The ASEAN Journal of Education ASEAN Journal of Education

Thai Words in English Dictionaries

Pairote Bennui,


English dictionaries have been understood as lexical corpora that consist of mainly native varieties of English, namely British and American English. However, this understanding has shifted. Such dictionaries appear to have a number of indigenous words with Asian origins. This phenomenon occurred mainly during the British Empire when English interfaced other non-Anglophone cultural and linguistic items. Thailand has never been colonized by any European country but certain Thai words or English words based on Thai socio-cultural elements are found in English dictionaries. This brings an interesting shift into the facet of English in Thailand. This paper attempts to reveal and describe linguistic characteristics of such Thai words in dictionaries of British English, American English and Australian English in order to discuss their implication towards a Thai variety of English. Using an integrated framework that combines concepts on World Englishes and Lexicography by Kachru (1983), Görlach (1988; 1998), and Schneider (2007), an analysis shows that there are 31 words in which lexico-morphological and lexico-semantic elements are outstandingly structured. They seem to represent Thai English words because of the codifying process and the uniqueness of a Thai way of English usage.


A dictionary represents a source of codified lexical items of a language. It is a corpus of word entries that are legitimized by an authorized institute of languages in a country or territory. In the light of English, British and American English dictionaries have been known as a collection of standardized lexicons in which worldwide users can use for their reference. At the present, the status of English as a world language results in an emergence of non-English words that are incorporated into English dictionaries. This phenomenon was obvious during the Empire age; local words of faunas, floras and toponyms which were unfamiliar to or unfound in British societies were imported into English dictionaries. This can be seen in words from Malaya (the present Malaysia and Singapore) like “rambutan, sarong, and durian”, from India like “shampoo, karma, avatar, and yoga”, and from China like “wanton, lychee, and sampan”. These instances mirror English words with Asian grounds. Moreover, they were included in several dictionaries during the British Empire in Malaya, India and China. The three countries are called ex-British colonies even though the last one is currently known as “Hong Kong”. However, many other countries which are not former-British or American colonies appear to have their local words in English dictionaries. For example, a number of Japanese and Korean words are found in English dictionaries – “kimono, karaoke, karate, and kanji” as well as “taekwondo and kimchi”. This occurrence resulted from the spread of English to the Asia. That is, an interface between Anglophone words and Asian ones is caused by Asian users of English who attempt to enunciate their Asian identity in English. Alternatively, several words of socio-cultural items of Asian regions which are new for Anglophone societies are loaned in English dictionaries. This phenomenon makes English dictionary users become aware of the origin of particular words.

Similar to Japan and Korea, Thailand has never been a former British or American colony. Thai users of English point to both British and American English dictionaries due to the recognized varieties and model of Standard English. However, few Thais are aware that a number of Thai words have been borrowed into those dictionaries. The importation of Thai words into English dictionaries operated during the colonial period where Britain ruled Thailand’s neighbors – the British Malaya (the present Malaysia) and the British Burma (the present Myanmar). Furthermore, a linguistic and cultural intercourse between Thai and English has occurred since the 17 th and 19 th centuries when English and American traders were stationed in Thailand, respectively. In addition, after World War II, the Western cultural expansion along with the spread of English using, learning and teaching is another factor of a lexical contact of Thai and English (Bennui and Hashim, 2014). This brings us to the purpose of the paper. It attempts to reveal a number of Thai words that appear in British and American English dictionaries. 

Currently, English users worldwide have accepted British and American English dictionaries as authorized references for ascertaining the forms of lexico-semantics, lexico-morphology, lexico-phonology, and lexico-grammar of English words. The two dictionaries represent the oldest varieties of English in the world. Among other native-English speaking countries, they are Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. These countries also have their own English dictionaries according to their own identity or variety of English. Among these, an Australian English dictionary, namely a Macquarie Dictionary, seems to point out Asian words in English. This is evident in Butler’s (1996; 1999a;1999b) studies, in which a compilation of lexical items based on Asian socio-cultural contexts has been projected. Hence, an Australian English dictionary is another focus of the data source for Thai words.


