Tuesday, 4 May 2010

First use of a Thai dictionary


Dictionaries are very useful, but they are also liars, they pretend that words have rigid meanings or that a word in one language maps directly to a word in another language. Despite the lies they can be very useful of course, for Chinese I used pinyin a lot to look up words I heard in radio shows etc.

I don't expect to have to use a dictionary very much to look up basic vocabulary, dictionaries come into their own for specialized language, but there are of course many varieties so if I am lucky I will find a dictionary of colloquial phrases.

The only reason to use a dictionary at all was because of the requirement applied from planning to and trying to practice speaking.

The Dictionary

And the dictionary of choice was the one at http://www.thai-language.com/dict/ I had already come across this site. I am likely to be practicing in restaurants and don't like the phrase book "can I have a table for X please?" type of phrases because I don't feel enough ownership of those sentences. At some point I have come across 'saam tee' as 'table for three', trouble was I couldn't remember where, it seems compact though. I wanted to look up tee so that I could confirm I wasn't completely mistaken.

First problem I don't know the official romanisation so started with tee and finally got to thee, which gives me ที่ with potential meanings including seat, location etc. that must be it. It seemed to work in the wild even when I was not prepared, but I had to replace 3 with 1 of course.

Second problem, intellectually I knew this was not Chinese, but with the vowel rammed on top there, I panicked for second and thought this "character" has too many meanings ;). After I calmed down it was obvious however that like Chinese many composite words are formed in part from singles meanings of this syllable. English is often like this also but it is much harder to spot as we don't know the original Latin or Greek parts. What the dictionary page was showing me was bunch of meanings that contain this particular sound which looks scary for a second when you associate 'foreign' writing with characters that have meaning rather than sounds.

You may have noticed I haven't mentioned Thai script yet much at all, there is a reason for that.

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