Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Changes in recommended romanizations

I discovered that the recommended romanized names of provinces and districts were also published in the Royal Gazette, and not just the last ones from the year 2000, but also several older sets as well. I wasn't aware that these recommended transcriptions were already started in 1967. While most changes in these lists are of course newly added districts, the changes in the spellings are much more interesting, so I worked through all the lists (2000, 1987, 1977, 1967) and documented the changes. Most striking in looking through the changes is the change of Muang to Mueang, which was due to the corresponding change in the RTGS (Royal Thai General System of Transcription) - I wrote about that change earlier.

I have collected all the changes I noticed in the spreadsheet below, including changes where only a space or a hyphen was inserted or removed between parts of the name. Those spellings which I consider clearly wrong - like Bangkok Noi once spelled Bangkok Koi - are marked in red.

Not surprisingly most of the changes are those due to changes in RTGS. And since some Thai words are found in several district names, the table is somewhat repetitive. The ones which are found several times are the following:
  • Mueang (เมือง), previously Muang, meaning "city"
  • Bueng (บึง), previously Bung, meaning "swamp"
  • Phueng (ผึ้ง), previously Phung, meaning "bee"
  • Ruea (เรือ), previously Rua, meaning "boat"
The only thing which really surprises me is the high number of obvious mistakes in the 1987 announcement, a total of nine names obviously wrong. As that document was supposed to serve foreigners to spell the names correctly, especially those who cannot read Thai have no chance to know that Kanthag in real should be Kantang, as it was spelled both in the 2000 and 1977 announcement. At least the latest version from 2000 is without any mistake - whereas the 2007 book including the subdistricts introduced a few new ones, not surprising with the tenfold increase of names covered in that book.


Mike said...

Andy this is an interesting one for me. Since I cannot read or write Thai.

I find all sorts of problems with Romanisations.

I always write Muang like this as opposed to Mueang. I have also seen Prachuap frequently shown as Prachuab.

This is further compounded(confusion) by Romanisation used to Thai road signs for example.

I suppose there is only one answer at a personal level and that is to learn to read and write in Thai :-)

Andy said...

Don't forget these are only the changes of the official transcription scheme. There are many many further, every book teaching Thai has a different one, sometimes being closer to the actual English pronunciation, sometimes adding the tones as well. And on the other hand there are the transcriptions used by language purists who try to have the peculiar spelling in the transcription as well, like writing "r" and "l" instead of "n" because in Thai it uses that character but is pronounced differently.

If you first just aim to be able to read Thai, and skip the tone rules, then the Thai alphabet isn't that complicate anymore. Writing is a different story, as then you even have to know which of the characters having the same sound to choose.