This paper has two objectives. The first is to describe linguistic features of Thai words or English words with Thai origins that are imported into a number of British, American, and Australian English dictionaries. Another is to discuss the extent of such lexical features have their implication towards a Thai variety of English. In other words, categories of Thai words found in native English dictionaries are linguistically analyzed and comparatively interpreted in the light of their reflection of Thai English lexis.

Previous Studies

Former studies on Thai words in English dictionaries are very limited. The most relevant ones by Butler (1996; 1999a;1999b) involve an exploration of words in Thai English and other Southeast varieties of English in the Macquarie Dictionary project from various written texts created by Thai and international users. The words are “minor wife, hill tribe, farang, sanuk, wai, klong, long-tailed boat, sticky rice, tuk-tuk, longans, and rai”. These words and others in the region are incorporated into a regional dictionary that meets the need of Southeast Asian users of English. Similarly, Bolton (2003 as cited in Trakulkasemsuk, 2012) presents a list of Thai words included in the Grolier International Dictionary – “acharn, farang, forest monk, khun, krengjai, muang, phi, and phra”. It is interesting that both dictionaries contain both Thai and English words that are directly translated from Thai items. As these studies are directly related to Thai English words in dictionaries, the following dictionaries of other varieties of Asian English are useful for to this paper. The earliest project of mini-dictionaries of Southeast Asian Englishes is seen in Singapore English mini-dictionary I (Lugg, 1984), Singapore English mini-dictionary II (Eng, 1984), Malaysian English mini-dictionary I (Choo, 1984), Malaysian English mini-dictionary II (Imm, 1984), and Filipino English mini-dictionary (Tabor, 1984). These dictionaries are compiled from a variety of spoken and written texts used by those national speakers and writers of English. Singapore English words are, for example, “a three month leave, beefbun, easy kacang, gone case, say sorry her, and itchified”. In terms of Malaysian English lexicons, they are, for instance, “tea money, towkay, wash, queen control, eaten slat before, and air-con”. In the South Asian region, Meyler (2009) compiles a dictionary of Sri Lankan English from different texts. Outstanding features of lexicons in the dictionary are mainly based on Singhala loanwords – “lakh”, and collocations of the word “coconut” such as “coconut matting, milk, coconut shy, coconut oil, and coconut arrack”, collocations of the words “rice and tea” are also used, such as “rice belly, rice mill, and rice puller” and “tea cloth, tea cosy, tea towel, and tea trolley”. All these words reflect their linguistic and cultural identity of Sri Lankan users of English.

The above studies mainly concern a survey of words of Asian Englishes in Asian English dictionaries. There is not one study that examines Thai words or Thai English lexicons in Standard English dictionaries, such as the British Oxford Dictionaries and American Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. The most relevant research belongs to Yap’s (1970 as cited in Bolton & Butler, 2008: 181) study on ‘Pilipino loan words in English’ taken from the analysis of two versions of the Webster’s dictionary – Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language (1961) and the popular one ‘Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language (1968). Certain Filipino words imported into these American English dictionaries are based on ‘flora and fauna items’ such as “balete, bangkal, carabao”, ‘names of cultural minorities’ like “Aklan, Bontok, and Moro” as well as “household and cultural items”, for example, “anting-anting, balut, patis, and tuba”. These words have been used in Philippine English since the American colonization period. This study is valuable for this paper despite it being published a half century ago. It is evident that Standard English dictionaries realize the importance of lexicons of Southeast Asian cultural items. This inspired this paper to proceed with its exploration of Thai words in English dictionaries.

Although the evidence on Thai words in English dictionaries is limited, some studies on a Thai variety of English on lexis based on other text types are found. Mathias (2001) explores lexical innovation of English in the Thai context from three popular online forums: Thai Visa Forum, Ajarn Forum and Thailand There appear to be four types of Thai English words found – loanwords (ajarn, farang, and sanuk), loan translation (red shirt and minor wife), hybrid (farang price and baht bus) and coinages (Big Mango and visa run). Some of these words are found in the Bennui and Hashim (2013) study that reveals ten types of lexical creativity in Thai English literary texts. They are lexical borrowing (farang, wat, and somtam), modes of addressing and referencing (pra, khun, and ajarn), loan translation (minor wife, dog-eating ethnic group, and spirit doctor), coinages (Five Diamond Roast Chicken), semantic shift (eat for “having sex”), hybridization (Bangkokians and waied), reduplication (sabai sabai), acronyms (CCD for “the Confederation of Campaign for Democracy”), clipping (Chula and Com) and ellipsis (namo dasa). These words are considered as Thai English lexicons as they share linguistic and cultural features with lexicons in Asian, African and Caribbean Englishes and reflect their contextualization, innovation, nativization, transcultural creativity, and localization. These two works are not an analysis of dictionary texts but they are evidence of Thai English words.

