COMPARATIVE LANGUAGE LIST

ETYMOLOGICAL NOTES

 
 

language > phasa (ภาษา)

The Sanskrit word bhasha (भाष) refers to ‘speech’, ‘talk’, ‘language’, i.e. a ‘vernacular tongue’; the Thai word phasa (ภาษา) as well as the Lao word phasa (ພາສາ) and the Khmer word pee-a-saa (ភាសា) all derive from the Sanskrit form bhasha (भाष); most other Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia and Indonesia, have similar words, derived from the Sanskrit root; the Chinese word wén () refers to language as well as to culture and can mean many things, including ‘writing’, ‘formal’, ‘literary’, etc.; there are other Chinese words with similar meanings, i.e. yǔ (语) which stands for ‘dialect’, ‘language’ and ‘speech’, but none seem directly related to the Sanskrit form; the English word language is derived from the Latin word lingua meaning ‘tongue’, as well as ‘speech’ and ‘language’.

 

doctor > phaet (แพทย์)

The Thai word phaet derives from the Sanskrit word bhatta (भट्ट), a designation for ‘great scholars’; in Khmer bhatta developed into bait (ពេទ្យ), meaning ‘doctor’; bait (ពេទ្យ) is made up of: ​+ ​​ + ​​ (t’) + ្យ , a subscript form of which transcribes as ‘y’, but is not pronounced; remarkably the ‘y’ also occurs in the Thai word for general practitioner, but is also not pronounced as it is silenced with a kahran-mark (อ์); over time the word has slightly changed its meaning from a ‘great scholar’ to a ‘medical doctor’; the word for medicine in Thai is ya (ยา, in Lao ຢາ) and the letter ‘y’ is actually a reference to this; the Chinese word yi () is almost certainly also related to this, as the it translates both as ‘medicine’ and ‘doctor’; the English word doctor means ‘teacher’ in Latin and is derived from docere which means ‘to show’ or ‘to teach’.

 

car > rot (รถ)

The Sanskrit word for car is ratha (रथ) and besides ‘car’ also means ‘(two-wheeled) war chariot’ and ‘vehicle’, but also ‘warrior’ and ‘hero’; there are actually only two consonants written, i.e. ‘r’ () and ‘th’ () but because Sanskrit consonants carry the inherent sound ‘a’, the word is pronounced ratha; in Thai the same two consonants are used, i.e. ‘r’ () and ‘th’ () but here the silent vowel ‘o’ follows the first consonant and the word is hence pronounced rot; in Lao the Thai word rot can be written with ‘r’ or with ‘l’ and the silent vowel ‘o’ as used in Thai is here factually written; the letter ‘r’ as a sound does not exist in Lao and the sign for ‘r’ (), loaned from the Thai ‘r’ (ร), is used only in foreign words, thus indicating the foreign origin of this word; unrelated the Lao word lot (ລົດ) can also mean ‘flavour’ or ‘taste’, like the Thai word rot (รส) which is written with the final ‘s’ (ส) but which is pronounced as a ‘t’, i.e. rot; the Khmer word laan (ឡាន) also starts with a ‘l’ and is most likely related to the Lao form or visa versa; the Chinese word chē () is unrelated to the above, but the character is a simplified form of 車, in which the form of a cart can clearly be seen, i.e. an aerial view of a platform and an axle with two large wheels; the English word car derives from the Latin word carrum which originally was a ‘(two-wheeled Celtic) war chariot’ and its roots are related to a word meaning ‘to run’.

