RE: Thai character names

Date: Mon Jun 03 2002 - 15:55:13 EDT

On 06/03/2002 12:07:11 PM Marco Cimarosti wrote:

>I understand that the second word refers to the picture for that letter in
>children pictorial book called Ko-Khai (or Gor Gai? --
> Is it true that this
>book is standard in all Thailand low schools?

The second word is simply a word that is written with the letter in
question as the first letter. The words used are conventional, and anyone
who learns to read and write in Thai learns the alphabet (just consonants,
actually) using those names. I'm not sure what the origin is. But there is
no one specific book that is the basis for them. There are standardised
literacy books used in public education, but there are many different
lettering books from different sources sold in bookstores.

BTW, regarding the choice of transliteration between "ko-kai" ("ko-khai" is
definitely wrong) vs. "gor-gai", neither is right or wrong; it's simply a
matter of what conventions you want to follow. The letter in question is
used for an unaspirated voiceless velar stop, as opposed to the next four
letters in the alphabetic order that are used for the *aspirated* voiceless
velar stop. It seems to me I see "k" vs "kh" used most commonly in
Romanisations. (Mary Haas' well-known Thai-English dictionary uses this
except for final velar stops, which are always unreleased -- these are
Romanised as "g".) Of course, the "o" vs. "or" is using British
pronunciations of sequences with "r" to represent the 6th cardinal vowel
(usually represented using U+0254).

And if you're wondering why there are four letters for the aspirated
voiceless velar stop, it has to do with history and a neutralisation that
occured over time: these four letters may correspond to a one-time
distinction between contrastive voiced and voiceless velar stops and
fricatives. See Fang Kuei Li, "A Handbook of Comparative Tai" (U. of
Hawaii, 1977) for details.

Another interesting point is that two of these four letters are now
considered obsolete: kho khuat and kho khon. I have heard an explanation --
but don't know if it is true -- that the King decided to deprecate them
when typewriters were being adapted for Thai because there were two too
many characters that could be fit onto the limitations of the imported

- Peter

Peter Constable

Non-Roman Script Initiative, SIL International
7500 W. Camp Wisdom Rd., Dallas, TX 75236, USA
Tel: +1 972 708 7485
E-mail: <>

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