The Oldest Known Writing in Siamese: The Inscription of Phra Ram Khamhæng of Sukhothai, 1293 A.D./The Oldest Known Writing in Siamese

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The Oldest Known Writing in Siamese.

Mr. President, Members of the Siam Society, Ladies and Gentlemen:—

I feel very sensibly the honor you have done me in asking me to present first of all before you some of the results of my months of study here. Those studies lie, as you all know, in the very heart of the Dryasdust realm, and are not supposed to be interesting, or intelligible even, to any save dryasdust people. I felt sure that no other sort of people would come here this evening. I confess therefore to no little surprise at the large and distinguished gathering that I see before me—surprise not unmingled with fear at thought of what you may be ready to do to me before the evening is done. My own impression of people who work on inscriptions has not greatly improved on closer acquaintance with them. My subject has one point of general interest, however, which I may do well to mention at once. The earliest known inscription in Siamese is a unique document, not merely among the documents of Siam, but among the documents of the world. If I am not entirely wrong, there is no other document extant which records the achievement of letters for an untamed speech by one to whom that speech was native, and which at the same time fully illustrates that achievement. When we recall the part these very letters of this very inscription have played in the culture and the life of the Thai race both north and south, and when we reflect that the very form in which we read and write Siamese today is the lineal descendant of that,—not far removed and but little changed,—we may be interested to know something more about it.

There is another point also. As your President has just told us, the inscription itself has repeatedly been published, with transliterations, translations, and essays upon it. Yet few things in Bangkok seem so little known, or understood, or rightly valued. Few even of those who know something about it have ever seen the stone, or know where it stands, or have any clear idea of what it is all about. In spite of all that these various editors have done,—I am not sure but I should have said, in consequence of what they have done,—the real nature and intent of this perfectly direct and simple-hearted utterance seem at many points wholly misapprehended, One editor finds in it—apparently for no other cause than that it is now the thing to do—a complete code of civil law. Another finds in it a complete ritual of religious observance and ceremony. Another varies the now somewhat hackneyed performance of discovering the lost tribes of Israel, by unearthing, forsooth from the ruins of a forest-monastery,—or rather from the word aranyic which means 'forest-monastery'—his long-lost Aryan brothers![1] Setting all such notions aside, it has been my earnest endeavor to know the thing as it really is, and to understand as a native would, just what it says—its natural drift and import. The quest, begun in the interest of philology pure and simple, has proved of absorbing interest, has taken me far afield, has opened up unexpected realms of thought and of life. If it be then your will to accompany me a little way on this quest, let us begin.


The stone is a short stumpy obelisk almost without taper, terminating above in a sort of low four-square Shape and material. dome. The material is a fine-grained compact rock not yet precisely determined, neither too hard for easy working, nor too soft to hold the inscription well under proper care. It stands 34 inches high above its mason-work pedestal; its faces are rough-hewn below, but above are worked to a smooth surface, forming an area for the inscription of about 14 inches by 23 on each side. In company with another stone from Sŭkhothăi, of Present position. later date, it now occupies the westernmost but one of the row of little open Salas on the north side of the main temple-building of Wăt Phră Kæo within the Royal Palace.