 

teacher > kru (ครู)

The Thai, Lao and Khmer words for teacher all have been derived from the Sanskrit word guru (गुर), meaning ‘venerable or highly respected person’; Lao uses both the word ku (ຄູ) and kru (ຄຣູ), this is because the letter ‘r’ as a sound does not exist in Lao and the sign for ‘r’ (), loaned from the Thai ‘r’ (ร), is used only in foreign words, thus indicating the foreign origin (i.e. Sanskrit) of this word; there are other Thai words meaning teacher as well, i.e. ajaan (อาจารย์), phuson (ผู้สอน), etc.; both the words ajaan and kru are also used to address non-professional teachers, such as elders, to show respect (the profession of teacher is highly respected in Thailand); the Chinese word shī () may also be translated as ‘master’ and has roots related to the military as well as to a word that means ‘to cause a revolution’; the Chinese character shī often carries the prefix lǎo () which means ‘old’ and is a title given to venerable persons, like Lao Tzu (老子), the founder of Taoism; the English roots of the word teacher relate to the Latin word paedagogus which is derived from the ancient Greek word paidagogos (παιδαγωγός), meaning ‘leader of children’, basically a slave who supervised the education of his master’s (male) offspring; the Latin word docere means ‘to show’ or ‘to teach’ and is related to the English word doctor.

 

Bangkok > Krungthep (กรุงเทพฯ)

For the Thai etymology, see Krungthep; for the English, Hindi, Lao and Khmer etymology, see Bangkok; for the Chinese etymology, see Mangu.

 

telephone > thorasap (โทรศัพท์)

The Thai word thorasap (โทรศัพท์) is a compound word with the first part, thora- (โทร-) being a prefix meaning ‘far’, equivalent to ‘tele-’ and the final part, sap (ศัพท์) meaning ‘word’; the Thai, Lao and Khmer words for telephone are all similar and derive from the Sanskrit words dura (दूर) meaning ‘distant’, ‘remote’ and ‘far’, and sabda (शब्द) meaning ‘sound’, ‘tone’, ‘voice’ and ‘word’; the Chinese word diànhuà (电话) is made up of two characters, the first one, diàn (电) meaning ‘electric’ or ‘electrical’, the latter, huà (话) meaning ‘spoken words’ or ‘speech’; the English word is also a compound word, made up from the Greek words tele- (τηλέ) meaning ‘far’ and phone (φωνή) meaning ‘sound’.

 

temple > wat (วัด)

The Thai, Lao and Khmer words derived from the Pali word avasa which itself has derived from the Sanskrit word avasatha (अवसथ), literally a ‘dwelling place for students and ascetics’; for more see the Thai word wat; the Chinese word miào () is a simplified form of 廟 and refers to temples and shrines, as well as to the imperial court. The word emphasizes the bright, light, complete and wide aspects of monasteries, as it is an amalgam of rì or mì, the character for sun (日), the moon radical yuè (月) and twice the character shí  (十) which means ‘ten’, but also ‘complete’ and ‘perfect’; the English word is derived from the Latin word templum meaning a ‘building for worship’ or a ‘piece of ground consecrated for the taking of auspices’ and is commonly believed to come from the root tem, meaning ‘to cut’ which perhaps refers to a ‘place cut out’ (reserved) or to a ‘place to cut’, a place where sacrifices were held (i.e. by cutting the throats of animals).

 

horse > ma (ม้า)

The Thai word for horse is ma with a high tone, in Chinese it is ma with a falling-rising tone and in Lao it is ma with a high falling tone, but obviously they etymologically are related; in Sanskrit it is ashwa (अश्व) and in Khmer seh (សេះ), seemingly unrelated to ma, but the Khmer word seh may well come from the first syllable ash, whereas the word ma might have been derived from the latter syllable wa; the English word horse is related to the Medieval Dutch ors (later in Dutch ros and in German roß), a word derived from the old Germanic word khursa which is according to some related to kurs (koers in Dutch = course, currency), from the Latin source currere, meaning ‘to run’ (e.g. current).

