Take a look at the following words in English and see if you can work out what they all have in common: pedestrian, podiatrist, pedestal, pedicure, pedal, path.

FEET! If you're a native speaker of English, even if you don't speak fluent Latin or Greek, you will still twig when you see a word starting with 'ped-' or 'pod-' that it might well have something to do with 'feet'.

In fact, let's look at the word 'foot' - if you think of the 'f' sound as a 'p' with 'friction' and realise that very often as language changes across geography and time, f's turn into p's and vice-versa, you realise that the Germanic word 'foot' is indeed a cognate with the Latin 'ped' and Greek 'pod'. Wait a minute - someone's missing from the party here. Sanskrit is another cousin of Latin and Greek and the Sanskrit word for 'foot' is 'pada' पादद which in Thai is rendered as บาท 'baht'. Yes - the Thai unit of currency is the 'Foot' aka Thai Baht. I find that the more of these links that can be made, the more colourful the stories become in your head as you're learning vocabulary and the easier it is to remember new words.

If you haven't checked out my earlier post on the top 20 Pali / Sanskrit prefixes in Thai to boost your vocab, you can read it here.

A Note on 3 Important Sanskrit Terms

Sandhi

Say the following sentence in a normal speaking voice at normal speaking speed:

*** House of Cards ***

Did you pronounce each word distinctly? If you're a native English speaker, chances are you pronounced it:
*** haʊ səv kʰa:dz ***
Notice how the 's' attaches itself to the next word, the 'o' in 'of' usually drops to a 'schwa - ə' sound, and even though the final letter in 'cards' is an 's', it becomes a 'z' sound. These 'sound shifts' that naturally happen when certain sounds follow eachother is called 'Sandhi', or in Thai we call it สนธิ 'sonthi'. It's important to note that sometimes you might not see roots spelled exactly the same in different words. In Sanskrit, spelling follows the SOUND of speech, so depending on what other sounds are surrounding a given word, its spelling may change. That means that even though the individual words may be 'House' 'of' 'Cards', if this were Sanskrit, written in a sentence, it would be written hau sev kadz. The complete rules of Sandhi transformations are beyond the scope of this article, but I highly recommend digging deeper into the subject - it will let you understand both Thai better, as well as how your own mouth functions.

Guna गुण คุณ 'Khun'

The smallest unit of word / meaning in Sanskrit is a root or 'Dhatu' (ธาตุ 'That' in Thai). Think of these as little 'meaning seeds' that haven't yet been inflated. They will often be composed of only 2 or 3 clustered syllables without vowels present to 'inflate' them. If you speak Arabic, the concept of 'roots' will be very familiar to you. While the way roots in Sanskrit and Arabic work very different, it's a helpful initial comparison to make.

The 'Guna' form of a root is where it is 'strengthened' or 'inflated'. In Sanskrit, this is called the secondary form of a root. The mouth extends the sound, and the spelling subsequently changes.

Vrddhi वृद्धि, วฤทธิ์ 'warit'

'Vrddhi' means to 'increase', and it is when the 'guna' form of a root is 'lengthened' again into its 2nd state.

That means that for any root, you may see the spelling change depending on what sounds are around it and what 'version' of the word is being used. Here are the vowel changes that happens between the Root -> Guna -> Vrddhi versions of a root:

Simple Vowel a
Guna Form a e o ar al
Vrddhi Form ai au ār āl

If a word ends with one of the following vowels in the 'root' form, strengthening it to the next 'guna' or 2nd 'vrddhi' levels will see the vowel change according to this table.

So the word 'pi' in simple root form would be 'pe' in Guna and 'pai' in Vrddhi form. You don't need to master these by any means to start enjoying the benefit of understanding Sanskrit roots in Thai, however understanding that you will see different permutations of spelling in words helps you apply 'fuzzy logic' and see meanings where you may have missed them otherwise.

I have kept the roots written in the Thai script so that they can be recognised when seen in Thai words. The meanings have been loosely translated into English. The meanings are not comprehensive Sanskrit and Pali influences in Thai are many. These influences may come in the form of affixes, concepts or words built from ‘root words’ (/that/) – ธาตุ which entered the language via Pali, Sanskrit, Khmer or other languages. A word that is build from such roots, is called ‘khamkit’ (คำกิตก์).

