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The Myth of the Thai Tones


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Just now, katana said:

The Thai translation of the name doesn't even match the English. Hope it gets better from there.

Not news to me. I agree it's a quirk. Try it before judging. The tone of discussion is entirely different, in that expertise is recognized and valued. The level of BS (compared to here) is much, much lower. 

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Like many, I struggled to speak Thai in a way that people really understood what I was saying, even though my listening skills were good enough for me to follow conversations.   And Thai fri

Even in my early days in Thailand, when my pronunciation surely was atrocious, there were some Thais who understood me almost without fail, while I had no luck whatsoever with others.   I th

I'm sceptical on your theory.   So you are basically saying that we can pronounce every word in a mid/normal tone and  Thais work out the tone and the meaning of the word used from the

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My Thai teacher told me not to worry about the tones, but to use the proper syntax and to add sufficient context information. Among native Thai speakers, much more context is added while speaking which additional context may be deemed unnecessary for indogerman languages. With the proper syntax and context, a  ไม่ cannot be a ไหม, ไหม่, or ไม้.

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1 hour ago, LawrenceN said:

I agree it's a quirk.

A quirk...right. The English "Farang can learn Thai Language" sounds awkward and unnatural for a title. Presumably from a non-native English speaker.
Also, a lot of Westerners (rightly or wrongly) don't like the word farang. So maybe not a good idea to have it in the name. Also what about non-native speakers who aren't farang? Are they excluded?
But, anyhow,  good of you to drop in here amongst the hoi polloi from your elite forum when you get time.

 

2 hours ago, LawrenceN said:

Bear in mind that 3 & 4 are homonyms. 

Homonym is ambiguous. Strictly speaking they're homophones since they have the same sound but different spelling. That was mentioned earlier. Do try and keep up.

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Katana. The title of the site is Farang Can Learn Thai .  That is repeated below the title box followed by รักภาษาไทย It is obviously not supposed to be taken as a translation of the title.

Facebook is more user friendly for iPad and iPhone compared to Thai visa. I would like to quote you but the box which I need to click is covered by another box for example. There are Thai people there who use more Thai language and the topics do not drag on with digressions as has happened here because new topics or lessons appear daily. 
You could give it a chance. 

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I don't speak a lot of Thai, but I do "sing" a bit when I communicate.  55  I just have to start out on the right note.

 

Now, when I'm grunting in a conversation I use all the tones, short/long and different inflections. Makes people like my in-laws think I actually understand them when they chatter at me.  

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On 6/3/2021 at 11:38 AM, ColeBOzbourne said:

An interesting experiment, I've often wondered what the results of something like that might be. It sounds like something informal you just did with friends, but my science background comes into play and makes me curious about details. For example: How large was your sample, how many people did you involve in this experiment? How many words were used? Did the people know ahead of time what you were testing? Did the reader and the listener switch roles?

 

It would be interesting to have a large sample of people and set it up as a blind study where neither the reader nor the listener knows what is being tested. If the reader knows, for example, then they could possibly alter results by over-pronunciation of the tone on purpose. An interesting idea might be to record the readers on video and then show to a number of listeners.

 

Interesting post. Thanks.

I often wonder how a Thai national with a speech impediment or severe head cold is understood...

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2 hours ago, Damrongsak said:

I don't speak a lot of Thai, but I do "sing" a bit when I communicate. 

funny, I have told friends that there is kind of a song to the language... and to my ear, it is not only the tones but there is a sound to each word that differs... 

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3 minutes ago, BobinBKK said:

I often wonder how a Thai national with a speech impediment or severe head cold is understood...

the same as a person in any language with a speech impediment... it will depend on the degree. 

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Just now, 1FinickyOne said:

funny, I have told friends that there is kind of a song to the language... and to my ear, it is not only the tones but there is a sound to each word that differs... 

Yes, I believe so.  I don't just say words, I make it melodious. If I'm motivated and care to engage or reply, I do well with my limited vocabulary.  At times, I think I should carry a pitch-pipe  to get started.

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4 minutes ago, Damrongsak said:

Yes, I believe so.  I don't just say words, I make it melodious. If I'm motivated and care to engage or reply, I do well with my limited vocabulary.  At times, I think I should carry a pitch-pipe  to get started.

pom ja pie hmmm mmm mmamoom.... sure, I bet that would get a smile anywhere you went... 

 

nobody ever cares too much about what I say anyway... 

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11 minutes ago, 1FinickyOne said:

the same as a person in any language with a speech impediment... it will depend on the degree. 

In the U.S. we have a friend who was a refugee from Laos - Chinese-Lao.  Very difficult to understand .  Clever electronic tech but struggled with speech and other functions.  But we all got along and had good times.

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9 minutes ago, 1FinickyOne said:

,... nobody ever cares too much about what I say anyway... 

Tell me about it, I've been married to a Thai gal for 43 years.

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9 hours ago, Damrongsak said:

I don't speak a lot of Thai, but I do "sing" a bit when I communicate.  55  I just have to start out on the right note.

