With the opening of the brand spanking new Suwarnnabhumi Airport, I think it’s important that we let the foreigners in on how we pronounce the name.
Suwarnnabhumi : su-wan-na-POOM
I know it should read “su-warn-na-boom-me” according to its spelling, but that’s not how us Thais say it.
Most of the time, any Thai names written in English is pronounced differently than how it looks.
Romanizing/Transliteration isn’t always a good thing.
The way Thais spell out Thai words in English makes the word appear luxurious. Look at how pretty the words look versus how it would look spelling out phonetically.
Sawasdee –> Sa-wad-dee. The “S” at the end of “was” is an “D” sound in Thai spelling.
Thaksin Shinawatra –> TAK-sin SHIN-na-wat
Sorry. I couldn’t resist.
Another case in point, Thailand is pronounced TIE-land, not THIGH-land. (Please, hold on to your jokes. How else could I convey the pronunciation in writing!?)
All kidding aside, how we spell our names out extravagantly in English is not just for show.
Like, Suwarnnabhumi, we spell out according to the Pali or Sanskrit roots.
The name of our king, for example, Bhumibol is pronounced Poo-mi-poan in Thai, but it is written out in English according to how it is spelled in Thai (and “L” stands in for “N” sound at the end of a word, and such) and staying with how root word should be spelled.
But how do you know how the root word should be spelled?
Okay. This is purely from my observation. If someone has a better explanation, by all means please illuminate us all. But my theory is that the English has ways of jotting down the words in Pali, Sanskrit, and other languages and dialects spoken in India. Like, yoga. Yoga is known in Thai as Yo-ka. Maharaja –> Maha Racha. So certain words are supposed to be romanized a certain way. Something like that.
Still with me?
Before we go further, let me just say that this is a GUIDE on how to pronounce Thai words written in English in order to better communicate with Thais in Thailand…and to be able to pronounce the names correctly and feel proud of yourself! This is NOT a Thai lesson. For that, please visit LearningThai.com
Now, you may continue with a cheat sheet to pronouncing Thai words written in English.
The H after a T or at P is silent.
This point will save you a LOT of headaches when you try to communicate with your Thailand cabbies.
You have read the example about how Thailand is pronounced. Just make sure that you apply that logic to all the H’s you see.
Example, Soi Thongloh –> Soy TONG-loh, not THONG-loh. Wat Phra Gaew –> Wat Pra Gaew, not Wat FRA Gaew. Same goes with Wat Pho –> Wat POE, not FOE. Phi Phi Island –> Pee Pee Island. Phuket –> Pooh-ket, not Foo-ket. I know, I know. Stop giggling. *sigh*
R is silent in SR
Yet another Thai spelling based word. We spell it with SR but pronounced it as S. You will see a lot of these spellings in the names of temples. Sri –> Seeh means a blessing.
Example: Srinakarin Road –> Seeh Na-ka-rin Road.
BH is pronounced P
You’ve learned that already from Suwarnnabhumi and King Bhumibol.
V is pronounced W
There is no such thing as a V sound in Thai. That bottom teeth to the upper lip thing, unless is an F sound, we don’t have that. But we do use it in our Romanized spellings though.
So, go ahead and be a little bit of a German, pronounce your V as W!
Example: Sukhumvit is just Su-koom-wit.
R is silent in RN
Again, SuWARNabhumi. The “WARN” is pronounced WAN. Once again, another product of Romanizing the word. Karnchanaburi, the province that is home to the famous Bridge of the River Kwae (which is, by the way, pronounced like sQUARE, not k-why), is pronounced KAN-cha-na-bu-ri.
…Now, a few trickier ones for you to be aware of. I’m not expecting you to know right off the bat which one is which, but it’ll be helpful. You’ll see what I mean in a second…
CH could be pronounced J…or just CH
Bangkok’s famous bazarre is known to the locals as Ja-tu-jak Market, or JJ Market. But how is it written out on signs? Chatuchak. And the river that runs through Bangkok is spelled Chao Phraya but pronounced Jaow Pra-ya..
I don’t know as to the real reason why we spell our J’s with CH’s. But the only theory comes to mind is that there is some German influence, the Y for the J thing. Jesus is pronounced in Thai, YEAsoo. Saint Joseph is Saint YOsef.
So, maybe to prevent the confusion of some foreigners calling the road PloenYIT instead of PloenJIT, they switched to spelling it with CH to get a closer pronunciation to the “J” without actually writing it.
Hey, it’s possible!
But here’s a bit of a conundrum. Some names and words spelled with “CH” are actually pronounced as such. The street in my neighborhood is, to much giggling, spelled Ploenchit Road, but it is pronounced Ploen JIT, but then the cross street of it is Chitlom Road which is pronounced Chid-Lom, not JID-lom.
Being a foreigner, try using the CH sound first. If the listener replies, “Huh?”, then try it with the J.
T is often pronounced like DT / P is BP…but maybe not
There are 2 T sounds in Thai. One is the actual T, and one is between a weak TH and strong D which you’d see online as DT. Or, instead of sticking your tongue out between your teeth to say “Thong”, place your tongue behind your teeth and say it. Same goes with the P sounds. One is a P, and the other is a BP, like P but instead of letting all the air out, you keep your lips together more.
Gosh, this is HARD to convey in writing! LOL.
Think of it like a T and P in Spanish, if that helps. Like Tortilla. Like Por que?
Example: Tarutao Island –> Dta-ru-dtao. Doi Pui –> Doi Bpui
When to use which sound is difficult to tell when written out in English. A lot more complicated than the CH/J in the last heading. You just have to listen to the natives and hear what they say and make your own note for that.
I think I got it all. Try it out. Open your Thai guide book and see if you can spot all of these things I have mentioned and see if you could pronounce it correctly.
Since Pondering shared with us her last name in the comment, I should also point out my maiden name as another perfect example of the transliteration/romanization of Thai names.
Phromyothi is how it’s spelled in English. If you’re going to stick with the root word spelling, it should look like this: Brahmayodhi. Phrom, Thai for Brahma, the Hindu god. Yodhi means soldiers or army. So, yep. Army of Brahma is the meaning of my last name, appropriate title that was given to my grandfather the army general which eventually became our family name.
Prom-yo-tee is how it’s pronounced.
But I must admit though, Phromyothi looks more impressive in writing than Promyotee.