Of the earlier history of the stone absolutely nothing is History. known save what is said in the inscription itself, ll. 80—97. While the language there leaves something to be desired in the way of explicit connection of the various statements, it seems impossible to mistake its general import; namely, that this stone was one of four prepared at the same time, and—though this is not said—presumably of similar or identical content. The four were dedicated with imposing ceremonies religious and civic. Three of them were set up in separate places which are named[2]. The date was 1214 (Măhasăkărat), equivalent to 1293 A.D. But the dynasty of Khŭn Ram Khămhæng and the supremacy of Sŭkhothăi were both shortlived. From that date not one word is heard of the stone for 540 years, that is until A.D. Its discovery. 1833, when it was discovered by Prince Chău Fa Măha Mŏngkŭt, who afterwards became King Sŏmdĕt Phră Chom Klău. The story of its recovery is thus told by H. R. H. Prince Văjirăñan.—"In the year 1195 he [the Prince] made a progress through the northern provinces, doing reverence at various shrines, until at last he reached Sŭkhothăi. Here as he wandered about, he came upon a certain large flat slab of stone set in masonry on the terrace beside the ruins of an old palace. The stone was an object of reverence and fear to all the people. If any one failed to bow before it, or presumptuously walked up to it, he would be striken with fever or other disease. When the Prince saw it, he walked straight up and sat down to rest upon it; and, because of the power of his good fortune, he suffered no harm whatsoever. On his return to the capital he had the stone brought down and set in masonry as a platform at Wat Rachathĭwat. After his accession to the throne, he had it brought to Wăt Phră Sri Rătănă Satsădaram (Wăt Phră Kæo). He also secured a stone pillar inscribed in Khămen letters, and one inscribed in ancient Siamese, both standing now in Wăt Phră Sri Rătănă Satsădaram;—of wonderful import, as if presaging that he would be sovereign of Siam, a king of majesty, power, and goodness far-reaching, like the Phră Bat Kămărădeng At, . . . . who was king in Sŭkhothăi, as recorded in that inscribed stone."[3]

Since then the stone has not been moved. But it is Its present insecurity. greatly to be desired that a safer and more fitting resting place be found for this the most precious record and monument so far discovered within the realm of Siam. In its present position it is far too much exposed to the weather, to accidents, and to rough handling by unscrupulous persons. During the weeks of the writer's work upon it there was a constant stream of all sorts of people passing almost within arm's length of it, and without the slightest barrier interposed. Its security so far is almost wholly due to the entire ignorance of nearly everybody regarding its real character and value. Not only should it be placed where it may be safe, but where it can be examined and studied under suitable illumination. As it now stands, the inscription is exposed to such confusing and almost blinding crosslights, that direct study of it is extremely difficult, and attempts to photograph it are almost hopeless. Moreover good plaster copies of it should be made without delay, to serve for all ordinary purposes of study and reference, and to insure against entire loss of so unique a document.

The stone has suffered somewhat from exposure, and much State of preservation. more from outrageous mishandling—the latter incurred, so far as one can judge, chiefly during its transportation from the north. It has apparently been dragged along bodily over rock or grit, or pried about with crowbars, so that most parts of its surface are disfigured by long lines or sweeps of scratches. Besides this there are some channels and small areas that have been excavated by drip of water. The edge at points has suffered a smooth abrasion, no doubt caused by its use as a whetstone for sharpening knives[4]. There is abundant evidence also of such things as recent dripping of oil and melted candle-wax upon the stone, and of the application of various inks and other pigments to the surface, presumably in attempts to secure reproductions of the inscription. By such means some lines of the inscription have become entirely filled up, and cannot be made to appear in any "squeeze" or "rub." These last, of course, are minor matters; it is possible to clean the stone. Yet they serve to emphasize what has already been said about the need of stricter care. Still, in spite of all that it has suffered, the inscription is legible almost throughout. The letters were deeply incised at the start, and with patience and a good light, may often still be read, though the surface seems hopeless. The absolute losses are mostly of one or two letters out of a word, and these the context often enables one to supply beyond a peradventure. There are not more than twenty words completely lost from the whole inscription, and the restoration of a number of these is scarcely conjectural. In all this matter the recurrent or the aphoristic phrase, the metrical balance, the clue of rhyme—things dear to the elder Siamese speech—are often the surest guides out of the difficulty. (See further below pp. 18-20.)


"Heretofore there were no strokes of Siamese writing. In Record of its origin. 1205 of the era, Year of the Goat, Prince Khŭn Ram Khămhæng sought and desired in his heart, and put into use these strokes of Siamese writing. And so these strokes of Siamese writing are, because that Prince put them to use." [Inscription, ll. 105-108.] Thus in phrase curt and rugged even to harshness, as if with suppressed emotion, is recorded what was by far the most important event of Prince Ram Khămhæng's reign, or indeed of the whole period of Thăi sovereignty. The Prince himself seems to have felt its importance, for he has reversed the historical order to give this achievement the place of honor at the end and climax of his story.

