After taking EG811 – World Englishes course

After taking EG811 – World Englishes course, I could notice the distinctive features of English spoken by Thai people in both phonological and syntactic levels. According to my own experience as a lecturer, I realized that Thai students’ English pronunciations are difficult to understand, especially when the interlocutor is the native speaker. As a result, I personally interested in the intelligibility of the deviated phonological feature in Thing English, as known as Tinglish. I would like to do a review of literatures on the shared phonological features of Tinglish. Aiming at confirming the existence of Tinglish, five related Tinglish readings – articles and book chapters – are reviewed in order to reveal phonological features from previous studies. This paper will later discuss about the idea of conducting a research in the future.
To consider the colloquial language use as a variety, it should be qualified by the three criteria of Kirkpatrick (2006, 2010 ; 2011) –phonological features, syntactic use and communicative strategies. Beginning with phonological features, people in a particular community have to share the same errant way of pronouncing words. Normally, Thai speakers could imitate the vowel sound in English easier as the advantage of the first language (L1) (Sahatsathatsana, 2017). However, the problematic features lie in the consonant sounds due to the limited availability of sound in phonological system of L1 (Ariyapitipun, 2003). To illustrate, Thai people tend to pronounce /r/ as /l/ or /ei/ as /e/ (Wei ; Zhou, 2002; Narksompong, 2007). Besides, grammatical anomalies have to be widely used such as the use of long units of modifiers in Thai English users (Trakulkasemsuk, Louw ; Hashim, 2012). Finally, the communicative strategies have to be systematically established.
Starting with the discussion of consonant vowels, several research studies have brought phonological features of Thai English vowels and consonants to light. Thai language is sophisticated in terms of its sound system. According to Thai three phonemic vowel lengths, Thai language consists of 21 phonemes of vowels which would directly affect the meaning of the word. Shortness and length of the vowels are relevant as it differs the meaning. In contrast, laxness and tenseness are distinctive in English. For example, according to the study of Tsukada (2008), the researcher compares four monophthongs like /? æ ? ?/, and two diphthongs such as /e?/ and /o?/ from the speech produced by Australian English speakers and Thai English speakers living in Australia. The study discloses the insignificance of the sounds in terms of quality but a great significance in the duration of sounds. To clarify, Thai speakers produce shorter monophthongs than Australians do. The later study by Tsukada (2009) affirms the deviation of vowel sounds. The study shows that the lax vowel /?/ pronounced by Thai English speakers is shorter Australian ones. On the other hand, the tense vowel /i/ is crucially longer pronounced.
Since Thai has more vowels than English does, the influence of the first language (L1) enhances Thais to hear and produce English vowels easily. Although there are some advantages, many studies (e.g. Trakulkasemsuk et al., 2012) show unintelligible pronunciations of Thai English. Thai long and short vowels are compatible with English tense and lax vowels to Thais’ knowledge; thus, Thai are likely to replace the vowel when pronouncing English words. The substitution usually results in unintelligibility of Thai English pronunciation as English short vowels would be pronounced longer and long vowels shorter (Abramson, 1974; Tsukada, 2008, 2009).
Even though vowel sounds could be problematic, a huge gap between Thai and English consonants is quite obvious. In English, there are twenty-one letters which could be pronounced differently in twenty-four consonant sounds (Ariyapitipun, 2003). The occurrence position of the consonant results in the number of sounds from the twenty-one letter. Almost every consonant, except /?/, in English could occur in the initial position (Avery & Ehrlich, 1992). According to Avery and Ehrlich (1992), glottal l /h/ and both of the semivowels, /y/ and /w/ are the only three sounds which could not be used as the final consonant. Table 1 (adopted from the study of Narksompong, in 2007) is the clarification of the consonant sounds and letters in English.
English Letter Phonetic Symbol
Initial Final
p /p/ /p/
b /b/ /b/
t /t/ /t/
d /d/ /d/
k /k/ /k/
g /g/ /g/
f /f/ /f/
v /v/ /v/
th /?/ /?/
th /ð/ /ð/
s /s/ /s/
z /z/ /z/
sh /š/ ( ?) /š/ ( ?)
