Learning Thai Through the Eyes of an Indian

From the age of about 6 until around 17, I was really  into gymnastics and martial arts.  I could flex and bend like a rubber  band and was always flipping about the place.  After a few injuries in  both sports, I decided to focus my attention on my music instead.  Since  then, my body has become as flexible as a flagpole, I see a chiropractor  regularly due to some back injuries that happened back then, I find myself  really susceptible to colds / sinus problems and my health in general isn’t  that great.

It was my birthday 2 Sundays ago –  I decided to  get my health in order.   The day after my birthday I went down to  the local Planet Yoga here in Bangkok (By Master Kamal – California WOW) and  signed up for membership.  I hit it hard for the past week attending 9 of  the past 10 days.  My back feels fantastic, I’m starting to stretch out  again, my sinuses are clearing up and my energy levels haven’t been this high  for a long time!

Having Indian blood, it’s been great to get back into  the ‘Indian’ side of me.  Hearing the Sanskrit during the class and just  having the ‘Indian’ presence is fantastic.  I noticed as the Indian Yoga  instructors were pronouncing the Sanskrit names of each of the Asanas  (positions), most of the Thais were oblivious to what they were saying.  A  lot of this was due to the fact that they were pronouncing the Sanskrit ‘too’  well.  In response to this, I have put this chart together for any Indic  language speakers wanting to get a kick-start on their Thai.  I have  adapted the original chart found here.

First off, let’s have a look at where Thai fit’s into  it all:

Points of note for Indian speakers when learning Thai

  • You’ll notice that each of the5 vargas (velar, palatal, retroflex, dental, labial) is divided up into High, Middle  and Low classes.  The ‘HIGH’ class in Thai are based on those letters in the Indic sound system that come in the second column of each  varga – i.e. the non-voiced + heavy aspiration.  I have highlighted the High  Class in Grey. As the High class are letters produced with an ‘open’  throat, all the main sibilant (s sounds) from the Indic sound system are also  high class, as well as ‘h’.
  • The ‘MIDDLE’ class in Thai are based on  those letters in the Indic sound system at come in the first column of  each varga – i.e. the non-voiced, non-aspirated letters.  **Note – the glottis is closed at the  beginning of each MIDDLE CLASS letter in Thai.  I have highlighted the  Middle Class in Yellow. **
  • The  ‘LOW’ class consists of all the rest, as they  are in the ‘normal’ voice of the speaker.
  • You’ll notice a number of letters where one letter  in the Indic system has turned into two letters of in Thai.  From now on, I will call any pair of letters in Thai that stem from the same letter  in the Indic sound system ‘cousins’.  The sound of the ‘cousins’ will always be  related in some way – normally a ‘voiced’ and ‘unvoiced’ version of the same  letter, or affricate and sibilate version of a letter, or labial plosive /  affricate labial versions of a letter.  You’ll notice that when letters are  cousins, they look almost identical in shape with the exception of a dented or  extended head, or extended tail, or an extra bump somewhere.
  • The cousins are:  (Note that I am using the NLAC  – National Library at Calcutta symbols for the  Indic pronunciation where possible).
  • ज (j) – ช (ch)  ซ (s)
  • ट  (ṭ ) – ฎ (d)  ฏ (t)
  • त  (t)  –  ด (d)  ต (t)
  • प  (p) – บ (b)  ป (p)
  • फ (ph) ผ ฝ (f) (high class)
    ब (b)  – พ (ph)  ฟ (f) (low  class)

There are a few others than have  now become obsolete – so I haven’t included them on the chart.

  • Notice that the 3rd and 4th columns of each varga turns from ‘voiced’ in the Indic languages to ‘unvoiced’  in Thai, leaving them to sound identical – and in modern Thai, have the same  consonant sound as the high class version too – although the tone will be different for words that they lead.
  • All the retroflex letters (3rd varga)
    become non-retroflex – leaving the 3rd and 4th vargas to
    sound identical
  • All the ‘t’ sounds in the dental varga are less
    ‘toothy’ than those in the Indic languages – a little closer to the hard

As the retroflex sounds aren’t found in the
traditional Thai sound system, these letters are rare and can only be found in
a handful of Pali / Sanskrit based words.

  • All the letters in the 4th column of
    every varga are VERY rare – as the original ‘voiced + aspirated’ sound isn’t
    found in Thai.  Again, these are only in a handful of Pali / Sanskrit based
    words.  Some of these words are common words.
  • The 5th Column – Nasals
  • The retroflex nasal becomes a plain ‘n’ sound
  • The palatal nasal ‘nya’ becomes a ‘y’ sound –
    though the ‘nya’ characteristic is still kept when pronouncing Sanskrit words that
    have the ‘nya’ in the middle – e.g. บัญญา – ‘banya’ (panya) –
    wisdom, สํญญา – ‘sanya’ – promise.
  • Sibilants (‘s’ sounds)
  • In the Indic language, you have the palatal ‘ś’,
    retroflex ‘ṣ’ and dental ‘s’ sounds.  In Thai, these all turn into
    normal ‘s’.
  • The letters in Thai are pronounced with an ‘o’
    sound after them rather than an ‘a’ sound.  The result is that they sound quite
    similar to Bengali letters – only that most of the voiced letters become

Why are the letters divided up into 3 classes?