The general appearance of this earliest Siamese writing Its appearance. may be seen in the accompanying photographic reproduction of the text. A more detailed study of it can easily be made with the help of the Transliteration into modern Siamese characters. In mass it presents itself as a singularly bold, erect, open writing, four-square, with gently rounded corners, beautifully aligned, and closely too, but without any confusion resulting from superscript or subscript elements, or from letters which extend above or below the line[5]. Its look is therefore not unlike that of a text of Greek uncials or of our own square capitals,—somewhat stiff, but singularly clear. The only drawback in this regard is the running together now and then of the contiguous strokes of different letters[6]. To the eye acquainted only with modern Siamese, this inscription seems at first quite as foreign as the Khămen inscription which stands beside it in the court of Wăt Phră Kæo. Closer scrutiny detects here and there a letter barely recognizable in its grotesque aldermanic breadth. And after the characters are all learned, their sequence is still a source of perplexity, being often quite different from that of modern Siamese[7].

The particular writing from which these letters were Its source. adopted and adapted has not yet been identified. Their general character confirms the impression based on quite other grounds that it must have been South-Indian or Singhalese; that its immediate exemplars were doubtless the Pali religious texts; and that the efficient agents in the accomplishment of the Prince's scheme were Buddhist scholars like him who is mentioned in the inscription as one of the chief glories of the realm,—the Măhathen who "had studied the Pĭdŏktrăi unto its end."

The mere acquisition of the letters was, of course, the least The vowels part of the Prince's task. Much more difficult must have been the expansion of the meagre Indian vowel-list to meet the unusually large demands of Siamese speech[8]. Many of the devices adopted by the Prince to accomplish this end were not only illogical, but clumsy in the extreme; and there are many duplications among them. But since his time ั and ึ are the only characters that have actually been added to the vowel list. A few unnecessary อ's have been dropped, but quite as many unnecessary ones have been added. The shift of a number of the vowel signs from the line to the space above or below (see next paragraph) has caused some change in the order of letters in the syllable. But in the main, for its peculiar system of representing vowels and diphthongs, the Siamese of to-day must thank the Prince.

But the most original as well as the most interesting feature Position in the line. of his scheme of vowel-notation was his bringing of all the vowel-signs into the written line along with the consonants, and so practically into the alphabet itself. Inclusion of the vowels in the alphabet was a master stroke of the Greek genius, when once for all it adapted oriental letters to the needs of a new world of life and thought. It is that alone, for example, which has made possible for all western tongues the immense advantage of a perfectly fixed order of words in vocabularies and lists. The lack of such an absolute word-order is a difficulty and hindrance to scholarship more or less distinctly felt throughout the Eastern world, and everywhere for the same reason:—the vowels have no place in the alphabetical order. Prince Ram Khămhæng, so far as we can learn, is the only man in all this interval who has come at all near to duplicating that old Grecian thought. But he did not carry his thought through to its logical conclusion. He did not give the vowels their place in the sequence of elements in the syllable, as he had given them their place in the line. Siamese scholars, unlike the Greek, were continually conning oriental scriptures. They thus kept ever alive the old tradition, and obscured the new. Very few years passed before the vowels which had been brought into the line were back in their old stations in the field[9]. Thus it is that for Siamese of to-day, type that can be conveniently cast and set, and dictionaries where words may be easily and certainly found, seem as unattainable as ever.

