A loan by any other name…
Anyone who has spent time in Thailand knows that Thai, like many other languages, has a generous helping of English words mixed into the vernacular. English also figures significantly in the technical and academic vocabulary of Thai, where frequently an imported version of an English term catches on more than the native equivalent.
Examples include everything from “Internet” (อินเตอร์เน็ต or อินเทอร์เน็ต, in-ter-net in Thai, with a low final syllable) to “ultrasound” (อุลตราซาวด์, pronounced more like ultrasaaw, as the “nd” invariably gets the chop in Thai).
Like many other nations, most notably France, Thailand has a governmental body charged with regulating the language. Thailand’s is the Royal Institute (RI), which is modeled after its French counterpart. One of the RI’s jobs is to come up with Thai equivalents for English jargon, though this prescribed vocabulary is subject to public approval.
But “loanwords” often take on a life of their own. They are subject to change, shortening, compounding and so on – just like any other word in the language. In any case, learning to recognize loanwords from your own native language is a good way to get a feel for Thai pronunciation in general.
Here are some English loanwords in Thai that I find interesting:
เก็ท [เก๊ท] = pronounced “gét” with a high tone.
Meaning: to get, to understand, to comprehend. As commonly happens, the borrowing language has taken just one meaning of the word and adopted it. As we know, in English get can also mean “fetch”, “receive” and “become”, but as a Thai loanword it usually means “understand”.
Example: The phrase ไม่เก็ท (pronounced “mâi gét”) corresponds to “I don’t get it”.
เวอร์ [เว่อ] = pronounced “wêr”, with a falling tone.
Meaning: to be over the top, extreme, pushing the boundaries of believability or propriety. Shortened from โอเวอร์ (“over”, with the stress on the second syllable) this word comes from “over the top”.
Example: เขา ชอบ เล่า เรื่อง เวอร์ มาก ฬง เเล้ว ไม น่า จะ จริง
kao chop lao reuang wer maak. fang laew mai naa ja jing
Meaning: He always tells over-the-top stories. They probably aren’t true.
This one comes up a lot in beer bars.
โอ /oh/ = (1) overtime work; (2) okay, acceptable.
Sense (1) is from โอที “OT”, which is also commonly used. I’ve most often heard it as part of the phrase ทำโอ, (tham oo) but not exclusively.
Sense (2) comes from “okay”, but this snippet specifically means “acceptable, tolerable, not terrible.”
Khun A: “สอบเป็นไงบ้าง” /sop bpen ngai baang/
Khun B: “ก็โอ” /gor oh/
Khun A: “How did the exam go?”
Khun B: “It went okay”.
I could list English loanwords all day, but are there any that you find interesting or wonder how they’ve come to mean what they do in Thai?
I’ll come back to loanwords, and I appreciate any suggestions or questions.
The Thai 101 Learners Series first appeared in the Phuket Gazette ’08
@ Copyright 2008-2009 Rikker Dockum