Saturday, September 09, 2006


I've been thinking about Thai compounding lately. Many common Thai words are made up of simpler component words. For example, the word for "river" translates to "mother of water". The word for "electricity" translates to "sky fire". (I personally associate "sky fire" with lightning, although the Thai word for "lightning" is different.) Tears are "eye water", calmness is a "cool heart", and so on.

The online dictionaries and give component words along with translations, and it's always interesting to see the components. Component words are often more common, and, while I don't try to use this information in any explicit way, I think the component words provide little automatic hooks for building vocabulary. Once I've associated "sky fire" with electricity, it's hard to forget.

A related phenomenon is "derivational morphology", where Thai words can change their nuance or part of speech by a small set of common prefixes. As I hear these prefixes in different contexts and become more familiar with them, they really contribute to my comprehension.

Between compounding and derivational morphology, vocabulary in much of Thai is pretty logical. The more challenging vocabulary includes proper names, words borrowed from other languages, and "specialized" vocabulary such as that used by and for royalty.

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