Mary Haas Thai-English Student’s Dictionary in Bangkok

Mary Haas

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Getting serious about learning Thai…

There is a rumour going around about several must have resources for the serious Thai language learner. Not that I have gone into serious mode or anything, but I am curious about design and transliteration styles. I also have a love for books, so I set out to acquire what I could (which isn’t always easy in Thailand).

The last book on my main list was the esteemed Mary Haas Thai-English Student’s Dictionary. I saw it a year back at Paragon but balked at the price and then it was gone. Yesterday I didn’t leave the next opportunity to chance.

And then there were four…

Three focus on Thai grammar (take your pic) and one is the above mentioned Thai-English dictionary.

A Reference Grammar of Thai (paperback)
Authors: Shoichi Iwasaki and Preeya Ingkaphirom

…provides a clear, detailed and comprehensive guide to Thai grammar, designed for intermediate to advanced learners. Written by two leading experts on Thai, it places a special emphasis on functional accounts of its grammatical phenomena: the use of demonstratives, personal reference terms, the modality system, the aspectual system, pragmatic particles, verb serialisation, relative clauses, question formation, passive and causative constructions, topic marking and many more.

Unlike any other book on Thai grammar, it draws on data from everyday spoken discourses such as informal conversation, group discussions, interviews and narratives, as well as non-technical written texts such as folk tales, short stories and newspaper articles, to discuss grammatical phenomena at both sentence and discourse level. An extensive index is provided and examples are given in both Thai orthography and IPA symbols, making this an invaluable resource for linguists as well as students and teachers of Thai.

Thai, an Essential Grammar
Author: David Smyth


…the ideal guide to the basic structures of the language for both students on taught courses and independent learners. Grammatical forms are explained in clear, jargon-free style and illustrated by examples, given in both Thai script and romanization. As well as grammar, it includes guidance on pronunciation, speech conventions and the beautiful Thai writing system.

Thai Reference Grammar, the Structure of Spoken Thai
Authors: James Higbie and Snea Thinsan

…written to meet the need of students and teachers of the Thai language for information on advanced sentence structure. The book is divided into chapters based on common grammatical-structural categories. There are over 500 separate topics, and the most important feature is the sample sentences for each topic, of which there are over 2,000. These sentences are not stuffy, old-fashioned grammar examples, but samples of typical, idiomatic spoken Thai.

The authors, an American and a Thai both with advanced degrees in linguistics and language teaching, analyzed thousands of Thai sentences to formulate clear and concise explanations for all the important sentence patterns of the Thai language. Examples are given in both Thai script and transliterated Thai, written in the English alphabet with no special phonetic symbols. Tones are marked with a special font that shows the level of the sound of each word, essential to pronunciation in tonal languages like Thai.

Mary Haas Thai-English Student’s Dictionary
Compiled by: Mary R. Haas

Both English-speaking students of Thai and Thai students of all disciplines will be hard put to find a more comprehensive and satisfying answer to their general vocabulary needs. Professional translators, researchers, and even specialists whose only concern is problems of transliteration, will all benefit from this remarkable publication.

Mary died on my birthday in 1996, but as her dictionary is in Bangkok as of yesterday (and doesn’t stick around for long), I thought I’d post this now instead of Sunday.

NOTE: If you want to go for free, you can see some of the Thai-English student’s dictionary on Google Books. Beware the Google viewing limit… (A special thanks goes to Aksara Anwa Akson Thai (no longer online) for bringing it to my attention).

Except for A Reference Grammar of Thai, all books can be found at Kinokuniya, located in the Siam Paragon shopping complex.


8 thoughts on “Mary Haas Thai-English Student’s Dictionary in Bangkok”

  1. Your posts are excellent for getting around SEAlang. Thanks! I’ll play around with it until I can understand how it works.

    Previously, whenever I’ve dipped into SEAlang, I’ve gotten lost. I know a part of the reason is due to my not being an academic, and they are using professional terminology, as expected.

    Your projects are certainly far reaching. I remember one of the first conversations we had online – the origins of the Thai script. For weeks after, I went to museums, book stores, Wats, anywhere I could find out more. In the end I decided that I was not qualified to write even a short post on the subject. But what a rush that was! Heady stuff.