Because the different nature of each of these ‘types’
of letters has an effect on the tone.   Tones are just the result of
the difference between the nature of the first part of a syllable and the last
part of a syllable.  Having the throat wide open at the beginning of a
syllable, then saying a vowel – while closing the throat at the end of the
syllable will cause the ‘vowel’ to ‘rise’.  It’s really important to
understand that ‘TONES’ are not just ‘sound contours’.  They are movements
of the throat.  I will post an article sometime soon that goes into tone
theory and why / tones exist.

Comparative Letter Chart for Devanagari, Thai,

Bengali, Gujarati, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Urdu (Nastaliq)

NLAC category IPA IPA-Thai Devanagari Thai Bengali Gurmukhi Gujarati Oriya Tamil Telugu Kannada Malayalam Urdu
k Velar (Back of Throat) k k * ک *
kh Velar (Back of Throat) * ک‌ھ *
g Velar (Back of Throat) ɡ * گ *
gh Velar (Back of Throat) ɡʱ * گھ *
Velar (Back of Throat) ŋ ŋ * ں *
c Palatal c c * چ *
ch Palatal * چھ *
j Palatal ɟ cʰ / s ช ซ * ج *
jh Palatal ɟʱ * جھ *
ñ Palatal ɲ j  / ɲ * – *
Retroflex ʈ d / t ฎ  ฏ * ٹ *
ṭh Retroflex ʈʰ * ٹھ *
Retroflex ɖ * ڈ *
ḍh Retroflex ɖʱ * ڈھ *
Retroflex ɳ n * ٹ *
t Dental d / t ด  ต * ت *
th Dental t̺ʰ * تھ *
d Dental * د *
dh Dental d̺ʰ * دھ *
n Dental n n * ن *
Dental n * *
p Labial p p บ  ป * پ *
ph Labial pʰ / f ผ  ฝ * پھ *
b Labial b pʰ / f พ  ฟ * ب *
bh Labial * بھ *
m Labial m m * م *
y Semi Vowel j j * ی *
r Semi Vowel r r * ر *
Semi Vowel r * *
l Semi Vowel l l * ل *
Semi Vowel ɭ l ਲ਼ * *
Semi Vowel ɻ * *
v Semi Vowel ʋ w * و *
ś Sibilant ɕ s ਸ਼ * ش *
Sibilant ʂ s * – *
s Sibilant s s * س *
* h * H-Aspirate * h * * h * * ह * * ห * * হ * * ਹ * * હ * * ହ * * ஹ * * హ * * ಹ * * ഹ * * ہ  ھ *


Vowel Thai[d] Khmer[c] Devanagari Bengali Gujarati Gurmukhi Odia Tamil Telugu Kannada Sinhala Malayalam
a อ (อะ)
ka ก (กะ)
ā อา អា
กา កា का কা કા ਕਾ କା கா కా ಕಾ කා കാ
ê แอ অ্যা
แก कॅ ক্যা කැ
ô (ออ)
(กอ) कॉ කෑ
i อิ
ki กิ កិ कि কি કિ ਕਿ କି கி కి ಕಿ කි കി
ī อี
กี កី की কী કી ਕੀ କୀ கீ కీ ಕೀ කී കീ
u อุ
ku กุ កុ कु কু કુ ਕੁ କୁ கு కు ಕು කු കു
ū อู
กู កូ कू কূ કૂ ਕੂ କୂ கூ కూ ಕೂ කූ കൂ
e (เอะ)
ke (เกะ) कॆ கெ కె ಕೆ කෙ കെ
ē เอ
เก កេ के কে કે ਕੇ କେ கே కే ಕೇ කේ കേ
ai ไอ,ใอ
kai ไก,ใก កៃ कै কৈ કૈ ਕੈ କୈ கை కై ಕೈ කෛ കൈ
o (โอะ)
ko (โกะ) कॊ கொ కొ ಕೊ කො കൊ
โก កោ को কো કો ਕੋ କୋ கோ కో ಕೋ කෝ കോ
au เอา
kau เกา កៅ कौ কৌ કૌ ਕੌ କୌ கௌ కౌ ಕೌ කෞ കൗ
kr̥ กฺฤ ក្ឫ कृ কৃ કૃ କୃ కృ ಕೃ කෘ കൃ
r̥̄ ฤๅ සෲ
kr̥̄ กฺฤๅ ក្ឬ कॄ কৄ કૄ କୄ కౄ ಕೄ කෲ കൄ
kl̥ กฺฦ ក្ឭ कॢ কৢ કૢ କୢ కౢ ಕೢ කෟ കൢ
l̥̄ ฦๅ
kl̥̄ กฺฦๅ ក្ឮ कॣ কৣ કૣ କୣ కౣ ಕೣ කෳ കൣ
อํ អំ अं অং અં ਅਂ அஂ అం అం අං അം
kṁ กํ កំ कं কং કં ਕਂ କଂ கஂ కం ಕಂ කං കം
อะ (อะฮฺ) អះ अः অঃ અઃ ਅਃ அஃ అః అః අඃ അഃ
kḥ กะ (กะฮฺ) កះ कः কঃ કઃ ਕਃ କଃ கஃ కః ಕಃ කඃ കഃ
k กฺ (ก/ก์) ក៑ क्,क्‍ ক্,ক্‍ ક્,ક્‍ ਕ੍ କ୍ க் క్ ಕ್ ක් ക്,ക്‍


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Written by

Stuart Jay Raj