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Lesson Transcript

Hi everyone.
Welcome to The Ultimate Thai Pronunciation Guide.
In this lesson, you'll learn about stress in Thai.
Stress refers to the prominence or relative emphasis placed on certain syllables in a word.
When you say the word "unbelievable" for example, do you notice how the "lie" is accentuated?
That's because it's stressed.
Stressed syllables are pronounced longer and louder than unstressed syllables.
Unstressed syllables on the other hand, are shortened and quieter than stressed syllables."
Stress is important because it impacts the meaning of a word or sentence. Compare these two English examples:
"I gave Sally a preSENT on her Birthday." (incorrectly)
"I gave Sally a PREsent on her Birthday." (correctly)
Or how about these two examples?
"You want my *computer*?" (as opposed to something else)
"You want *my* computer?" (as opposed to someone else's)
Notice how stressing a different syllable in a word, or stressing particular words in a sentence, can conjure a different meaning in English. Stress works in a very similar fashion in Thai.
There are two general principles for stress in Thai:
- monosyllabic words, meaning words that only have one syllable, are always stressed
ข้า "I"
คุณ "you"
- the last syllable of a word is always stressed
กะซวก "to wolf down"
สีหน้า "facial expression"
These two principles cover the basis of Thai stress. For irregular words, there is no typical pattern, you'll just have to memorize them on a word to word basis.
We mentioned earlier that we can stress syllables by pronouncing them longer and louder than other syllables.
But wait, how can we stress syllables by making them *longer* when we already use vowel length to differentiate between short and long vowels?
Unfortunately, language isn't always so simple. The same property, vowel length, operates on two levels in Thai. One of them, is to indicate stress.
Stress adds another layer of complexity to Thai pronunciation, because unlike English, you also have to factor in the contrast between short and long vowel lengths. This makes the distinctions less apparent in Thai than it is in English. However, it's this minute difference which truly sets apart beginners from fluent speakers of Thai.
The difference in vowel length between stressed and unstressed syllables, is even *more* important than the difference between short and long vowels.
This means that any stressed syllable will be comparitively longer than an unstressed syllable, *even if* that unstressed syllable has a long vowel.
Therefore, a 'stressed short vowel' would actually be *longer* than an 'unstressed long vowel'.
We can lay out the durations as such:
This can be quite confusing. Fortunately though, stressed syllables often align naturally with long vowels.
มหาวิทยาลัย "university"
Notice how the second and second last syllables, which contain long vowels, are stressed.
Syllables with long vowels and/or final consonants are typically stressed.
บ้านพักตากอากาศ Weekend house
This isn't always the case however, as you can sometimes encounter long vowels in unstressed syllables too. In which case, you would you need to pronounce them shorter.
หมาป่า "wolf"
Even though both the first and second syllables contain a long vowel, the first long vowel is pronounced shorter than the second one because the syllable is unstressed. Listen to it again.
หมาป่า "wolf"
หมาป่า (slowly)
Unlike stressed syllables, which often follow typical pronunciation rules, unstressed syllables can sometimes have irregular pronunciations that are harder to predict. They're the ones that we need to look out for.
There are several changes that can occur when a syllable is unstressed:
- shortening of long vowels; as we saw before.
- glottal stop disappears
- changes to a mid tone
Let's take a look at each of them in a bit more detail. First: shortening of long vowels.
As we just saw previously, long vowels can be shortened when it's in a syllable that is unstressed. This is typical for compound words, or words that have root words in them.
The previous example for instance, is a compound of two root words: Dog,
หมา "dog"
... and forest
ป่า "forest"
Using the incorrect stress pattern would result in two separate words, 'dog and forest'.
หมา ป่า
instead of the intended meaning, "wolf".
Compound words of this nature will always have the beginning root vowel shortened.
น้ำ "water"
น้ำแข็ง "ice"
ได้ "able to"
ได้ยิน "to hear"
Next: glottal stop disappears
Do you remember this sound from lesson 5? It's that stopping sound, or the hypen in 'uh-oh'.
It typically occurs at the end of a syllable that has a short vowel.
กะลา coconut shell
กะลา coconut shell
This abrupt pause sound is often dropped in unstressed syllables, causing the short vowel at the end to continue into the next syllable.
แสดง "to act"
แมลง "bug, insect"
And finally: Unstressed syllables change to a mid tone.
Despite what is written, tones in unstressed syllables actually default to a mid tone.
ฉลาด (pronounce tone incorrectly: cha-laat)
ฉลาด "smart" (cha-laat)
ฝรั่ง (incorrectly: fà-ràng)
ฝรั่ง "guava" (fa~ràng)
สมุด note book (incorrectly: sa-mut)
สมุด note book (sa-mut)


Now you know all about stress in Thai. In the next lesson, we'll review everything that we've learned in this series and test you on the material.
Are there any crazy stress rules in your language? Share it in the comments.
See you in the next Ultimate Thai Pronunciation Guide lesson!