  2. For better or worse, SEAlang focuses on ideas and functionality, not presentation or design. I have no control and little influence in that respect. So I know where you’re coming from.

    I’ve blogged about SEAlang’s search features here and here.

    SEAlang also has a beta Firefox extension for right-click searching of any highlighted Thai (or Lao or Khmer or Burmese) word on a webpage. I blogged briefly about that here.

    SEAlang is an umbrella “brand” for a series of grant-funded research projects. I have an ongoing fellowship.

    I work on any number of things, many Thai-related, some not. This year my big project has to do with the Sukhothai-era Thai inscriptions. The results of that will come online at the end of 2009. More on that another time. My long-term plan is not set in stone, but my dream (well, goal) is to seriously advance Thai lexicography, or at least contribute to that advancement. It may take multiple tens of years. Right now I’m only laying the beginnings of a foundation to eventually do that.

    And I’ll see about getting you that photo. 🙂

  3. Thanks Rikker. Although I’ve heard that the dictionary is highly thought of, I’m just not sure how to use it to its fullest. Is there a laymen type explanation somewhere?

    ‘Mary Haas’ original note cards are sitting in a box only a few short yards from me.’

    Wow. I’d love to see a photo.

    Oh dear. I’m turning into a Thai dictionary groupie 🙂

    I realise that you have a lot on at the moment, so is SEAlang the big project you are working on? The ten year project? (apologies, but I’ve forgotten the exact details).

  4. I’m catching up on some posts I missed, so allow me to point out that the Thai dictionary at is essentially the Mary Haas dictionary. It’s used with permission from Stanford. In fact, Mary Haas’ original note cards are sitting in a box only a few short yards from me.

    This project is Doug Cooper’s, and predates my involvement with SEAlang’s work. I know some things were changed, such as some aspects of the romanization. Other things were improved, such as fixing inconsistent cross-references. Stuff that was hard to do on paper, but a relative cinch with computers.

    SEAlang also incorporates data from Lexitron, the free T-E dictionary from NECTEC. You can tell which is which because (a) Mary Haas stuff is way higher quality, and (b) the Haas entries are marked with [TDP] (for “Thai Dictionary Project”, what Haas called her project). Lexitron is marked [LEX].

    The default behavior is to only show Haas data unless Lexitron has an entry where Haas doesn’t. But you can configure that at the bottom of the left panel by setting “Add non-TDP data:” to “always”.

    It’s very convenient, and still my first go-to for e-dictionaries.

  5. Oh! Thanks! I didn’t think of looking in Google Books.

    I checked for the Mary Haas dictionary on Google Books (English section) and it states ‘Limited preview’.

    But they are only limiting by a few pages as Mary Haas has 638, while theirs shows 602. Nice!

    It’s a VERY good find (thanks again) and I’ll add it to my Learn Thai for FREE page.

    (and I guess I should take the time to check through the rest of Google Books to see what I can come up with).

  6. Hi Catherine, I strongly suppose that you’ll know that Mary Haas Thai-English Student’s Dictionary is available both in Bangkok and in the Internet (as a GoogleBook):

    Thus, why not to link your visitors to it?


  7. Thanks Ben. I was thinking along similar lines, only online. When I landed in the UK several weeks back, for two weeks I made a point to dash into book stores along the way. Very few had Thai phrase books – and that includes the duty free book stores – and none had books for learning Thai. So, how do those living out of Thailand purchase books, if not on or Because there are more to choose from than amazon.

    Ben, since you are in BKK, then Kinokuniya at Paragon is your best bet as you can look into each grammar book (except for one) to see which suits you. This is the first time I’ve seen all three in one place, so it’s good timing for you.

    For myself, I contact Danny at DCO books first as it is cheaper for me. Cheaper in two ways: One, he sends them to me via motorcycle taxi, so I save on taxis and lunch and whatever else I have a habit of running into; and two, I can never get out of an actual book store without grabbing books NOT on my intended list. I love books…

  8. Once again really useful info, as I’m very much a beginner, it’s probably well worth me investing in a book that can help explain the grammatical structures used in Thai. I need to get to a good Bangkok bookshop ASAP (incidentally, that would prove a very helpful post, which book shops do you use / favourite?!) Ben


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