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Analysis of Thai Contrastive Vowels

Thai, the official language of Thailand consists of 9 vowels that are not only contrastive in terms of place of articulation but also in length (Abramson, 1962). This paper aims to determine how the 9 basic Thai vowels are articulated and appropriately plot them on a vowel chart in terms of place of articulation; length will not be contrasted within this paper. Methodology Thai is a tonal language and tone is also contrastive, so in order to construct a set of words with different meanings based on vowel articulation only, assurance had to be made that the tone for each word was the same.

Working with a native speaker of Thai, together with a Thai Beginner’s text book (Becker, 2004) 4 sets of words that contrasted and compared vowel sounds was developed. The correct pronunciation of each word was ascertained and practiced until the researcher was confident that the correct pronunciation was mastered. Following the session conducted with the Thai speaker a recording was made of the researcher repeating the set of words for easier analysis. Each vowel from the word set was then plotted onto a vowel chart. Results

The following set of 5 words were extracted and plotted on a vowel chart to illustrate 5 contrastive vowels: [dta] eyes central, low, unrounded [dti] to hit front, high, unrounded [dt? ] big back, low, unrounded [dt? ] nail front, low, unrounded A further set of 4 words were also determined and plotted on a vowel chart for further comparison and contrast: [ha] look for central, low, unrounded [h? ] bad back, low, unrounded [h? ] fishing net front, low, unrounded [ho] ear back, mid, unrounded A third set of three words extracted further comparison and contrast: [te] to pour front, mid, unrounded [t?

] to hold central, high, back [tu] to rub back, high, rounded The final set of three words determined the final two vowels: [ka] leg central, low, unrounded [k? ] to ask for central, mid, unrounded The vowel chart below provides the 9 vowels contrasted within this study; as noted before vowels were not contrasted for length.


Abramson, A. S. (1974). Experimental phonetics in phonology: Vowel duration in Thai. Pasaa, vol. 4 (1) 71-89. Retrieved from http://www. haskins. yale. edu/Reprints/HL0172. pdf Becker, B. P. (2004). Thai for beginners, Chulanlongkorn University, Bangkok:Paiboon Publishers.

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