 

tea > cha (ชา)

Both in Thai and in Mandarin Chinese tea is called cha, a word that possibly comes from ancient Central Chinese, where it was earlier called sha, a word reminiscent of the Lao word sa (ຊາ), and meaning ‘to look for’ or ‘to check’ - it refers to the early beginning when people still had to look for the leaves in the forest - over time the word changed into cha; the Chinese character for the word cha () consists of several pen strokes of which two of them (on top) look like crosses (++, also written and ) and are said to represent the tea leaves. This part of the word is the radical component, known as the grass radical and pronounced cǎo (also comparable to cha/sha); in the Chinese Amoy dialect of the Hokkien language spoken in the Chinese precinct of Fujian, tea is called t'e and early Dutch traders, from 1610 the chief exporters of the dried leaves to Europe through the Dutch East India Company, either adapted this word or called the dried leaves thee, as they thought that part of the Chinese character was somehow reminiscent of the letter T, which in Dutch is pronounced tee and later evolved into thee; having the same pronunciation as the Dutch letter T, the word ‘thee’ then translated into English as tea (T); the English word tea thus derives from the Dutch word thee (T) which itself derived either from the Amoy word t'e or from a description of the grass radical, although in English slang it is also referred to as char (a non-rhotic pronunciation, i.e. spelled with an r to indicated that the a is pronounced long rather than short); the Khmer word dtai (តែ) is comparable in sound to the Dutch word thee, possibly because Dutch merchant vessels would occasionally have stopped in port cities around the Mekhong delta region of Cambodia to do business or to wait for favourable winds, or it may be a corruption of the French word thé; the Sanskrit word caya (pronounced chaya/tsaya or in Hindi chai) derives from the English slang expression ‘char’, when it was introduced in India by the British, in the nineteenth century.

 

eight (8) > paet (แปด - )

The Thai sign for the number eight (8) is , pronounced paet and often transcribed bpaet; Khmer uses the same signs as Thai for all its numbers, although they are pronounced differently, and the sign for eight () in Khmer is pronounced pram bei which literally means 5 (pram - ) and 3 (bei -), the latter (bei) closely resembling the Thai word bpaet; Lao uses the same words and pronunciations as Thai, but different signs for most its numbers, though not all (i.e. the signs for the numbers 0, 1, 4 and 5 are the same as in Thai) and the number eight is pronounced equally paet, often transcribed bpaet or bpèet, but is written somewhat like an upside-down () Thai or Khmer eight (); The Sanskrit word for eight, ashtha (अष्ट), uses a sign () that resembles the top and front part of the Thai and Khmer sign (), whereas the word ‘acht’ which is used in both German and Dutch for the number eight, derives from it; Whereas the Mandarin Chinese word for eight, (ㄅㄚ, in Zhuyin phonetc script) and the Cantonese pronunciation baat, certainly remind of the Thai word bpaet, the Chinese sign () strongly resembles the sign for the number eight from Eastern Arabic numerals (۸), also known as the Hindu-Arabic numeral system and perhaps influenced by a long history of mutual trade; the Chinese character for () also means ‘all around’ and ‘all sides’ which, oddly enough, is reminiscent of the form of the European sign for eight (8), now generally used worldwide; whereas the English pronunciation eight is influenced by the German and Dutch word acht, the European sign (8) is taken from the Western Arabic numerals and is likely derived from the Sanskrit sign for four (४), somehow doubling it and making it into a dual form, as to say ‘twice four’. Here it can be remarked that the Assamese & Bengali sign for four (৪) itself is an adoption of the Sanskrit sign, very similar to a Western Arabic eight (8).

 

bank > thanakaan (ธนาคาร)

The Sanskrit word dhanagara is the root for the Khmer, Thai and Lao words for bank, only pronounced slightly different, according to each language's characteristics; the Sanskrit word dhanagara is derived from the word dhana (धन) which means ‘wealth’ or ‘money’ and the suffix gara is pronounced gaara (kaara), and is written गार, i.e. g+aa+r (ग++र) with the last ‘a’ being inherent to the final consonant ‘r’, which is in Thai pronounced as an ‘n’; the Khmer word thonakaan (ធនាគារ) can also be transliterated dhonakaan, making the initial letters the same as in the Sanskrit word; the Chinese word for bank, yínháng, consists of two characters, i.e. 银行, the first one meaning ‘silver’, the latter ‘profession’ and refers to expertise, but can also be translated as ‘to circulate’; the English word bank derives from the French word banque, meaning ‘table’, i.e. the moneylender's exchange table.

