I’m not sure why but today I thought of an awkward date I went on back in Seattle a year or two ago. I don’t remember exactly how this topic came up but she was telling me that “Phuket” is pronounced “foo-khet” and she was told this by some locals and was 100% was sure of it. Not wanting to be obnoxious I just said something like “Really? I thought it was with a ‘p’ instead of an ‘f'”. I also wasn’t as sure of myself as she was of herself so I just let it slide and we moved on to some other awkward conversation.
Now that I know how to read Thai I can say we were both wrong, but I was mostly right 😜. Here’s how to pronounce “Phuket”. It should be noted that the transliteration of Thai into the Roman / Latin alphabet is mostly arbitrary and when pronounced by an English speaker rarely results in the same pronunciation of the word by a Thai speaker. So, here’s how Phuket is spelled in Thai script: ภูเก็ต. Here’s a description of each of the symbols:
- ภ – paw sǎm-pao, A consonant, makes the same sound as the letter ‘p’ in “pretty”
- ู – sara uu, A vowel, makes the same sound as the letter ‘u’ in “ruler”
- เ – sara ee, A vowel, makes the same sound as the letter ‘a’ in “pale”
- ็ – This symbol is called “mái-dtài-kúu” and changes the long vowel ‘เ’ into its short form ‘เ-ะ’ which means the previous symbols actually makes the same sound as the letter ‘e’ in “pet”.
- ก – gaw gài, A consonant, makes the same sound as the letter ‘g’ in “gold”.
- ต – dtaw dtào, A consonant, makes the same sound as the letter ‘t’ in “stop”. It’s a sound somewhere between ‘d’ and ‘t’. But since this consonant is in final position its sound changes to the same as ‘t’ in “tender”.
“ภู” is the first syllable. “เก็ต” is the second syllable. I’m not sure why I know this but I think it’s because there can not be two vowels in a row. Another hint is that ‘็’ would indicate the start of a new syllable. It should also be noted that vowels can appear in front of, above, below, or behind consonants. No matter where the vowel appears, the consonant sound is always pronounced first.
Putting this all together, I can confidently say that “Phuket” is pronounced “poo” (as in I gotta take a poo), and “get” but with a short ‘e’ sound like the ‘e’ in “egg”. Note that the ‘g’ isn’t a hard ‘g’ sound and does end up sounding almost like a ‘k’.
So, maybe I can help the Thai government out and suggest a better transliteration. How about “puu-gèt”? Well, maybe it’s not better. But it is more accurate.