Theoretical Framework

This paper relies on an integrated framework that combines different concepts on World Englishes and lexicography, especially regarding theoretical underpinnings of non-English lexicons in English dictionaries towards their linguistic and cultural identity of English. Certain concepts taken from ideas given by salient scholars of World Englishes – Kachru (1983), Görlach (1988; 1998), and Schneider (2007) - are used to interpret a number of Thai words found in English dictionaries. This interpretation operates as a contribution to a discussion on Thai words and their implications towards Thai identity of English via previous studies.

Kachru (1983) conducts a case study of lexicographical research examining the way ndianization processes via a linguistic and cultural realization of English words in different dictionaries of Indian English. He surveyed previous dictionaries of Indian English published in early nineteenth century, for example, an Anglo-Indian Dictionary (Clifford, 1855), an Indian Supplement to the English Dictionary (Whitworth, 1885), and Hobson-Jobson (Yule and Burnell, 1903). These dictionaries provide grammatical, phonological and semantic problems of Indian English lexical features. Firstly, Indian English words in early dictionaries were not described in their grammatical classes of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, etc. Moreover, certain grammatical points of English words were not included; some grammatical rules that violate Standard English but are accepted in Indian English such as the progressive verb form of static verbs like ‘hearing, seeing and knowing’. Secondly, those words were not marked in the way Indians pronounce them differently from British English pronunciation. Finally, those words did not provide semantic restriction and semantic extension in relation to Indianism, but only showed their Anglophone semantic features. Hence, Kachru (1983) proposes certain types of lexicological features of Indian English for many other lexicographers. He suggests that lexical entries for Indian English dictionaries should yield the following types of lexical innovations (i) hybridization (a combination of English items and Indian items); (ii) formal equivalence of English and Indianism; (iii) fixed-collocation or translation of Indian idioms or expressions; and (v) contextualization. The final type is a complicated process. Contextualization, adapted from “Firthian framework of linguistic science” (Firth, 1957), refers to a final product of linguistic analysis that involves the context of situation of a text because language and culture become integrated in their process and use. Contextualization appears in four types of lexico-grammatical transfer – loans, direct translation, shift (adapted translation) and calques (loan translation). Moreover, contextualization involves speech functions. The latter in lexical forms are found in modes of
addressing and referencing, cursing, blessing, superiority, inferiority, rituals and ceremonies. Hence, these types are based on grammatical, phonological and semantic elements of lexical
sets of Indian English and they contribute to features of non-native English lexical innovations of Indianization. Indeed, those lexical types are grounded in linguistic data of Indian English, but they are useful for other new Englishes. This is shown in the statement “the data presented here have been primarily from South Asian English, but the theoretical and methodological questions raised seem to apply to all the non-native Englishes” (Kachru, 1983: 188). Overall, the existing types of lexical sets here are used as the framework of this paper.

