Thai Phonetic Transcription

Our design decisions for phonetic transcription (the transcribing of sounds into English-language characters) were based on a few criteria. Not all criteria could be simultaneously satisfied in many cases.

The overall goal is to teach people the Thai sounds and the Thai writing system, and not to teach transcription itself. Therefore, design decisions and criteria were made as follows:

  • The sound to be produced should be as intuitive as possible, reducing possible mis-pronunciations
  • English letters which correspond to Thai letters should be sparingly used in the cases when the Thai letters are not present (e.g., w/ว, y/ย, h/ห)
  • The length of syllables should be indicated when possible, usually with duplication of vowels, but occasionally using the "h" (which contradicts the criteria above, but in order to fulfill the first criteria)
  • With words which have very common phonetic transcriptions, and unless there is real point to make, those phonetic transcriptions (in some cases inadequate) should be used.
    • For example คุณ could be transcribed as kuhn, where the "h" would make the "u" sound shorter to indicate the vowel อุ. However, it is common to see "khun" as the transcription, and since this is a very common word used in correspondence, we follow the common transcription.
    • Another example is กินข้าว - gin khao. A better transcription would be ghin kaow, since "gin" is written the same as the beverage and pronounced "jin", and there is a ว (wau wayn) "w" letter at the end, which is approximately a "w" and should be included if possible. However, this phrase is very common and mostly rendered as "gin khao" therefore we believe it is wise to use the most common transcription as to not introduce a future transliteration confusion.
    • A third example is ไทย, which is best transcribed as Tai or Tie, but is universally transcribed as Thai (indeed, Tai is usually the transcription of a larger or smaller ethnic group of people, not identical to The Thai people (คนไทย) which is more accurately a political or cultural definition.
    • A fourth example is กรุงเทพฯ normally transcribed as Krung Thep, it is better represented phonetically as Krung Tape or Krung Tayp. Again, however, it is nearly always found as Krung Thep and introducing a different transcription could easily be more detrimental than helpful.