Book Reviews

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Thai Reference Grammar

James Higbie
Snea Thinsan

2002, 2003, 2004 450 pp. 24.5 x 17.5 cm., softbound.

ISBN-10: 974-8304-96-5 $39.00
ISBN-13: 978-974-8304-96-0

Thai Reference Grammar

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There are many phrasebooks and course books for beginning-level Thai but until now there has been no book that explains higher-level Thai sentence structure and functional vocabulary. Many students of the Thai language find that basic-level Thai is easy to pick up, but that the language becomes more difficult at higher levels. (For example, there are four ways to say ‘because’ and eleven ways to say ‘only’.) Thai Reference Grammar fills the need for a work that explains high-level Thai sentence structure and vocabulary. The book presents clear explanations of advanced Thai structure, illustrated with examples of typical Thai speech.

Review by “mrentoul”
A new book on the grammar of spoken Thai has been released, and it must be the best book on Thai I’ve seen. Thai Reference Grammar, by James Higbie and Snea Thinsan, is a reference book rather than something you’re likely to polish off in one sitting. The authors analysed examples of spoken and colloquial Thai, then came up with their own examples to illustrate how sentences are built. It comes to more than 400 pages, and must represent thousands of hours of work.
   The authors consulted Thai speakers interested in passing on the language, to find out what makes it tick. The transliteration system is good: it gives you the length of vowels as they exist in spoken Thai.
   This can be different from their value in written Thai, and in fact the authors change the Thai spelling of some words, given in their examples, to show the way the words are pronounced (kao, for he, has a high tone in spoken Thai but rising tone in written Thai) in cases where this differs from the written version!
   The book does not confine itself to spoken Thai, however; for any given word (‘so’, for example, in the sense of consequently or therefore) it will give you the six or seven Thai words in use, and show you how they are deployed; and will tell you which are in every-day use and which you’re likely to encounter mainly in writing ie the formal ones you can avoid.
   The authors seem to know exactly what trips up or holds back a learner. You’ll find an entire chapter here devoted to the order of events (before, after, in three days time), another to tenses, another one again to the use of ‘gor’, and yet another to end-sentence particles.
   This book is a serious and comprehensive study of Thai. I know of none better, and have read plenty. It is accessible, though will take you a while to get through: I spent three hours with it today, and covered less than half a chapter!
   Not only is this a pretty cool grammar book, but this book also gives you the essential information to take your “classroom thai” and transform it more into “common speech.” I use this book all the time, and I highly recommend it to any and all intermediate and advance students.

Review by “Chai”

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