Görlach (1988) proposes the framework of English as a World English or ‘EWL’. It consists of four main classifications of both traditional English and New Englishes around the world – ENL (English as a native language), ESD (English as a second dialect), ESL (English as a second language) and EFL (English as a foreign language). The four terms have their particular functions and linguistic structure of English usage. This framework provides certain characteristics to theorize the notion of EWL – sociolinguistic features, historical aspects, language acquisition and standards, creative perspectives, and individual linguistic levels. The final one seems to be related to this paper. It contains pronunciation and intelligibility, syntax, lexicon and lexicography, and styles. In this respect, this framework attempts to show that English dictionaries compiled by native English speakers, for example, Oxford English Dictionaries (OED) do not suit ESL users’ needs and wants for using English in their local societies. Non-English words are considered as loans; however, a few of them are incorporated into OED. In other words, in the British variety of English, it appears that publishing word-formations from New Englishes for dictionaries is not too substantial. On the other hand, certain dictionaries of American and Australian varieties of English are full of local words available in several communities. At present, there appears to be a movement of dictionaries of New Englishes compiled by local lexicographers, for instance, the Macquarie Dictionary in Australia, Dictionary of South African English (1978, 1980), Dictionary of Jamaican English (1980), and Dictionary of Bahamian English (1982). Producing certain dictionaries of local Englishes is commercially risky as buyers tend to purchase more Standard English dictionaries than their local ones. Importantly, these dictionaries of New Englishes contain similar categories of English vocabulary items that are distinct from Native English ones – loanwords (local fauna, flora, and foreign institutions, etc), compounding, coinages, colloquial items, and the local ‘–ism’. Supporting the lexicological framework of New Englishes, Görlach (1998) extends some more elements for studying lexical sets of dictionaries of English-based pidgins and creoles. That is, such dictionaries must contain the following linguistic features. First, loanwords from local languages are based on foreign languages, archaism, scientific terms, technical terms, slang, vulgar, and dialects. Second, spelling and pronunciation of New Englishes words are shown in the way local people spell and pronounce English words in divergence from Standard English ones. Third, morphology and syntax are whether a lexical entry provides grammatical words, part of speech
classification, and phrases and idioms of their culture. Fourth, meanings are that a certain dictionary contains a lexical set with wider semantic elements and calquing. Finally, etymology refers to the extent to which dictionaries contain lexicons in which socio-historical and linguistic roots are grounded and have developed. This extended framework makes the lexicographical paradigm more institutionalized. As a whole, this framework was published almost three decades ago, but it is still worthwhile as presently a number of dictionaries of New Englishes or regional words in English are increasing. Thus, it still provides a significant theoretical foundation for this paper.

Schneider (2007) highlights five phases of a cyclical development of English in post-colonial countries – (i) foundation, (ii) exonormative stabilization, (iii) nativisation, (iv) endonormative stabilization, and (iv) differentiation. The importance of non-English words in dictionaries is raised in Phrase 4, especially regarding the notion of codification. Besides grammar books and language user guides, dictionaries are the evidence of linguistic effects in which local words are based on a written and verbal interaction between indigenous groups of people and settlers, later on, they were homogeneously used in post-colonial society, and then more accepted by indigenous and international users. This is evident in an emergence of the Macquarie Dictionary as a national dictionary of Australia which displays codified Australian English words in divergence from many other British and American English dictionaries. In this regard, ‘nativisation’ which falls into the third level of English development becomes the most important phase as it shifts from a dependence on a parent variety to an initiation of a new variety of English. The lexical level of nativisation is noteworthy, as it describes a link to the subsequent levels in which codified lexicons in dictionaries are pointed out. The following four processes of postcolonial English vocabulary items are: (i) lexical borrowing from indigenous languages in terms of toponyms, fauna and flora, and culturally distinctive customs; (ii) hybrid compounding; (iii) coinages; and (iv) semantic shifts. Overall, these lexical processes of nativisation indicate the important features of non-native English words that can be processed for the codification.

The three salient works above are useful in that they provide similar and different categories or linguistic strategies of English lexicons of non-Anglophone societies that emerge in several dictionaries. Such categories will be adapted to describe linguistic characteristics of Thai words in English dictionaries. Indeed, Kachru’s (1983) and Schneider’s (2007) works on lexis emphasize the notion of contextualization, innovation, and nativization, respectively, as unique features of non-native English words. Meanwhile, Görlach (1988; 1998) does not give a specific term of such features, except the notion of English as a World Language that names his framework. Hence, those notions and the term of the framework are not fixed for discussing particular Thai vocabulary items in English dictionaries. Instead, the three scholars’ ideas and previous studies will be used in a combination for interpreting an existing Thai English vocabulary.