 

Now, when I'm grunting in a conversation I use all the tones, short/long and different inflections. Makes people like my in-laws think I actually understand them when they chatter at me.  

You're too modest. Get yourself retired over here and it will come back to you. 

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On 6/7/2021 at 6:04 PM, katana said:

Homonym is ambiguous. Strictly speaking they're homophones since they have the same sound but different spelling. That was mentioned earlier. Do try and keep up.

Pedantry noted. 

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6 hours ago, LawrenceN said:

You're too modest. Get yourself retired over here and it will come back to you. 

It's been about 44 years and 2 months since we started the Thai class.  But who's counting? 

 

I do need to brush up on the classifier words and learn some new ones.  http://www.thai-language.com/ref/classifier-list

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On 6/4/2021 at 4:40 PM, ColeBOzbourne said:

You raise some valid points. You can't test more than one variable at a time so speakers from different regions would be effected both by tone and accent. However, testing local family members with each other would also skew the results because they are so familiar with each other's way of talking. Similar to a mother that can understand her toddler babbling but nobody else can. My girlfriend can understand me far better than other people. So results may be more valid if the participants were from the same region and did not know each other.

 

Of course it would be more accurate to test a larger sample, but the OP's assertion is that the tones do not exist out of context and so then even members of the same family (by the OP's logic) would not have 100% accuracy when listening to their family members say single words out of context. Of course, this isn't true since the tones clearly exist and do have meaning out of context in a group of individuals using a regional accent.

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2 hours ago, SABloke said:

Of course it would be more accurate to test a larger sample, but the OP's assertion is that the tones do not exist out of context and so then even members of the same family (by the OP's logic) would not have 100% accuracy when listening to their family members say single words out of context. Of course, this isn't true since the tones clearly exist and do have meaning out of context in a group of individuals using a regional accent.

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with the OP, but he never said that tones don't exist at all outside of context. You're exaggerating that part a bit. When he referred to "The Myth of Thai Tones", to me he seemed to indicate that they may not play as big a role as some people believe. He stated that context may play a bigger role than tones. Not that tones don't exist at all.

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34 minutes ago, ColeBOzbourne said:

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with the OP, but he never said that tones don't exist at all outside of context. You're exaggerating that part a bit. When he referred to "The Myth of Thai Tones", to me he seemed to indicate that they may not play as big a role as some people believe. He stated that context may play a bigger role than tones. Not that tones don't exist at all.

 

But it's this part of the OP (below), which implies, and therefore leads others to believe, that its not worth learning tones.

 

Tones are not regional accents, though of course there are regional accents and people in different regions will pronounce words differently.

 

Sure if you don't use the tone for a word you may be understood from the context, but there will be plenty of times that doing that you will not be understood.

 

Learn and use the tones, if you get it wrong then try to get it right next time, slowly you will improve if you wish to improve (some people don't).

 

My understanding is that Thais do not learn at school the tone rules as we adult farlangs try to learn them (from a set of rules based on initial consonant, live or dead syllable, etc). They listen and copy parents and teachers, who correct the child if they pronounce the tones wrong - remember my wife repeatedly correcting our kids that way. That's the same way we farlangs learn to speak/pronounce our own mother tongue.

 

"I now realise tones are more like regional accents than strict rules, and that Thai people actually use context more than tone to understand the meaning.  I also realised my attempts at tones were adding to the confusion when I spoke.

 

So now I focus on keeping my tone flat and level when I speak Thai, and people have no problem understanding me.

 

The "mai, mai, mai" monologue is nothing more than a way for Thai's to show off to the stupid falang, and with perhaps a few exceptions such as the 'mai' used as a question word, tones are unnecessary for everyday speech.  And the tone for the "mai" question is common in English too, where "why" can be a question or a statement, but 90% of the other tones are just Thai's being pedantic as they don't understand the tones in the absence of context.

 

I guess the people who've sweated blood for 20 years learning Thai tones will not agree with me - but I believe such people have learned to speak the equivalent of BBC Queen's English, which is just not the way 99% of people in the UK speak."

 

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It's true that context is important and even without the correct tone, we can be understood ( don't forget also short and long vowels, maybe more important than tones ) if the construction of the sentence is correct  

but , of course tones are very important, you have to know them in writing, otherwise it's a spelling mistake 

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I've lost count of how many times I've seen people on this forum complain that "Thais refuse to understand me when I speak Thai" (and therefore invariably states that learning Thai is useless).

 

Why would someone "refuse" to understand you? I find it more likely that it's their pronunciation (wrong tones/vowel lengths) that makes it near impossible to understand them.

 

Analogously, when I first came to Thailand, I struggled with understanding Thais speaking English. Even when I asked the person to repeat a word several times, sometimes I just couldn't understand it no matter how hard I tried and had to had it spelled instead.

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I think this lovely lady is the best I've seen at explaining tones, because she uses English words for examples of the 5 tones. Clever and easy to remember. She's got a sense of humour too! 😉

 

Yeah - mid tone -

Uhh - low _

Hey - falling ^

What - high 

Well- rising v

 

 

 

 

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