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RTGS and logic

The art and science of translation to or from Thai, with examples

Moderator: acloudmovingby

RTGS and logic

Postby bahtman » Sun Jun 05, 2016 2:53 am

While I don’t really know anything about the RTGS system, there does seem to be shortcomings when using logic.

Now this could be my first big mistake here: Assuming that this is what is used to translate place names?
The example I can think of immediately is Phuket. Obviously there is much hilarity to be had – see attached image of an Air Asia ad campaign, just to add some humour.

I notice also that Pattaya as it is spelt on Highway 3, is spelt as Phataya on the motorway running above it. (I haven’t been on those roads for a few years, so I hope my memory about the spelling is correct?)
I’m guessing on place names that it’s down to the Department of Land Transport? Although no idea why there’s two Pattaya options.

I remember years ago in a UK post office I was looking at a Thai produced postcode list. Chonburi was spelt as Cholburi. Learning Thai, I understand now how the error came to be made, as the at the end of the first syllable is pronounced as .

One other example is translating names. The name พลวัต was on an ID card using the English spelling Phonwat. This was done by someone at the Amphur when issuing the ID card.
After my suggestion the name was changed on his ID card to Polawat, as this guy will be going abroad and that would (to my mind) be a better way for a farang to read the name more accurately.

The long-winded point I’m trying make is using the examples above, do Thais follow the RTGS, or make it up as they go along?
I’m not having a pop at Thais here. I know it would go against the grain, but if there was a native English speaker check the translated text, wouldn’t that avoid a lot of these mistakes?
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Re: RTGS and logic

Postby David and Bui » Sun Jun 05, 2016 2:57 am

I would have though that the transcription of พลวัต to be rendered closest to the Thai would be "Phonlawat".

The Royal Institute document on transcription of Thai to Romanization transcribes พระราชวัง as "phrarachawang". Note the insertion of /a:/ after the "ch".

What do you think?
David in Houston
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Re: RTGS and logic

Postby bahtman » Sun Jun 05, 2016 3:15 am

David and Bui wrote:I would have though that the transcription of พลวัต to be rendered closest to the Thai would be "Phonlawat". What do you think?


Well this is what baffles me about the "P" and "Ph" thinking.
I'm talking about people who have never visited Thailand, so in their minds have not seen Thai place names spelt "Ph" but pronounced "P" rather than "F"?
I'm obviously using ferang logic here, but to me in English "Ph" is sounded as the letter "F", for example:
physics, photograph, phone, pheonix, philosophy.

Knowing my luck, you'll probably phind some exceptions to the rule!
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Re: RTGS and logic

Postby bahtman » Sun Jun 05, 2016 3:39 am

David and Bui wrote:I would have though that the transcription of พลวัต to be rendered closest to the Thai would be "Phonlawat".

The Royal Institute document on transcription of Thai to Romanization transcribes พระราชวัง as "phrarachawang". Note the insertion of /a:/ after the "ch".

What do you think?



Sorry David and Bui, I must have chopped off the second line of your reply.

Having said that, you have confirmed for me that it is RTGS that instructs people to use "ph" as a "p" sound, when it's above.
As a non-expert on this, as I've said using ferang logic, how can an English "ph" be sounded as an English "p"?
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Re: RTGS and logic

Postby David and Bui » Sun Jun 05, 2016 3:40 am

Ah, I see. Let's see what the Royal Institute's objective was in issuing its set of suggested transcription rules. The paper is called:

"หลักเกณฑ์การถอดอักษรไทยเป็นอักษรโรมันแบบถ่ายเสียง" which we might render as "Principles of Transcribing Thai Characters Into Roman Characters to Reflect [Correct] Pronunciation".

Since most European languages use some form of Romanization in their written languages, English speakers are not the only objective for the transcription system. It is interesting, as an aside, that the use of "ph" in English to reflect the "f" sound is used almost exclusively for Greek origin words. The use of "ph" in Thai (and perhaps other languages) to reflect the initial aspirated voiceless plosive (, , ) is to distinguish this sound from the unaspirated initial ().