This paper relies on a descriptive study. It employs legitimized dictionaries of native varieties of English, both in print and online forms. In British English, they are The Oxford English Dictionary, 1989 (Simpson & Weiner, 1989); The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 1993 (Oxford University Press, 1993); Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionaries of Current English, 2005 Hornby, 2005); Oxford English Dictionary, 2015 (Oxford University Press, 2015a); and Oxford Dictionaries, 2015 (Oxford University Press, 2015b). In terms of American English, there are The Random House of Dictionary of the English Language, 1968 (Urdang, 1968); The American eritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1979 (Davies, 1979); The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1992 (Soukhanov, 1992); Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 1993 (Merriam-Webster, 1993); Collins Dictionary, 2015 (Collins, 2015); and Merriam-Webster (2015). In the light of Australian English, only the Macquarie Dictionary Online, 2015 (Macmillan Publishers Group Australia, 2015) is used. A number of Thai words or English ones with Thai origins which are often found in the above previous studies are to be surveyed in those dictionaries. Certain lexical items were found with their contextual formations – phonological, semantic, etymological, and sentential elements as well as references of dictionaries of English varieties – are taken into their categories. These formations are displayed in a comparative mode. Further, they are linguistically analyzed and discussed using the theoretical framework based on the three scholars’ works on World Englishes and Lexicography as well as previous studies so that certain lexico-semantic and lexico-morphological strategies of Thai words found are revealed and interpreted for their implications towards Thai English words.

Features of Thai Words in English Dictionaries

Features of Thai words in British, American and Australian English dictionaries are described in two aspects – (i) lexical processes of Thai word structure in those dictionaries in relation to certain categories and sub-categories mentioned in the framework and (ii) a comparison on a phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic elements of certain Thai words in dictionaries of the three varieties of English. These linguistic characteristics will be findings to be interpreted for their extent to Thai English words.

There appear to be 31 Thai words that are found in the English dictionaries. They are alphabetically arranged: “baht, Bangkok, bong, Chao Phraya, Chiang Mai, farang, jasmine rice, klong, Krung Thep, longtail boat, Loy Krathong, menam, Muay Thai, Pad Thai, Pattaya, Phuket, satang, Siamese cat, Siamese fighting fish, Siamese twins, Songkran, sticky rice, Sukhothai, Sepak Takraw, Thai basil, Thai boxing, Thai-Burma Railway, Thai stick, Tom Yam Goong, wai, and wat. It is noticeable that four words are outstanding because of their synonym. The word ‘Bangkok’ is also referred to ‘Krung Thep’ in two contexts in Oxford Dictionaries (2015). Meanwhile, the word ‘Muay Thai’ appears in Macquarie Dictionary Online (2015) but its translated item is found in Oxford Dictionaries (2015). These four words are analyzed in both similar and different lexical strategies. Overall, those 31 words are linguistically described and discussed in their categories.

For a linguistic comparison, each word of different categories is interpreted with its differently and similarly linguistic descriptions based on dictionaries of different varieties of English. This part of the findings is discussed after an analysis of their functional categories.

The 31 words are divided into four main categories – loanwords (19 words), loan translation (10 words), semantic shift (1 word), and hybridization (1 word). Each category is revealed and discussed.

1. Loanwords

Loanwords refer to lexical borrowing of non-English items in English texts, herein English dictionaries. Loanwords appear in their local forms that are Englishized or Romanized. Loanwords become the most frequent items found in the English dictionaries used. They are divided into sub-categories of functions – toponyms, culture and ceremonies, money, foods, equipment, ethnicity, geography and sport. Each is shown.

1.2 Toponyms

Toponyms or places’ names are mostly seen in the found loanwords. There are seven words as follows:

Table 1: Loanwords (Toponyms)  

`From Table 1, only the words ‘Bangkok’ and ‘Chiang Mai’ are loaned by dictionaries of the three varieties. While the word ‘Chao Phraya’ is imported into only British and Australian English dictionaries, the rest of the toponyms are borrowed by only the British English dictionary. For the item ‘Bangkok’, all dictionaries are similar in that its vowel sound of ‘bang’ goes to the Englishization or the way foreigners pronounce, not the actual Thai pronunciation. However, only the American English dictionary differently identifies the vowel of this word’s second syllable. Although the Australian and British dictionaries provide the previous name of Bangkok, Krung Thep, only the latter one points to its etymological elements in a separate sentence. This makes the word ‘Krung Thep’ an individual item in this paper. Further, the word ‘Chiang Mai’ in the American English dictionary is the most outstanding one in that its sentence example in a solid journalistic text is given even though its first syllable’s consonant sound is different. Note that only the word Phuket has its phonological description that yields Thais’ pronunciation because the second syllables of the words ‘Pattaya’ and ‘Sukhothai’ show their westernized vowel sounds rather than their authentic Thai ones. This variation is found in the word ‘Chao Phraya’ in both dictionaries that are similar; its second syllable must be /prа/ not /prǝ/.