It seems that the adjustment of the consonant-scheme The consonants. should have been much easier; but it was much more clumsily accomplished, if the scheme in present Siamese is to be taken as the Prince's. The consonant sounds in present Siamese are only twenty-one in number; and though some changes have probably taken place in the six centries which have elapsed, the total number then can hardly have been very different from what it is now. The Indian consonant letters were thirty-three—giving, let us say, twelve supernumeraries to be stricken off the list, or else to be used only in rendering Indian words. But there were the The "tones." "tones" to be somehow indicated in writing. The easiest and most obvious plan would doubtless have been to indicate these directly by a series of accents. But those supernumerary letters seem to have led to the suggestion that they might somehow be used in indicating the "tones" of the vowels which follow them. To work out the suggestion completely by providing one letter of each sort for every tone, would require—if there were then as many tones as there are now in Siamese—no less than six times twenty-one, that is one hundred and twenty six letters. That being impossible, the compromise actually reached would seem to have been somewhat as follows:—1) One group of consonant-sounds, chiefly the non-aspirates and the aspirates, was actually provided with two letter symbols for each sound, the two letters indicating different tonal quality. The two parallel sets so formed were the so-called "high" and "low" letters. Each naturally gave its tone to the vowel which followed it. These two "inherent" tones were further susceptible of different modification by the use of two accent marks, the "ek" and the "tho," and also to some extent by final consonants; so that in the case of these letters all the required tones could be positively, though very clumsily, indicated. 2) A second group of sounds, mostly semi-vowels and nasals, was furnished with but one letter apiece, and that a "low" letter. To make good their deficiency, and to enable them to represent all of the required tones as well as their more favored companions could, it was arranged that whenever necessary one of the "high" letters should stand beside them—silent of course—and so endue them with all the privileges and powers of the "high" class. 3) A third group, originally it would seem of no more than three or four, with all the functions of the "high" class except inherent tone, and not provided with any means of extending their powers, formed the so-called "middle" class.

The inheritors of this scheme, the Siamese and the Lao, Tonal consonants in Siamese and Lao. both preserve to-day all of its essential features; but they differ considerably as to the constitution of two of the groups, namely the "high" and the "middle" letters. The difference concerns the five simple (unvoiced), non-aspirate stops which stand each at or near the head of its particular order of consonants: ก, จ, ฏ, ต, ป. In Siamese these are all "middle" letters, while in Lao they are all "high." The question as to which more nearly represents the original scheme, can never be positively answered, because we can never recover the Sŭkhothăi pronunciation. But the probabilities seem all on the side of the Lao. In the first place, the Lao certainly seems the more primitive in type, preserving many archaic features which the Siamese has lost. In the second place, its central geographical position and its compact area would both defend it, in some degree at least, from the external contact and pressure which the Siamese has not been able to escape. And further, when we consider that any mind capable of thinking out such a scheme at all would not have made it purposely confused and irrational from the start; and when we recall how surely the mere progress of time operates to confound "the best laid schemes,"—as for example it has confounded our once quite rational English spelling;—we should be inclined, I think, to count that the best representative of the old, which most clearly shows evidence of order and intelligent plan. This the Lao does in surprising degree, as may be seen on comparison of any one of the consonant series of the Indian alphabet—the guttural for example—with the corresponding series in Lao. Thus:—

surd sonant
simple aspirate simple aspirate
Indian k kh g gh
corresponds to
Lao k kh k gh
simple aspirate simple aspirate
"high" "low"

That is,—The Lao, having no voiced sounds corresponding to g and gh, utilizes these letters as tonal variants of the unvoiced pair k and kh taken without change from the Indian alphabet. The same thing is done with the corresponding pair in each of the five series. And the first pair—simple and aspirate—are uniformly "high" letters, while the second pair are uniformly "low." Thus without help of any accents beyond the original mai ek (◌่) and mai tho (◌้) of the inscription, a fuller scheme of tones than that of modern Siamese is provided for, without duplication of letters, without lack, and with fair balance of parts. Such symmetry and adaptation of means to ends surely is not the result of accident. If we make a similar comparison in the case of the Siamese, we find—

surd sonant
simple aspirate simple aspirate
Indian k kh g gh
corresponds to
Siamese k kh kh kh
simple aspirate aspirate aspirate
"middle" "high" "low" "low"

Two things, apparently, have happened to the Siamese version of the scheme:—1) No. 1 of each group has lost its power of indicating "high" tone, and has gone to swell the list of imperfectly equipped "middle" letters: and 2) No. 3 of each group has taken on aspiration, and thus merely duplicates No. 4.

