L1(c) - Vowel Transliteration

This is where the real problems start. The Thai alphabet has 20 vowel characters and they can be combined to make at least 32 recognisably different vowel sounds.

The Roman alphabet has 5 vowel characters. We also combine them to make a wide range of vowel sounds. A vowel is an open sound. That is a sound you can make without pressing your lips together, pressing your teeth to your lips or pressing your tongue to your teeth, lips or top of your mouth.

Finding a consistent system to transliterate Thai vowels to the Roman alphabet is the real problem.

Let's take an example:

We will transliterate these two Thai vowels as 'aow' and 'ao'. They both make an 'ao' sound (rhymes with 'cow'). The first one should be pronounced a little longer than the second. So why don't we transliterate them as 'ow'?

Let's consider the Thai phrase 'Kaow Blao' which means plain rice. Both words should rhyme with 'cow'. However if we transliterate it as 'Kow Blow' an English speaker will probably pronounce the first word correctly but the second word to rhyme with 'low', a different vowel sound.

Let's take another example:

This is a long Thai vowel that makes an 'oo' sound like 'moo' (as in a cow goes 'moo'). So why don't we just transliterate this vowel as 'oo'? Again, because that will work for some words but not for others.

For example an, English speaker would probably pronounce these two Thai words correctly with a vowel sound rhyming with 'moo'.

Poo (a title)
Poot (speak)

However, if we use the same transliteration system for these two Thai words:

Look (a person's child)
Took (correct)

Then an English speaker will almost certainly pronounce them with a soft vowel sound (rhyming with book) rather than the long sharp vowel from 'moo'.

So the rule we will use is; if the syllable has no end consonant we will use 'oo' otherwise we will use 'ooo'. The four words will be transliterated:


Lots of people will not like the 'ooo' transliteration. After all, it is not immediately apparent to the reader what vowel sound is required. Just the same, we think it is better to have a system that makes you stop and think than a system that causes you to pronounce the word incorrectly.

So now you have some idea of the complications in creating a consistent transliteration system.

To see the full vowel transliteration system we are using go to Appendix 2) Thai Alphabet Vowels





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