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When do you drop the 'a'?

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It has been frustrating over the years that despite going to language school, I have not yet understood when and why the short 'a' is sometimes dropped from a world, like THANON and others. Saduak or saat, for example, don't drop the 'a'. Please, someone explain this to me. I will be so grateful!

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Nice explanation santo. I think op is more confused in why thanon does not have a written ะ (or mai han aa gaat symbol) where, say, สะดวก does, both of which of course pronounce an initial 'a' sound. Bottom line; many Thai syllables have no written vowels. It goes: if syllable has a consonant followed by no vowel, you pronounce 'a'. If syllable has an initial and final consonant (eg: frog กบ), pronounce it as 'oh'. Thanon ถนน (wonderful word), then, follows both rules.


The disparity being สะดวก saduak displaying ะ (a), while สนุก sanuk does not. Either syllables preceding aspirated (d) vs non-aspirated (n) thing, or more likely as santo says words like thanon and sanuk don't really have English-sounding a's.


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2 hours ago, daveAustin said:

why thanon does not have a written ะ (or mai han aa gaat symbol) where, say, สะดวก does, both of which of course pronounce an initial 'a' sound


There are more differences between the two.  An unwritten /a/ sound is normally pronounced mid-tone and is unstressed.  A written /a/ is pronounced high or low tone and is followed by a glottal stop (i.e. /áʔ/ or  /àʔ/). 


The unwritten /a/ is only pronounced the same as the written /a/ (i.e. high/low tone, glottal stop) when speaking in "dictation style".  Unfortunately, some dictionaries always show the "dictation style" pronunciation in transcription, which is misleading.

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Just for the fun of it. English has an equivalent word where making a sound similar to ถนน is necessary and that is gnu.  Our dictionary doesn't help more than showing that the u is open.  If you are familiar with transliteration you would probably pronounce gnu as งู but that would be wrong.  Fortunately in neither language is tn .., ถน..  possible so you have to do your best.  However the RID shows ถะนน as a guide to pronunciation and some books say ออกเสียงกึ่งเสียง between those two consonants which is not how สระ ะ is said. Thais encounter a similar problem with words like snooker where English speakers often do a better job of hiding the half vowel probably making it a quarter vowel!  Perhaps ตลอด is an example where both languages seem to naturally produce the correct sound.   

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  • 4 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

It may be worth mentioning that the Irregular Tone Rule* (e.g. the นน in ถนน  unexpectedly adopting a rising tone, by 'inheriting' the class of the leading ถ )  only applies in cases where the ะ is not written. So, if you hear a word that fits this pattern, but the tone of the second syllable is not what you'd expect, you can infer that the ะ is not written.  This won't solve all your problems, but it narrows the field a little.


* More on the the Irregular Tone Rule at the excellent 'Inside a Thai Syllable':
at section IIIb, heading, "b. - Enepenthetic ‘Leading Consonant’ Clusters"
also, some relevant bits about clusters, more generally, in section I of the same page:
"I. - True Consonant Clusters".


Heck, why not go back and read the whole lesson starting at Part 1




Edited by BringMeSunshine
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