An outcome such as this is perfectly intelligible and natural if the original were something like the Lao. But the Lao scheme could have hardly have been developed naturally from a scheme originally like that of present Siamese. And if our present twice, nay thrice, involved scheme of Siamese tonal notation—the dismay and confusion of all students,—together with the absurdly inflated consonantal alphabet which is part and parcel of it, were all really the work of Prince Ram Khămhæng it might well bear the palm among what Professor Whitney has called "devices of perverse ingenuity."

As might have been expected, the working of the new Spelling. scheme was not always sure. In the inscription a number of uncertain or variant spellings are to be found, to say nothing of certain downright mistakes[10]; but upon the whole the Prince seems to have been very well served by his scribes. Considering the difficulties encountered, this trial trip of the new writing was remarkably successful.

The Epilogue is almost certainly later than the rest of the Subsequent history of this writing. inscription. It may even have been written after the death of the Prince, though it contains no reference to such an event. It evidently was inscribed by a different hand, and was cut by a different engraver. The strokes are finer, the letters are distinctly more slender, and some of them already approximate their present shape. But quite as convincing as any of those more obvious features is the evidence of dialectal variation in the speech itself. The vowel ◌ื has entirely disappeared from the writing. It is everywhere replaced by ◌ี, precisely as is still the case in the provinces of Phrae and Lăkhawn, which directly adjoin the Sŭkhothăi region on the north. For a further difference in thought and style, see p. 21.

The direct successor of the Sŭkhothăi writing was, as has Fak Kham writing. already been said, the Făk Khám letters, so called because of the peculiar elliptical curve of the vertical strokes, recalling the curve of a tamarind-pod as it hangs on the tree. Early examples of of this type from the Sŭkhothăi region, no later than sixty or seventy years after our inscription, already exhibit its principal features:—superscript and subscript vowels, entire loss of the ◌ื vowel, more slender bodies of the letters, and a gradual approach to the modern type. For a time the Khămén character seems to have been a formidable competitor, especially in the religious field. But the Făk Khám finally won its way, at least throughout all the north, as is attested by numberless inscriptions reaching down to quite modern times. It finally gave way in that region to the present round Lao writing; but at what date and from what source is still in question[11]. Of its history in central and southern Siam I am not prepared to speak. But late northern Făk Khám is already so nearly like southern Siamese of the 18th century, that there can be no doubt of their common relationship. From that time to this its course is a matter of common knowledge. The use of better surfaces and better instruments for writing, long practice, with resulting sureness and swiftness of stroke, have operated to lessen the stiffness, to reduce the more intricate turns, to diminish the aldermanic breadth of the original letters, and to give them the physiological slant. The modern Siamese written line—before type-writing and print had jostled it out of shape—was certainly more elegant, with its delightful clearness, its touch of feminine grace, its suggestion of accurate and fluent movement,. But otherwise it differs not very greatly from that of Prince Ram Khămhæng.


The total number of words used in this inscription is exactly Vocabulary 1500. The actual vocabulary, the total number of different words used, amounts to 404. This shows very fair scope and range for a document of this kind. A preliminary sorting of this vocabulary results as follows:—

1 Words recognized as of Indian origin 63
2 Words recognized as of Khămén origin 13
3 Proper names not Thai and not included above 11
4 Thăi, native or effectively naturalized 317
Total 404

This analysis concerns the question of purity of diction. Purity. But purity, it must be remembered, depends very little upon the ultimate derivation of words, and very much upon the sense which they awaken in the cultivated hearer of nearness to or remoteness from the common speech. Therefore it is that no attempt has been made to distinguish here between Thăi words and words effectively naturalized. To distinguish between them is moreover absolutely impossible in the absence of any early records of Thăi speech[12]. But the groups in the scheme above are not mutually exclusive. Eleven words of group 1 and six words of group 2 seem thoroughly naturalized. After making the necessary changes the result appears as follows:—

Apparently native or fully naturalized 334
Foreign or uncertain 70

The Thăi element, that is, amounts to 83 per cent of the whole. Surprising as the figure is, it would have been higher yet, had the count been made as is usual in such cases; namely, a count, regardless of repetition, of all words as they actually occur in the text, instead of counting each word but once, as has been done here.

