We often see the Thai letters used along with document numbers when translating.
When the Thai letters are an abbreviation for a place name, and the abbreviation of that place name in English is well-known, I assert that the English abbreviation is to be used. Eg. อย. - FDA and not OrYor.
We often see these characters transcribed phonetically using RTGS or another form of transcription but writing in this phoneticised manner seems inappropriate for audiences outside of Thailand, as it leads to more questions and confusion rather than understanding, or claims that terms have been left untranslated. For example, if a Thai translator transcribes ศธ as SorThor, the client might ask, "Why have you left the word SorThor untranslated at the top of the page?"
I asked this to Professor Sandra Hale, National President of the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators, Professor of Interpreting and Translation from the University of New South Wales:
As a Thai-English translator, I have a common accuracy issue that I would like to raise.
Many document codes, or reference numbers in Thai use Thai letters as part of the code eg: ส.123
The local Thai transcription standard is to transcribe these letters into roman characters as they would sound, eg. ส = Sor, ด = Dor, ว = Wor. The source has used abbreviations but the standard local practice is to write these abbreviations out phonetically when translating into English.
For English translations, with an international audience (rather than for local use in Thailand), I have thought this would cause confusion seeing a document code สดว171 = SorDorWor171 etc. so have used roman letters instead SDW171.
While this doesn’t meet the locally acceptable standards in Thailand, would this be acceptable (preferred?) for foreign audiences?
I was reminded of this after your mention of domestication/foreignisation.
As another example, we have a document code ศธ. 1002.05/
You can see the two Thai letters ศ and ธ.
Local Thai-based translators would phoneticise the two Thai letters when transcribing: SorThor 1002.05/
To domesticate this, I have preferred to use abbreviations (as the source has): ST 1002.05/
This is so the audience reads these as 'document codes' rather than as an untranslated word, to avoid them having to wonder “what does SorThor mean?”
Professor Sandra's response was short and simple:
I agree with you that on this case it would be better to use the domestication approach and use Roman alphabet letters. It wouldn't make sense otherwise.
So, with the ศธ. example, I deduce there can only be two options: Finding the meaning of ศธ. (กระทรวงศึกษาธิการ) and using the equivalent abbreviation in English: MOE (Ministry of Education); or, simply transcribing the Thai letters with Roman alphabet letters: ST. This is because to anyone outside of Thailand, "SorThor" makes no sense.
There are various examples with other Thai agencies using the single letter transcriptions but the phoneticisation approach seems all too common. I'd like to open the forum up for discussion on this.
Secondly, if the Thai letter จ is transcribed, for example, how does one differentiate between ช if you insist on using the RTGS method? ก ข ค all have the same problem.
I understand there is already much disagreement and criticism of the RTGS and ISO transcription methods, possibly leading to much of the inconsistencies in Thai transcription. So what should we as translators use?
Looking forward to hearing everyone's thoughts on this matter.