Svasti Khraaaap! The etymology of your favorite Thai greeting

Svasti Khraaaap! The etymology of your favorite Thai greeting

Hi all, this is just something quite interesting that I realized and that could help some people learn Thai.

The common Thai greeting สวัสดี is pronounced like ‘Sa-wat-dii’ (plus tones), but the script tells a quite different story and introduces a great number of pronunciation rules to follow.

But what if I tell you that this common greeting derives from Sanskrit (and then probably Pali) ‘Svasti’ = good fortune – used in Yoga (I read) or the word Swastika.

If you look at the script only it also shows this etymology: S̄wạs̄dī

The Thai speakers simply adapted the pronunciation in a few ways to make it easier to pronounce:

  • Sw as a consonant cluster got a short ‘a’ sound inserted (lot’s of languages do that)

  • S as a syllable final turned into a stop consonant (just like when average Thais try to pronounce foreign words that end in s)

  • Tones have been added (here: sà-wàt-dii) depending on shortness of vowel, stop consonants, original consonant quality at time of borrowing and more potential factors

And next week I’ll tell you how same-sounding consonants have actually had different sounds in the Indic source language and the high-middle-low distinction of Thai consonants actually made a lot of sense once. 🙂

Alexander Stebner
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