1.2 Cultural, Ceremonial and Religious Items
Thai cultural items include certain rituals and religious activities of Buddhism that are influenced by Brahmanism and Hinduism as well as this function covers a non-verbal tool for Thai greetings.

Table 2: Loanwords (Cultural, Ceremonial and Religious Items) 

According to Table 2, only the word ‘wat’ is imported into the dictionaries of the three varieties. This word is not a pure Thai item because of its Sanskrit root. All the four words are identified with their correct phonological and semantic element although only the word ‘Songkran’ is exemplified by a certain sentence. Moreover, a semantic description of the word ‘wai’ in the two dictionaries is rich and extensive, resulting in its usefulness for foreign readers. Additionally, it is interesting that an alternative spelling of the word ‘Loy’ – ‘Loi’ which has also been used worldwide – is also provided here.

1.3 Monetary Items

Items of Thai money consist of only two words as follows:

The two words in Table 3 have a lexicographical correctness in their phonological and semantic basis. The Oxford Dictionaries (2015) point to the words ‘baht’ and ‘satang’. They share a semantic feature because of a functional classification. In the description of the word ‘baht’, the word ‘satang’ can also be regarded as a hybrid – /satang/ (Thai head noun) + /-s/ an English suffix; however, this innovative lexical process disappears in the sentential instance of the word ‘satang’.

1.4 Culinary Items

Culinary items appear in certain words of popular Thai foods. They are of only two items.

Table 3: Loanwords (Monetary Items) 

Obviously, the word Pad Thai is imported into the dictionaries of the three varieties due to its well-known food among foreigners in Thailand. Though their phonological descriptions are various, they are correct. Outstandingly, the American English dictionary provides its tonal marker and dates its lexical entry while the British English dictionary illustrates its sentence. Meanwhile, the word Tom Yam Goong enters only the Australian English dictionary. This word is salient that its phonological description yields the Thai pronunciation. Although its sentential example is not given, its semantic element is sufficiently delineated.

Table 4: Loanwords (Culinary Items) 

1.5 Equipment, Geography, Ethnicity and Sport
The functions of equipment, geography, ethnicity and sport provide only one item for each. They are combined in this sub-category.

Table 5: Loanwords (Equipment, Geography, Ethnicity and Sport) 

Firstly, the word of equipment ‘bong’ is not found in the Australian English dictionary. Though the British English dictionary does not identify its socio-cultural background, the two American English dictionaries provide thoroughly lexicographical descriptions. In this regard, its etymology indicates Thai identity of an English lexicon. Needless to say, this word embodies its negative sense of usage to the global users of English.

Secondly, the word of ethnicity, ‘farang’ is popularly found in different spoken and written texts in English in Thailand. However, it has only been loaned into the British English dictionary since the late nineteenth century. This word has an outstanding lexicographical description because of its documentary evidences, tone markers and sentential illustrations. The latter element seems to make this word a hybrid because it has been used by foreigners.

Thirdly, the geographical item ‘klong’ has been imported into dictionaries of the three varieties. However, the OED (2015) provides this item with the best description, Table 5: (Cont.) Loanwords (Equipment, Geography, Ethnicity and Sport) especially etymological and documentary evidences. This dictionary has pointed towards this word since the late nineteenth century after the time for the entry of the word ‘farang’. Likewise, the word ‘klong’ has been used beyond its lexical borrowing; it combines an English suffix, resulting in the form of hybrid.

Finally, the word of the most popular Thai sport ‘Muay Thai’ needs to show its local form though its translated version is later described in the category of ‘loan translation’. Its phonological transcription here looks complicated though it is correct; the diphthongization of the first syllable creates a difficulty among foreign speakers.

2. Loan translation

Loan translation is a translating process of lexical borrowing items for a particular use. In this context, certain local items (Thai) are translated into English with a consideration of their semantic and morpho-syntactic elements. There appear to be two types of loan translation of Thai words found in the English dictionaries – direction translation and adapted translation.

