Let’s Learn Thai! – part 4, an introduction to the alphabet

The dog was sick all morning, throwing up on the Persian rugs (due to a bad reaction to a pain medication we gave him for his arthritis), so I stayed home from Thai class and did a little self-study. My lessons don’t include reading and writing yet, but I want to get a jump on the topic. As it happens, when I learned we were going to Thailand last October, I bought a self-study book on Amazon which I used for three days before putting it away on the shelf. It made no sense to me at the time, but I’m more comfortable with it now, so I picked it up and turned to the writing section.

Thai has 44 consonants and 32 vowels. For reasons I will surely learn later, many of the consonants are different symbols for the same sound, while many of the vowels are diphthongs, but it still seems like too many for any one alphabet.* Thai vowels are written as symbols on the “base” of the consonant they are modifying (rather than standing alone as written symbols, like A-E-I-O-U), so one of the consonants is silent, serving only to “carry” the vowel when the word starts with a vowel sound. This consonant is , simply called “o” (since the consonants are named no, bo, lo, ro, etc., the initial letter of each corresponding to the sound of the consonant).

Now, here’s the tricky part: the placement of the vowel marks depends on the vowel, for example (as I’ve learned so far):

 อา  อี  อู เอ โอ ไอ เอา
 long a long i  long u long e long o ai ao

If you’re paying attention, you’ll have noticed that the vowel symbols for long “a” and long “e”, when combined, don’t make “ae”, but “ao.”

*In Albanian, consonant diphthongs such as “dh”, “gj”, “rr”, and “xh” were also considered individual letters, but there are only nine of them.