The Thai consonants are divided into three classes. We distinguish
between mid, high and low consonants. The wording is not particularly
felicitous, because it does not match the intonation. We want
to use these names because they are the literal translations
of the Thai names.
At least the Middle and High classes have to be learned
- consonants that are not contained therein are automatically
placed low class.
The belonging of a consonant to one of the three classes
together with other criteria determines the tone pitch of
a syllable. The rules for this are not entirely trivial and
will be presented in detail here.
The third class (Low Consonants) contains 14 consonants with
sounds already available in the second class (High Consonants).
Same sounds of consonants in second
and third class
Why is this important?
According to the tone rules with low
initial consonants can be formed no syllables with low or
rising tone. This is not a problem in the sounds of paired
consonants, because there are counterparts in the second class
which can be used instead.
For the unpaired consonants there is no such alternative.
But since there were many words that require a deep or a rising
tone on syllables with the sound of an unpaired consonant,
there is a workaround available. As you can learn in the article
about double consonants (IV.), there
is a way to lend the tone rules from another class to the
unpaired consonants of the third class.
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I'm not a native English speaker and my English is poor.
I've translated this page from my German site because it can be helpful
for Thai students everywhere in the world.