2.1 Direct Translation

Direct translation or word-for-word translation involves the way Thai words are literally translated into English in relation to their rank-shifted and rank-bounded forms. This sub-category becomes the majority of the Thai words found in loan translation.

Table 6: Loan Translation (Direct Translation) 

According to Table 6, the words ‘Siamese cat’, ‘Siamese fighting fish’ and ‘Siamese twins’ have the most salient features. They have been loaned into dictionaries of the three varieties. All dictionaries sufficiently provide the words with lexicographical features. However, the American English dictionary is outstanding in that it dates the words’ first entries. The words ‘Siamese twins’ and ‘Siamese cat’ are considered as classical.

Thai English words because of their appearance in the dictionaries since the nineteenth century. Moreover, the three words show their archaism; the adjective ‘Siamese’ has now changed into ‘Thai’ during the Pibul Prime-ministership in 1930s. The word ‘Siamese fighting fish’ is different in that its phonological description is not given, but it is linguistically dynamic due to its various names. In this sub-category, the words ‘longtail boat’, ‘sticky rice’, ‘Thai basil’, and ‘Thai-Burma Railway’ are similar in that they are seen in only the Australian English dictionary which focuses more on Asian Englishes words. Likewise, the items ‘Thai boxing’ and ‘Thai stick’ are imported into only the British dictionary and not given their phonological transcription. In terms of translating processes, all the words in this table are translated in the rank-bound form; the modifying nouns are followed by their head nouns according to syntactic and semantic patterns in English. Importantly, the word ‘sticky rice’ is very creative in terms of the use of a human feature to replace a glutinous element of a substance.

3. Adapted Translation

Adapted translation or shift refers to a translating process of an indigenous (Thai) item into English through an adaptation of semantic elements. That is, every single word of the local item cannot be translated into its target language form; some morphological elements of Thai items are shifted via the process of translating and adapting into meaningful English items.

Regarding Table 7, only one word of adapted translation is found in the English dictionary. This word is actually based on the Thai pattern of ‘khao’ (rice), ‘hom’ (fragrant), and ‘mali’ (Jasmine). The word ‘fragrant’ is shifted; only the words ‘Jasmine’ and ‘rice’ are combined and adapted as they are adequately meaningful – a kind of rice with jasmine’s scent and color. In its exicographical description, the word ‘fragrant’ is evidently constructed and its etymology is resented so that its Thai identity disseminates to other international readers.

4. Semantic Shift

Semantic shift refers to a change of a lexical item’s semantic element when it is loaned in a new context of usage. In this paper, only one item has its semantic shift.

In fact, the existing word ‘menam’ is categorized into a loanword. However, its lexicographical description given contributes to its semantic change from the present Thai use. Westerners in the old days of Thailand misunderstood that the word ‘Chao-Phraya River’ was actually named ‘menam’ which in Thai only means ‘river’ (Sitthithanyakij, 2008, p.33-35 as cited in Bennui, 2013, p.29). In this regard, its phonological elements are not fully correct as it is difficult for the American lexicographer to express a full transliteration. The word ‘menam’ in Thai has a wider semantic feature that refers to any river. However, the existing meaning in this American English dictionary has shifted into a narrower sense, only ‘Chao Phraya’. This word represents its semantic variation when used in an American variety of English.
Table 7: Loan Translation (Adapted Translation)

Table 8: Semantic Shift 

5. Hybridization

Hybridization refers to lexicons in which morphemes of at least two different languages are combined. In this regard, a Thai word found in an English dictionary has its hybrid originality. There is only one item under this category.

Regarding Table 9, a semantic description in the dictionary identifies the hybridized form of the existing word. This word emerges due to a Malay-Thai linguistic contact. It has been used in the Southeast Asian region, where this Australian English dictionary emphasizes a lexical corpus. Its phonological description seems to be right though the word ‘takraw’ is not given a tonal marker. When used in a Malaysian context, this word is pronounced by the locals without a tonal maker.

From the four categories, loan translation is much different in that it does not embody any Thai words while semantic shift and hybrid are also made of the indigenous items that support the richness of Thai loans in the English dictionaries.


