The Thai Phonemes, Part 1 Posted by palmisano on Apr 3, 2012 in Beginner
And now for the Thai phonemes. But what is a phoneme? A phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound used to form a meaningful contrast between utterances, from which words in that language or dialect can be created. Fortunately, most phonemes (sounds) that are used in Thai can be also found in English, so I’ll keep this post simple and won’t go over those. But, there are a few tricky ones of which I’ll describe below:
This letter is best transliterated as ‘dt’. Some authors write it as ‘t’, but this is incorrect as it sounds nothing like it. To make this sound, put the tip of your tongue between your teeth. Now, as you say the word ‘dog’ out loud, slide your tongue back into your mouth. It will sound like ‘dtog’. It should only take you about an hour of practice to have this down.
Note: some linguists will make the claim that ต isn’t one single phoneme but two combined. I disagree.
This is by far the hardest phoneme in Thai for an English speaker, and is best transliterated as ‘ng’. It’s just like the ‘ng’ found in ‘Nguyen’ so often found in Vietnamese. It sounds somewhat like the Spanish ñ, except that the ñ is pronounced at the front of the mouth whereas ng is pronounced deep in the throat. Through teaching experience I find it generally takes 1 to 2 years of practice before a foreigner can pronounce it correctly. So find a Thai friend to help and don’t give up!
This vowel (both short and long versions) can also take a few months to master. I don’t speak French, but I’ve been told it’s exactly like the French ‘eu’ sound. The sound should come from the back of the mouth, near the throat.
Another hard consonant, and best transliterated as ‘bp’. Some authors will write it as either ‘b’ or ‘p’ – stay away from those authors. This letter is neither a ‘b’ nor a ‘p’, but something in between. Prepare your mouth to say the word ‘bad’, but curl your upper and lower lips inwards as you say ‘b’.
Note: Just like with ต, some linguists would argue this isn’t one single phoneme but two combined. I disagree.
to be continued . . .