marcel barang

Yeah, right, let’s all be wrong together!

In English on 28/04/2011 at 1:44 pm

This morning’s Bangkok Post tells us that the Election Commission (EC) ‘has confirmed the English spelling of the leading opposition party as Pheu Thai’ – and in all pages of the Bangkok Post, as of this morning, Pheu Thai it is. Yeah, right, let’s all be wrong together!
What authority has the EC to settle such a matter and ignore the Royal Thai General System of Transcription of The Royal Institute of Thailand instead of enforcing it?
The RTGS (rightly, in my view) states that the official transcription of the เ–ือะ or เ–ือ triphthong is ‘uea’ – hence ‘เพื่อ’ = Phuea.
The word เพื่อ simply means ‘for’ – hence พรรคเพื่อไทย is ‘the party for the Thais’. [Wikipedia entry: The Pheu Thai Party (PTP) (Thai: พรรคเพื่อไทย, Phak Phuea Thai, For Thai Party)…]
‘Pheu’, on the other hand, is the pronunciation of that wonderful Vietnamese noodle soup, Pho, that the French say puts some ‘feu’ into you.

พรรคเพื่อไทย, when it was launched in September 2008, got its farang name, if not its policy, wrong: Pheu Thai Party. Of course they got it wrong: they never consulted me!
In those days, The Nation went along with ‘Pheu’ right away, the Post with ‘Phua’* – a different word altogether, ผัว, meaning ‘husband’ or, more familiarly, ‘hubby’. Conformism? Scorn? Who knows?
* Wrong, sorry: the Post used ‘Puea’.

The เ–ือ triphthong is one you find in the often-used word เมือง, meaning ‘town’, ‘city’, ‘land’, ‘country’. For donkey’s years, the word was spelled ‘muang’ in English until the Royal Institute got wiser and insisted on ‘mueang’ – ‘muang’ (ม่วง) meaning ‘purple’ or ‘violet’ or ‘lavender’ or else a boat with a curved stem and stern. That’s when Don Muang became Don Mueang. (No, the change of spelling wasn’t the root cause of the closure of the airport there.)

But old habits die hard, and we still read, in the Bangkok Post and elsewhere, of that puzzlingly ubiquitous district, the ‘Ampheroe Muang’ or ‘Muang district’ (อำเภอเมือง). This should read ‘Mueang’: that district isn’t purple; it’s the administrative district of a provincial capital – and there are 77 75 of them countrywide.
Actually, when I was looking after the health of Thai Day’s (American) English (when it was a supplement to the Hong Kong edition of the International Herald Tribune), I tried to have this Muang/Mueang District simply translated as ‘Central district’ or ‘Urban district’ but the former Bangkok Post editor who ran the show there wouldn’t hear of it: the อำเภอเมือง, said he, is not always central, nor is it always urban. Another case of exceptions determining the rules.
But then, this is เมืองไทย, Muang Thai, the purple country.

  1. How typical of Thailand – there is a standard for the romanization, even though it has its shortcomings (no tones, not short/long vocals), but not just every layperson, newspaper editor, book author ignores it and uses his own favorite romanization scheme, even the government authorities ignore it whenever possible. At least for my focus of interest – the administrative subdivisions – most government sources now use the RTGS spellings.

  2. Ah, by the way, there or only 75 Amphur Muang (I never noticed the spelling Ampher often yet) – because Bangkok as a special administrative area has no Amphoe but Khet (thats why Thailand now has 76 provinces, and not 77 as often written), and none of them is named Khet Mueang. And the second special case is Ayutthaya, where the capital district (my personal favorite translation of Amphoe Mueang) is named same as the province – Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya.

    • You are right on all counts, including ‘ampher’ which is indeed drolly spelled ‘amphoe’ by the Royal Institute. I stand corrected. Thank you.

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