The linguistic features of the Thai words found in the English dictionaries seem to imply their Thai English words, when they have been discussed via previous studies and the framework.

The words ‘farang’, ‘wai’, ‘klong’, ‘longtail boat’, and ‘sticky rice’ found in this paper fit a lexical corpus Butler (1996; 1999a; 1999b) has explored. In this regard, only the word ‘farang’ yields one of Thai English words surveyed by Bolton (2003). Certain items of directly translated words found seem to be similar to lexical structure compiled in mini-dictionaries of Singapore English (Lugg, 1984) and Malaysian English (Choo, 1984). Surprisingly, the word ‘jasmine rice’ in this paper shares a similar feature of Sri Lankan English words in Sri Lankan English dictionary Meyler, 2009), especially collocations based on the word ‘rice’. Additionally, the words ‘farang’ and ‘wat’ in this study are clearly seen in Table 9: Hybridization what Bennui and Hashim (2013) have investigated in Thai English fiction. All these words feature the uniqueness of Southeast Asian Englishes.

The three categories in this study fit into Kachru’s (1983) strategies of lexical innovations in Indian English dictionaries: loanwords, loan translation and hybrid. The first two categories parallel the notion of ‘contextualization’. The found English words of literal and adapted translation are obvious. Moreover, the words ‘Loy Krathong’ and ‘Songkran’ can be described as lexicons of specific speech functions used in Thai rituals and ceremonies. There is only one found in the category ‘hybrid’, but it highlights its innovation as it combines a local item from a language of Thailand’s neighbor. Indeed, Malay is another dialect in the Deep South of Thailand.

The two categories given by Görlach (1988) are seen in this paper – loanwords and compounding. Further, Görlach (1998)’s loanword description is apparent in the items here. Certain loanwords based on archaism – “Siamese cat, Siamese fighting fish, and Siamese twins” – are very classical. Though the word ‘Siamese’ was changed into ‘Thai’ in the early twentieth century, it is still alive. This yields an etymological element on a lexicographical description of New Englishes words projected by Görlach (1998). That is, those archaic words indicate the Thai root of English translated items.

The Thai words and English words with Thai origins found are regarded as ‘lexical nativisation’ according to Schnieder’s (2007) three types. All these words are codified lexicons in the English dictionaries. Lexical borrowing items from Thai toponyms and culturally distinctive customs of Buddhism are obvious. In addition, each item of semantic shift and hybridization has been presented.

A comparison on lexicographical descriptions of the English dictionaries of the three varieties can bridge a gap of New Englishes words found in Standard English dictionaries by Kachru (1983) and Görlach (1988) three decades ago. The British and American English dictionaries used in this paper provide more detailed lexicographical descriptions of Thai words or English words with Thai origins than the Australian English dictionary. There are a few mistakes on phonological accounts of some Thai word entries in some dictionaries. However, all dictionaries of all varieties are worthwhile as they point to lexicons of Thai identity.

An interpretation of the found Thai words with the former studies and the framework features innovation, contextualization, and nativisation of Thai English words. This supports the Thainess in English lexicons as another linguistic trait of English as a World Language and pinpoints a developing variety of Thai English.

Conclusion and Suggestions

This paper has analyzed and described particular Thai words in certain British, American and Australian English dictionaries. The lexical construction of such words is based on four strategies – lexical borrowing, loan translation, semantic shift and hybridization. The first two strategies are the most outstanding. All words enrich the innovative, contextualized and nativised features of New Englishes lexicons, and they share some characteristics of other Southeast Asian English. This leads to their remarkableness of Thai English words. Further, all lexicographical descriptions of the words shown from native English dictionaries have been compared so that they have indicated their full realization of non-English items, resulting in a depiction of the Thai identity of English. Indeed, this paper merely reveals a decent amount of the Thai words found in a selection of certain English dictionaries. There will be other words from the Thai culture and society in many other dictionaries. Thus, further linguistic explorations and critical reviews for other words by several scholars will be very useful to support their full implications towards their Thai English lexicons.


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Assist. Prof. Dr. Pairote Bennui
Western Languages Program
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Thaksin University, Songkhla, 90000 Thailand.

Key words: Thai Words, Thai English Lexis, English Dictionaries
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