Did you know that once you understand the tone rules, it’s easy to figure out what tone a word is and why? There are very few exceptions to these rules and that makes it extremely effective to master them. Once you get the hang of it not only will you be able to quickly work out the tone of a new word, but you’ll also be able to work backwards in many cases to figure out how a particular word is spelled. Let’s look at a couple really common food items that you’ve probably heard of. Somtam (papaya salad) and Tom yam (the spicy soupy dish). Here’s how they are spelled in Thai.
- ต้มยำ (not found)
Even if you can’t quite read Thai yet, you may have noticed that they look very similar. The vowels match up and so do the tones. In fact, they actually give us a tone example from each consonant class as well. In order to determine the correct tone of word, we must first know which class or group a letter belongs to. In the examples above: ต (turtle) is a Middle Class Consonant (sounds similar to a /D/ but your tongue is pressed hard behind your top teeth instead of on the roof of your mouth) ย (giant) is a Low Class Consonant (makes a /Y/ sound) ส (tiger) is a High Class Consonant (makes an /S/ sound) Above the first letter in the first syllable of the 2 food dish names, you may notice the number 2 floating above the letters. It’s just a fancy, stylized ‘2’ and is the 2nd tone mark. When Middle or High Class Consonants have the “2” over top of them, they will always become a Falling Tone. Meanwhile, the 2nd syllables in those names are ตำ and ยำ. While these letters are in different consonant classes, they have one rule that overlaps: the default tone. I refer to any word that doesn’t have a tone mark or hard ending as the “default tone” and in the case of Low and Middle Class, it’s the only rule they share.