 

lady > satrih (สตรี)

The Chinese word for lady, nŭshì, consists of two characters, i.e. 女 (nŭ) and 士 (shì), the first one meaning ‘woman’ or ‘female’, the latter ‘scholar’ or ‘warrior’; the Thai, Lao and Khmer words all derive from the Sanskrit word strih (स्त्री), which besides ‘lady’, also means ‘female’ and ‘woman’; the Cambodian or Khmer word sarih (ស្រី) is also transliterated s'ray, srey or srei, as in Banteay Srei (fig.) and is perhaps related to the Hindi word sarih or saree (साड़ी), the name for the traditional Indian dress for women; in Thai, the word satrih (สตรี) is typically used as a more sophisticated word for ‘lady’, next to phuying (ผู้หญิง), which is the general term for ‘woman’ more used in daily life, and less refined; the Lao word satrih (ສັຕຣີ), though spelled with a letter ‘r’ (), is pronounced satih, without the ‘r’. This is because the ‘r’ sound doesn't exist in Lao, and the sign is used only in foreign words, thus referring to the foreign origin of this word, i.e. Sanskrit.

 

king > kasat/raja (กษัตริย์/ราชา)

The Thai word kasat (กษัตริย์), as well as the Lao word kasat (ກະສັ), both derive directly from the Sanskrit word kshatriya (क्षत्रिय), which refers to the second caste in India's four traditional classes and relates to ‘those who protect the earth or country. The term derives from the word kshatra, which means ‘supremacy’ and ‘dominion’; besides the word kasat (กษัตริย์) also the term raja (ราชา) is used, akin the Sanskrit word racha (राज), meaning ‘great’, ‘royal’, ‘regal’, ‘imperial’ and ‘kingly’, and which is used as a title for the rulers of India since ancient times; although the Chinese term for king, i.e. wang () seems unrelated, there are other words in Thai, that suggest a possible etymological connection, e.g. the word for ‘palace’ in Thai is wang (วัง) and a ‘dynasty’ is called rachawong (ราชวงศ์) in Thai and cháo (朝) in Chinese, with the Thai word chao (เจ้า) meaning ‘god’, ‘ruler’, ‘prince’ or ‘lord’, as well as ‘royal’ and ‘royalty’. Another, more popular designation for a Thai monarch is nai luang (ในหลวง), a word ending in a sound similar to wang; in addition, the Chinese character wang () is a pictograph in which the top horizontal stroke represents ‘heaven’, the bottom horizontal stroke ‘earth’ and the middle horizontal stroke the ‘emperor’ or ‘king’, who was regarded as a Son of Heaven and as such the liaison between heaven and earth, a task symbolized by the vertical stroke in the character and a clear indication of his godly status, which also exists in Thailand, where the monarch is considered to be an avatar of a god, and formerly also Chao Chiwit (เจ้าชีวิต), literally ‘Lord of Life’, but also ‘god of life’ and perhaps even ‘living god’; the origin and etymology of the Khmer word s'daich (ស្តេច) is unsure, but may nevertheless be related to Sanskrit and its pronunciation is certainly reminiscent of the Thai-rajasap word sadej (เสด็จ), used only for royalty and meaning ‘to go’, ‘to come’ and ‘to proceed’; the origin of the English word king is much debated and may derive from the Old English word cynn, which means ‘family’ or ‘race’ and is related to the word kin, making a king originally ‘an elder or leader of a related group of people’. It has nevertheless been suggested that it may also derive from a related root that indicates ‘noble birth’, making a king ‘one who descended from noble birth’.

 

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