Thai Language – Particles

A very good reference for learning modern Thai!

Siamsmile – Thai Particles.

Introduction

A non-tonal language such as English uses stress and tone to change the feeling and mood of a sentence. Asking someone to “Come here!”, depending on the tone of the voice, can completely change the meaning from a mild entreaty to a forceful command.

A tonal language like Thai, where the meaning of a word is determined by the tone or pitch of the voice – uses words, usually tacked onto the end of a sentence, called particles (คำลงท้าย), to convey emotion and feeling. These particles are used in Thai because if you tried to express feeling and mood through intonation of voice, it may interfere with the tone (and therefore meaning) of a word.

As well as mood particles, and as a likely reflection of the hierarchical and class structure of Thai society, Thai also has several polite particles such as KHRAP ครับ, KHA คะ/ค่ะ, KHRAP-PHOM ครับผม etc (see below) which are added to the end of a sentence to indicate deference and respect to the addressee.

Polite particles play an important role in Thai culture where face and harmonius relations are often at a premium. Use of the appropriate polite particle in a sentence can add just the right amount of politeness for a given situation.

To summarize, these particles, which are unnecessary in English, add feeling, mood, deference and politeness to Thai speech.

Particles are used in informal Thai, that is, Thai as used in everyday speech, Internet chat rooms, message boards and comics etc. However, no particles (with the exception of some of the polite particles) are used in formal Thai. For example, if you as a government official write a formal letter to your colleagues or your superiors, particles will be omitted completely. This also applies to Ministerial Regulations, Royal Decrees, Ministerial Notifications, Judgments, and the like.

Particles come naturally to native Thai speakers and they don’t really think too much about them. Westerners learning the Thai language however, are often particularly interested in speech particles because they can, in the most extreme cases, completely change the mood (and therefore meaning) of a sentence and are thus very useful words to be aware of.

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