-ge – /ž/
h /h/ –
ch /?/(?) /?/(?)
j, -dge / ? / / ? /
m /m/ /m/
n /n/ /n/
ng – /?/
r /r/ –
l /l/ /l/
w /w/ –
y /y/ –
Table 1: English consonant phonetic symbol in the initial and final positions (Narksompong, 2007)
According to Ariyapitipun (2003), Thai language has twenty-four consonants with only twenty-one consonant sounds. Besides, it could be divided into three categories – low, middle and high. The three tone levels of consonant sounds lead to the tone of the following vowel sounds. Therefore, this is the problem of the unintelligibility of English pronunciation among Thai speakers. In other words, it is the shared deviated pronunciation of Tinglish.
To clarify, the absence of many English consonants in Thai language leads to totally unintelligible English pronunciation of Thai English speakers. For the non-existent English consonants, like the nine fricatives (/f/, /v/, /?/, /ð/, /s/, /z/, /?/, /?/ and /h/) and other three sounds (¬/g/, /?/, and /r¬/), available Thai consonants will be substituted (Narksompong, 2007; McKenzie-Brown, 2006). A number of language deviations are presented in Table 2. Apart from the substitution of vowel sounds, final voiced consonants are typically unvoiced (Wei et al., 2002).
English vowels Thai vowels substitutions
/t?/, /?/ and /?/ /t??/ (aspirated voiceless fortis palatal stop with slightly affrication)
/d?/ /t?/ (weakly glottalized unaspirated voiceless fortis palatal stop)
/?/ /t/, /t?/ or /s/ (/t/is the most common.)
/ð/ /d/
/v/ /w/
/z/ /s/
Table 2: Thai vowels substitutions of English vowels (Trakulkasemsuk et al., 2012; Tsukada, 2008, 2009)
Further investigation has been done in some studies with the attempt to explain the causes of these problems (e.g. Bennui, 2017; Wei et al., 2002). The first reason is lexical borrowing. Normally, those directly borrowed words are used according to Thai perception of the words and are pronounced in Thai ways.
Thus, Thais believe they understand the words and refuse to learn another intelligible pronunciation. The second reason is the aforementioned effects of L1 on English. To unintentionally make the words more unintelligible, Thai intonations are also applied into English pronunciations. Another interesting reason is attitude. Thai English learners feel embarrass to imitate a standard pronunciation as they do not want to be labelled as ‘show-offish’. The last reason lies in taking a teacher as a role model. A Thai style English pronunciation of the teacher yields negative effect on students due to the lack of chance to study English Phonics. Hence, students imitate their teacher’s pronunciation as the standard.
In terms of research methodology, most research studies are conducted using mixed method of quantitative and qualitative methods (e.g. Narksompong, 2007, Sahatsathatsana, 2017). Some studies are analyzed using the secondary sources of data as can be seen in the study of Trakulkasemsuk et al. (2012). I personally find the analysis from the secondary source could help explain the differences of Thai and English phonological deviation better as the focus lies more in the reasons of the unintelligibility of the pronunciation. Also, it mostly provides a clear picture of shared features among Thai speakers. However, there are some contrasting results from other studies that my team and I conducted it ourselves (Prakaiborisuth ; Trakulkaseamsuk, 2016). The mentioned study reveals fewer deviated features in English pronunciation from Thai students. The result does not suggest any significant differences between Thai and other participants with the near-native English proficiency. Thus, I couldn’t ensure the result from previous studies.
According to the acknowledged causes of unintelligible pronunciation, the implications of the studies are suggested from the researchers (Chanyasupab, 1982; Serttikul, 2005; & Siriwisut, 1994). First of all, language teaching should be given more attention on. Providing pronunciation training-course to teachers could help ease the situation. Besides, teachers could be more confident in giving lectures in English so that students can help themselves checking their pronunciations (Suppasetseree, 2005, & Yangklang, 2006). For Thai English learners, studying articulatory descriptions of the standard pronunciation would pave the way to master the target language. For the researchers, conducting a study and introducing a dictionary-like comparison would help diminish the problems.
Since this paper has spotlighted some phonological features of Thai English gathered from several studies, it is possible to answer the question about the status of Tinglish. In terms of pronunciations, more research studies regarding the constant of English used in Thai context should be explored. These could be the proof of the existence of Tinglish as a variety of World Englishes.
References
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Avery, P., & Ehrlich, S. (1992). The shape of English words. In P. Avery & S. Ehrlich (Ed.), Teaching American English pronunciation (pp. 53-61). Oxford University Press.
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Tsukada, K. (2008). An acoustic comparison of English monophthongs and diphthongs produced by Australian and Thai speakers. English World-Wide, 29(2), 194-211.
Tsukada, K. (2009). Durational characteristics of English vowels produced by Japanese and Thai second language learners. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 29(2), 287-299.
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