When looking at the following list, you may be curious as to what the ‘dot’ means below a letter. The Thai script is derived from the Indic scripts which have their origins in the Brahmi script and beyond. Traditionally, each consonant has an inherent vowel sound. Originally, this sound was the short /a/ sound as in /cut/. In the Devanagari script, as with many of the other Brahmi derived scripts, each consonant was pronounced with an ‘a’ sound after it if it was found in its full form by itself. When consonant clusters occurred – e.g. kw, kr, pr, prs etc – i.e. When the /a/ or other vowel sounds were not to be put between consonants, the original shapes would be cut or morphed in one way or another and fused together according to a set pattern. If the final letter in Sanskrit was to be left as the consonant sound rather than an /a/ following the consonant sound (e.g. ‘jan’ as opposed to ‘jana’), a stroke called a ‘Virama Stroke’ was placed below the final consonant to indicate this. Without this stroke, given that there was no other vowel symbol, the final inherent sound would be /a/.

In Thai, consonant clusters and the Virama Stroke are represented by a dot กรฺ. This would be pronounced ‘kar’ rather than ‘kara’. Even though the Thai sound system doesn’t allow for a wide range of consonant clusters (in theory many are written in, but in everyday speech the subsequent letters in the cluster are in many cases lost. It normally takes a conscious effort for a native Thai speaker to produce these clusters. Come to the Cracking Thai Fundamentals workshop for a more complete explanation!).

xxx Root ธาตุ Transliteration(From Thai) Devanagari Transliteration (From Sanskrit) Meaning ความหมาย
1 กรฺ kr- क्र कर kr kar to do, put into action
2 กี ki- की ki to buy
3 คม kom- कम kama to go
4 คห kah- कह kaha to carry, to receive
5 จร cor- चर cara to travel, behave
6 จิ ci- चि ci social, society, communal
7 จินฺต cint- चिन्त cint thought
8 จุร cur- चुर cura deceive, steal
9 ฉีทฺ chit- झीद् jhid cover
10 ชนฺ chon- जन् jan birth, be born, occur, create
11 ชิ chi- जि ji win, victory
12 ชีว chiw- जिव jiva alive, to exist, to live
13 ญา (n)ya ञा nya to know, knowledge
14 ตน ton तन tana spread / stretch out
15 ตป top- (tap) तप tapa heat, to heat, provide heat, to burn
16 ทา tha- दा da to give, bestow
17 ทิว thiw- दिव diva light, shine, enlighten
18 ทิสฺ this(s)- दिस् dis to show, indicate, point to
19 ทีป thip- दीप dip light, shine, enlighten
20 ธาว thaw- धाव diva to run
21 นนฺท nonth- नन्द nanda to enjoy, feel good
22 นาส nat(s)- नास nasa destroy, destruction, perish
23 นี ni- नी ni to lead
24 ปจฺ poc- पच् pac to boil (in liquid)
25 ปา pa- पा pa to drink
26 ปาล pan(l)- पाल pala to take care of, look after
27 พนฺธ phon(th)- बन्ध bandha to tie, bind
28 ภา pha- भा bha light, shine, enlighten, radiate
29 ภิทฺ phit- भिद bhida to break, ruin, destroy
30 ภุชฺ phut(ch) भुज bhuja to eat
31 มุทฺ mut- मुद् mudh happy, enjoy, amuse
32 มนฺ mon- मन् man to think, thought
33 มุจฺ mut(c) मुच् muc be clear of, release
34 มุห muh- मुह muha to be lost, lose
35 ยา ya- या ya to go
36 ยุธฺ yuth- युध yudha to cause trouble, fight
37 รุหฺ ruh- रुह ruha to bud, thrive, sprout
38 ลภฺ lop- लभ् labh to have attained
39 วจฺ wot(c)- वच् vac to speak, utter
40 วทฺ wot- वद् vad to speak, utter
41 วสฺ wot(s)- वस् vas to reside, to abide
42 วิทฺ wit- विद् vid to know, knowledge
43 วิสฺ wit(s)- विस् vis to enter
44 หสฺ hot(s)- हस् has to laugh, laughter
45 หนฺ hon- हन् han to kill
46 หา ha- हा ha to part from
47 หร hor- हर hara to lead
48 ชี chi- जी ji final, total, to the ‘n’th’ degree

The above list has been adapted from the list presented in Ch. 10 of ภาษาไทยปริทัศน์ – คู่มือภาษาไทย สำหรับนักเรียน นักศึกษา และผู้สนใจ by เอื้อน เล่งเจริญ .

Let me know in the comments section what words that you have been able to decipher. Next time you're at a party, see how many people's names you can work out meanings for.