thai spelling Thai transliteration (karaoke) English
ดาบ daab sword
ดับ dab extinguish, put out, vanquish
แก gaee he, she, you
แกะ gae to carve in, to engrave
ดา daa to go in force, advance in large numbers
ดะ da randomly, haphazardly

Notice that ‘aa’ in the karaoke represents the long vowel, while ‘a’ represents the short vowel. And by long and short, I mean for how long you pronounce it temporally.

Now, there is one vowel in Thai that sounds like the French ‘eu’. So if I were to do that as a temporally long vowel, it would be ‘euu’. Other authors might do it as ‘eeu’ or ‘eeuu’. Point being, it’s a long vowel. Another short vowel makes the ‘ae’ sound, which sounds like the ‘a’ in the English word ‘bad’, while it’s longer version would be spelled ‘aee’.

Below is an example of why it’s important to pay attention to vowel lengths. Both the consonants and the tones are pronounced exactly the same in both phrases. The only difference is the vowel length of both the first and third syllables, of which entirely change the meaning of what is being said.

Thai spelling Thai transliteration (karaoke) English
มหาลัยฯ mahaalai [slang for] university
มาหาลาย maa haa laai come look for lines/patterns/stains



In terms of spelling a word, the length of a vowel is one factor that determines which tone a word has. But, the rules of tone determination are quite complex for a beginner, so I won’t go into any further details. It’s just something to keep in mind for a future lesson.

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