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Why vowels are sometimes skipped in writing?


Kalorymetr
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Hi,

I am learning how to read/write, letter by letter. Seems pretty easy so far but I cannot understand why some words don't have vowels in it.

For example the word:

นานา - here we have the vowels

ถนน - but here not?!

 

What's the deal?

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On 1/5/2021 at 3:56 PM, Kalorymetr said:

Hi,

I am learning how to read/write, letter by letter. Seems pretty easy so far but I cannot understand why some words don't have vowels in it.

For example the word:

นานา - here we have the vowels

ถนน - but here not?!

 

What's the deal?

There are two syllables in ถนน so to split your question into two parts. The first syllable is created because ถ and น cannot be pronounced together so ถ is said with a half vowel อะ. There are plenty of words where you have encountered this and not questioned it I suppose. ตลาด สพาน for example compared with ปลา กลาง where the two initial consonants can be said together.
In the second syllable , นน, the vowel omitted  is โอะ the short form of โอ. Because the syllable is closed,  the position where the ะ symbol would appear is taken by น so the vowel is omitted to show the short vowel. โทษ shows a long vowel.  The rule is where no vowel is shown for a syllable the the vowel is โอะ   See how much more simple it is to write นน than โน็น or รถ than โร็ถ, บท than โบ็ท.

In case you come across a similar example where the closing consonant is ร , the omitted vowel is ออ . The word นคร compares with ถนน in that นค requires half an อะ  then because the closing consonant is ร the omitted vowel is ออ .  
To most people there is no difference between ออ and โอ, รถ is pronounced ร็อด 

Not to gain say Oxx's advice o& course,  there are a few more examples of irregularities similar to this but not too many to learn quickly.  

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On 1/5/2021 at 3:56 PM, Kalorymetr said:

What's the deal?

There are two issues really. One is how you figure out whether there are unwritten vowels in the words you're reading (and if so, what those vowels are) and the other is how the writing system came to be that way in the first place. The other answers address the first issue.

 

As to the second issue, there are basically two reasons for the unwritten vowels, which are both to do with borrowing from other languages and traditions.

 

Much of the vocabulary of Thai is borrowed, and a lot of it comes from languages that allowed a wider variety of consonant clusters - Khmer in particular has a lot of clusters. When a language borrows a word with a cluster it doesn't have, it tends to insert an extra vowel to make the cluster pronounceable. This phenomenon (called epenthesis) is not specific to Thai - think of the Japanese pronunciation of "strawberry ice-cream" or the English pronunciation of "Khmer". In Thai, this only happened with initial clusters. For final clusters, the approach was to pronounce the first consonant and ignore the rest.

 

From memory, ถนน is a Khmer word and the ถน is a cluster in Khmer. The reason why there is no written vowel between ถน is that there was originally no vowel there at all.

 

The second reason for unwritten vowels is that the Thai writing system was borrowed from one designed for Indic languages. In those languages the vowel /a/ was not written. As I understand it this rule applied across the board, so it was easy to apply - if there was no written vowel and the consonants did not form a cluster, that always meant there was an /a/, and there was no need to guess.

 

At some point after the script had been adapted, the Thais seem to have decided that they would use a similar rule but with the vowel /o/ in native syllables that had final consonants* - but:

 

1. Words that had been borrowed from Indic languages (so Pali and Sanskrit, essentially) still used the Indic rule.

2. Words that had been borrowed from Indic languages gradually became assimilated to the Thai sound system, resulting in unpredictable combinations of the Indic and Thai rules.

3. Over time, the pronunciation of the unwritten vowel changed to /ɔ/ or /ɔ:/ in some cases, in a way that is largely but not completely predictable.

4. The epenthetic vowels (i.e. the ones that were inserted to break up clusters that were difficult for Thai speakers to pronounce) did not change.

 

That's basically how today's mishmash came about.

 

* It could be that the pronunciation was originally /a/ but that at some point several centuries ago it changed to /o/ when there was a final consonant, but not otherwise. Sound change happens in all languages and is a main cause of spelling irregularities - English spelling is famously irregular but the irregularities are very largely due to sound changes that have occurred since the spellings became established.

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On 1/5/2021 at 10:56 PM, Kalorymetr said:

For example the word:

นานา - here we have the vowels

ถนน - but here not?!

 

What's the deal?

Because there's no consonant on the end of 'nana'

Between the last two consonants is a "aw"

three consonants has an 'ah' then an 'aw'

 

Same rule for everything, no need to think.

@JHicks TL;DR

Edited by BritManToo
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