Almost equally surprising is the very small number of Obsolete words. words in the Thăi group that have dropped out of current Siamese during the six centuries that have elapsed. As I count them, I find but twenty-one that seem really obsolete, that is, a trifle over 6 per cent.

Of the dialectal color of the Sŭkhothăi speech it is impossible Dialectal color. to speak in percentages. Of the twenty-one Thăi words accounted as not current now in Siamese speech, I have marked but six as known to me to exist in Lao. No doubt there are others as well, of whose use I am ignorant. To answer the question quantitatively, one would have to know also how many words out of this whole vocabulary are not—or rather were not—current in Lao. And even so, mere vocabulary does not by any means cover the whole ground of dialectal divergence, which consists quite as much in special applications of the same words, and in tone, accent, and phrasing—matters as yet wholly beyond our reach. But there can be no doubt that to a cultivated Siamese the northern flavor of this speech is quite pronounced; while to a cultivated Lao who should hear it read aloud by one of his countrymen, it would probably seem very good Lao, only perhaps a trifle old-fashioned. That is, the standard Siamese speech of that day had not yet diverged very far from the ancestral type.


As is wont to be the case with nearly all primitive attempts, the composition in its aim and intention is distinctly oral—is speech rather than writing. One striking outcome The recurrent pattern. of this fact is the dominance everywhere of what may be termed the recurrent type or pattern of phrase. The type has been found to be effective; it is easier to remember and reproduce it, or to vary it if necessary, than it is to invent a new form specially adapted to the occasion[13]. In its lowest form this dominance is seen in the wearisome repetition Exact repetition. of identical details in various parts of the description of the city and its surroundings:—"groves of areca and betel, groves of cocoanut and lang," "images that are great, images that are beautiful; temples that are great, temples that are beautiful, and so on to the end of the chapter. More distinctly rhetorical is the constant grouping of items in pairs, Balanced and rhythmic phrasing. especially where the balance is regularly emphasized, and sonorous effect is secured, by repetition of the introductory word or words:—"pa mak pa phlu" l. 36; "luk chau luk khŭn" l. 25; baw mi ngön baw mi thawng" ll. 29—30. "mi wĭhan ăn yăi, mi wĭhan ăn ram" l. 61. In all these cases the sequence is carefully attended to, so that each of the paired words stands last in its own phrase, and the phrase containing the more sonorous word shall stand last[14]. From this it is but a step to the grouping of such pairs in extended rhetorical series, where pair balances pair, as item balances item, and with climactic effect:—"baw mi chang, baw mi ma, baw mi pua, baw mi nang, baw mi ngön, baw mi thawng," ll.29—30; "chau mæ, chau chău; thui pua, thui nang; luk chău, luk khŭn; thăng sĭn, thăng lai; thăng phu chai, phu yĭng," ll. 45—46. Such balance, either simple or complex, is found in almost every second line of the inscription. It is sometimes varied in rhythm, as the examples cited show; sometimes it is massed so as to fill a whole passage.

