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Q&A

Vietnamese lệnh and Thai เลย

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If I understand correctly both Vietnamese lệnh ("ley") and Thai เลย ("l'ey") are vague in both languages in the sense that they can have various meanings which depend on context but generally used as emphasizing terms or as a generosity gesture.

Are Vietnamese lệnh and Thai เลย related?

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I don't know any Vietnamese. But neither http://www.informatik.uni-leipzig.de/~duc/Dict/ nor https://vi.wiktionary.org/wiki/l%E1%BB%87nh seems to ascribe the meaning(s) to lệnh that you do. msh210‭ 3 months ago

Yes, I might have had a mistake ; I recall Google Translate showed a few more alternatives from it rather than "Comeinand" (such as "word" ; I didn't internalize the others) but I no longer find it there so either I confused or there was an update about this word in a similar time in Google Translate's database. Indeed, other dictionaries I have checked didn't give any alternative besides variants of "command". JohnDoea‭ 3 months ago

1 answer

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Vietnamese and Thai are normally classified into separate primary language families, meaning that the languages as a whole are unrelated. Whenever you find a similar word with a similar meaning, that could be a coincidence; or it could be a borrowing either way; or it could have been borrowed into both languages from (say) Mandarin or French either of which belongs to yet another language family.

The words you ask about are, in all likelihood, completely unrelated.

Vietnamese "lệnh" is a borrowing from, as far as I can tell, Middle Chinese. "Lệnh" means "order" as a noun (a written instruction - which is perhaps not too vague in meaning), while the Thai "เลย" seems (according to the wiktionary entry of its cognate word "to be left over") to have its origins in Proto-Tai, with a reconstructed pronunciation /ʰlɯəᴬ/. I treat those two modern Thai words as cognates because wiktionary lists the same Ahom language reflection for both of them; Ahom itself is long extinct.

The meanings of either word in present day Thai don't seem to come recognizably close to the meaning of "order", and the reconstructed Proto-Tai form /ʰlɯəᴬ/ (unvoiced dental lateral; unrounded vowel "u"; mixed vowel; all this with a mid level tone) doesn't look too similar to the hypothetical precursors of the Vietnamese which are Middle Chinese /liᴇŋ/, departing tone, or Mandarin /liŋ/, (the corresponding) falling tone.

This can't disprove a subtle ancient connection, or even a recent folk etymology influence, but the words appear to have many centuries of independent histories behind them and aren't coming recognizably closer if we try looking back a little, neither phonetically, nor semantically.

Note: This answer has been substantially changed since my original attempt. I had misunderstood a particular reference as pointing to yet another language family which actually isn't involved in the history of either word. Sorry for the confusion. Other parts of the answer were expanded to compensate.

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4 comments

I am from the school of the minority opinion according to which Thai and Vietnamese are much more related than commonly thought (perhaps you are too). A nice article that you might have read already: http://jseals.org/seals23/khanittanan2013ancientd.pdf JohnDoea‭ 3 months ago

I didn't find a mention of Austronesian language family in the Wiktionary ; but does this word exist in any Malayo-Polynesian language today? JohnDoea‭ 3 months ago

@JohnDoea - I relied on the mainstream classification in my answer (and I can't speak either language myself); I was initially open to the possibility of a combination of borrowings providing a connection for the two words. I took the Austronesian (specifically Formosan) connection, judging from my browser's history, here: https://zh.wiktionary.org/zh-hans/%E0%B9%80%E0%B8%AB%E0%B8%A5%E0%B8%B7%E0%B8%AD; it's not immediately clear to me how I ended up pasting the wrong wiktionary link. Jirka Hanika‭ 3 months ago

@JohnDoea - Thank you for drawing my attention to my error concerning the Formosan languages. I had simply misunderstood that wiktionary entry (from my previous comment) on that point. No relationship to any Austronesian language is suggested by any wiktionary page. Answer rewritten. Jirka Hanika‭ 3 months ago

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