I think we need to understand that the Royal Institute developed their transcription system with several audiences in mind. They needed to develop a system for use by the casual traveler to Thailand who would never learn Thai to the long-term foreign resident who may never learn to read Thai to the skilled and educated academics who demand a highly precise and accurate system. It was inevitable that almost everyone would be disappointed. But, we can't fault them for trying.
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Re: RTGS and logic

Postby David and Bui » Sun Jun 05, 2016 3:49 am

As for your question regarding whether the Thais are familiar with the Royal Institute system, I must say that the penetration among even the educated population is very low. And, this is understandable. The vast majority of Thais, even those who speak one or more foreign languages, have little use for Romanization systems in their daily lives. Actually, their needs are met by the mirror image system: how to write English words and words in other languages into Thai orthography in a manner that can be understood by other Thais (เซเว่น อีเลฟเว่น for example).

So, regrettably, we are likely stuck with an unsatisfactory transcription system, which despite its faults, will not have very much influence on how Thais transcribe their language into Roman characters.
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Re: RTGS and logic

Postby bahtman » Sun Jun 05, 2016 5:09 am

Thanks so much for your very comprehensive reply.

I take your point about using Romanisation and English speakers not being the only target audience.
That’s my specialist subject: Missing the obvious!

Regarding road signs, isn’t the official policy that they are supposed to be in English as a second language, so ideally might it be better if they used Thai>English translations?

I follow what your saying about the “ph” in English originating from Greek, but those words are now part of the querky English language, and people speaking it on a daily basis just read the words using the rules they’ve been taught.

The example you quoted “เซเว่น อีเลฟเว่น" took me a while to realise what it said. I do often struggle to read English words written in Thai. I initially thought the second word might be elephant.

As an aside, I remember in Pattaya years ago, someone opened a copy 7-11. Same 7-11 colours and logo, only the word “eleven” in the middle said ”elephant”. It was only a few months before it was closed. The real seven elephants must have spotted it.

I do like your very diplomatic comment at the end: “It was inevitable that almost everyone would be disappointed. But, we can't fault them for trying.”
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Re: RTGS and logic

Postby Tgeezer » Sun Jun 05, 2016 5:16 am

Saywain elaipwain ? เซเว่น อีเลฟเว่น
I couldn't understand this. I see the answer now. To read it properly Thais must make quite a few adjustments to their understanding of spelling, they probably think that they are speaking English.
กอล์ฟ- golf, some people pronounce "gop".
Edit: on reflection I don't say 'golf', when speaking with Thais it's "gop".
Last edited by Tgeezer on Sun Jun 05, 2016 5:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: RTGS and logic

Postby bahtman » Sun Jun 05, 2016 5:36 am

Tgeezer wrote:Saywain elaipwain ? เซเว่น อีเลฟเว่น
I couldn't understand this. I see the answer now. To read it properly Thais must make quite a few adjustments to their understanding of spelling, they probably think that they are speaking English.
กอล์ฟ- golf, some people pronounce "gop".




Saywain elaipwain: Sounds like a non-English speaking Thai saying seven eleven to me!
Then again I do have a twisted sense of humour.
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Re: RTGS and logic

Postby Tgeezer » Sun Jun 05, 2016 5:42 am

bahtman wrote:
Tgeezer wrote:Saywain elaipwain ? เซเว่น อีเลฟเว่น
I couldn't understand this. I see the answer now. To read it properly Thais must make quite a few adjustments to their understanding of spelling, they probably think that they are speaking English.
กอล์ฟ- golf, some people pronounce "gop".




Saywain elaipwain: Sounds like a non-English speaking Thai saying seven eleven to me!
Then again I do have a twisted sense of humour.

Thai only needs one word so I think that อีเลฟเว่น has been dropped, which avoids the issue.
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