In primitive speech, the rhetorical effect of balance is Mnemonic value. scarcely more important than its mnemonic effect—the clue it affords the memory of speaker as well as of hearer. To a speaker a sonorous phrase, well-coined, is more valuable than a single word expressive of the same idea. The phrase has greater weight and momentum; it carries him, and his hearer too, more easily over gaps in his thought. If at all successful, it tends The stereotyped phrase. to become habitual—a stereotyped commonplace phrase. Its meaning, moreover, runs a course of its own, with little reference to the meaning of its constituent parts, as we may see in such locutions as: "păi năi ma" (Go where come), or in its English equivalent "How do you do?", or in "Good bye." It is not always necessary that all the words of such a phrase should have now, or ever should have had, either independent or pertinent meaning. It is quite permissible in many languages to invent them outright, if only the result prove sufficiently "taking." In such cases, however, it is generally desirable to invoke the aid of balance, alliteration, or assonance Thus we come at length to the "sŏi khăm" as the The "jingle." Siamese call it, or the "jingle" as we may term it. Examples are: "kha sük kha süa" enemies l. 31; or "sănŭk sănan" jolly, and "năngsü năngha" books, of modern Siamese;—or our own riff-raff, picnic, bric-a-brac.

Balance, assonance, and alliteration have already brought Metre and rhyme. us to the confines of verse. Metre and rhyme differ from these in degree rather than in kind. Primitive speech, if at all formal, turns naturally to metrical form, Our inscription is no exception to this rule. The balanced series cited above are metrical as well. But there are other forms more elaborate and striking. 1) Most The imabic dipody. common, perhaps, is the short iambic verse of two feet only—a dipody, that is—of four words arranged in two balanced pairs. The pairs are coupled together at the point of junction by a cæsural tie-rhyme, and the whole is expressive of a single generalized idea. Examples from the text are;—"phrăi fa kha thăi," Siamese subjects l. 23; "chĕp thawng khawng chăi," distressed in mind ll. 33—34; "phi nawng thawng diu," own brothers and sisters l. 2. Fourteen or fifteen of this species alone are to be found in the inscription. They abound everywhere in Siamese literature and speech. This seems indeed to be the fundamental pattern from which by variation are derived nearly all the other distinctly metrical forms which occur in Siamese prose. Expanded dipody. 2) One of these derived forms is simply an expansion of it by the insertion of identical words into the two members of the dipody, Thus in "khău phu lăk măk phu sawn," shares with stealer, consorts with hider ll. 26—27, the four accented words, khău—lăk—măk—sawn, represent the original framework of the dipocly, while the relative phu is the added element. In the much longer "hĕn khău thăn baw khrăi phin, hăn sin thăn baw khrăi düat. ll.27—28, the four accented words, khău—phin—sin—thăn, mark the simple pattern, with order and caesural tie-rhyme accurately kept; while the added material has expanded the simple iambic dipody to three times its original dimensions. It makes now two anapæstic verses; yet the tie-rhyme is not displaced. 3) A variation apparently simpler is produced by merely increasing The stanza. the number of units, and building up thus a continuous stanza. A fine example occurs in ll. 18—19:—

Năi năm mi pla,
Năi na mi khău;
Chău müang baw ău,
Chă kawp năi phrăi.

Here the first couplet answers exactly to an expansion of the pattern: năm—pla—na—khău, as described above, with pla and na for the tie-rhyme between the first two verses. But at this point come in the intricate rules of rhyme in stanzaic verse. Khău determines not only the tie-rhyme which is to link the two couplets together (in khău—chău), but the end-rhyme (ău) of verse 3 as well. There are thus two rhymes and five rhyming words in this short stanza. Had this been a stanza of a continuous poem, there should have been two rhymes more to link it with the stanzas preceding and following.

It is scarcely necessary to remark how well these terse, Proverbs and maxims. balanced, and metrical forms serve the purposes of proverbial and aphoristic utterance, the pithy maxims of policy and of life. The reputed sayings of King Alfred and of Phră Ruăng are here alike in point. Their form not merely makes them more impressive, but makes it possible to remember and repeat them. There is little doubt that the three examples last cited were actually quoted by the Prince from a mass of current "saws" concerning the methods and results of just government[15].

