Thai - Alphabet

The stupid legacy of the Thai conservatives in language

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

What do Thaksin Shinawatra, Abhisit Vejjajiva, Suthep Thaugsuban, Prayuth Chan-ocha and Prem Tinsulanonda all have in common?

What they all share is the idiotic way in which their names are spelt in English. It is almost as if there is a conspiracy by Thais to spell names so that all foreigners who do not know Thai will mis-pronounce their names. Then backward Thais can laugh at the ignorant “Farangs”.

What we have to remember is that in the Thai language there is no “th” sound (as in “this” or “that”) and there is no letter in the Thai alphabet which corresponds to the sound. Hence many Thais will pronounce an English “th” with a “d”.

Even the word “Thai” or “Thailand” has an idiotic “h” added to it and I have often heard some Westerners pronounce the words exactly as they are written.

Those old hands who have travelled to Thailand will no doubt have landed at “Suvarnabhumi Airport” in order to go on to “Phuket” after a few Singha beers. They may have travelled along “Phahonyothin Road”. What is even more appalling is that many Thai Airways staff even refer to “Fuket” instead of calling the island of “Puket”, as it is pronounced in Thai. The beer is also pronounced by those who sell it to tourists as “Sing-ha” instead of “Sing”. The airport is really called “Suwanapoom” and the road which I once lived near is “Paholyotin”.

So the politician that all the anti-democrats love to hate is in fact “Taksin Shinawat” and the mobster leader is “Sutep Tuagsuban”. The appalling head of the army is “Prayut” and the past-his-sell-by-date privy councillor is in fact “Prem Tinsulanon”. The anti-Democrat Party leader is also “Appisit Wecha-chiwa”, not “Mr Vegi-burger” which perhaps his class mates at Oxford or Eton may have called him.

So why all the spelling nonsense and the added crap at the end of names and words? Blame the conservative linguists and conservative educationalists.

Thai spelling, even in Thai, is unnecessarily complicated. But at least where there are extra bits hanging off the end of words or names there is a “Karan” symbol to indicate that the specific letter is not pronounced. All this spelling nonsense was abolished in the Laotian language after the communist victory in 1975 and progressive Thais tried to bring in similar measures in the 1930s and 40s. Such measures encourage literacy among the general population and modernise the language to fit how it is used. But just as the conservatives want to freeze Thai politics and society in the stone-age, they also want to keep the language “pure” according to the conservative linguists. The linguists are fanatical about preserving the archaeology of the language to show its Sanskrit roots. They are the only people in the country who give a damn about this. They fail to see that language is a living organism, constantly changing by its use among ordinary people. Just like the anti-democrats, they only have contempt for ordinary people and their choices.

The conservative linguists have decreed that when Thai names are written in English, all the letters in Thai, and even more, should appear in English without any “Karan”. They are fanatical in there explanation that the letter “” is not exactly the same as “t” or that “ and ” are not identical to “p”. Maybe so, but they are sure as hell never like “th” or “ph”!!! I removed the “h” after the “p” in my surname long ago so that British people wouldn’t use it as a swear word.

Just to further illustrate my point, I suggest that when we try to explain “democracy” to the block-heads in Sutep’s mob, we call it “demos-kratos” according to the original Greek. We can also talk about the economist “Adamus” Smith or the fictitious character “Alicia” in wonderland and the dangerous twins “Antonius” Blair and “Georgius” Bush, thus preserving the original Latin roots.

Finally I would just like to say that it shows how far conservative racism has spread among Thais because the word “Farang” is as offensive as calling Thais “slitty-eyed Chinks”.

In order to expand the democratic space in Thailand, we have to get rid of the military and the judiciary, but also revolutionise the language. I feel tired already.

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