Contrary to what might be expected, these poetic forms Function of poetic form in prose. are no unwarranted invasion of the realm of prose. Like any other poetic quotation or allusion, they serve rather to mark very rally elevation of thought, the touch of lyric feeling, a glimpse of the ideal. This function is finely shown in a passage already cited, (ll. 18—19) which begins the sketch of a happy and prosperous realm under a kind and just government; and again in the Epilogue, where, as we pause to take our last look at the Prince, it seems as though he were already a memory in the hearts of his people. The stately, measured words in which are summed up the aims of his life read like an echo of the closing verses of the Book of Deuteronomy.

If we pass from form to content, the most striking feature Objectivity and visualization. of the diction is, no doubt, its concreteness, its objectivity. Everything touched upon is visualized—is realized in terms of space, action, and motion. This is true even of the lyric passages of which we have been speaking But it is much more true when the Prince's thought is free to range at will. Then it is ever "this city of Sŭkhothăi," "this grove of palm trees," "this stone slab," "the bell hung up there," "the forest-monastery yonder." The demonstratives, in fact, seem to be the most hard-worked word sin his whole vocabulary. It is the same when he recalls the battle so narrowly retrieved, in which, as a mere stripling, he won his spurs and his name. He there sees the movements as "to left" and "to right." He sees the soldiers "flee, beaten and cowering." The elephants are "driven." The lad "urges his way into the fight ahead of his father." It is "a thrust of a weapon hurled" that disables the opposing elephant and turns the tide of battle. It is the same when he recounts the glories of his capital city. There are, of course, the noble temple grounds and buildings, the palace, the market place, the "groves of tamarind and mango, fair as if made to look at." But his real interest is in the moving spectacles, in scenes of thronging human life and motion—the imposing ceremonies at the consecration of the inscribed stones, and at the taking of the oath of fealty; the illuminations and fireworks "when the Prince burns candles, when he plays with fire;" the great city gates when stormed by the tremendous rush of people surging through to see the spectacle. And in the midst of all, that inimitable touch revealing the very heart of an artist and poet,—that "gushing rock-spring of water as clear and as good to drink of as is the Khong in the dry season[16].


The most interesting thing in the whole writing is the man himself, Prince Khŭn Ram Khămhæng. The inscription commemorates his reign. He himself is the speaker, at least throughout the body of the document. The perspective is that of a man of large and generous nature looking back with not unreasonable satisfaction over a long and strenuous career. In it he has risen from being the youngest son of a petty feudal chieftain—as we gather from the atmosphere and background of the opening scenes—to a point where he challenges the allegiance of the whole Thăi race (ll. 99—100). His territory, at first not stretching further than twenty miles from his father's stronghold, includes at last an area quite comparable in extent to that held by Siam today, and not greatly different from that[17]. Had this been all, he would not command from us more attention than we give to many another bold adventurer who has done as much or more. But of his battles and campaigns—which no doubt were many—there is no parade whatever. If the Epilogue be the work of another hand, as indeed seems likely, there is no mention of them at all in the Prince's writing, save in that one opening scene wherein he slyly laughs at his own boyish presumption and lack of decorum. Whoever wrote the Epilogue, the ambition there ascribed to him "to become lord and ruler unto all the Thăi" was undoubtedly his. But it was coupled with the nobler ambition "to become preceptor and instructor to teach all the Thăi to know true righteousness," "to plant and rear the host of the sons of his city and realm to be in accord with righteousness, every one."

This capacity for a noble idealism is everywhere apparent throughout this all too brief writing. It is seen in the Prince's. choice of the things he deems most memorable in all his reign:—the invention of writing; the solemn reverence paid by him and by his people to the sacred relics—symbols of the best and the highest they knew in human life and character; and the consecration and setting up of the inscribed stones which were to record in Siamese words the achievement of a united Siam. It is seen in the love of justice and the passion for righteousness which everywhere flash forth from the writing. It is seen in his unaffected delight in the prosperity of his realm, the piety and the happiness of his people. It is seen in the loving pride with which he regards his schollarly Măhathen, "who had studied the Tripitaka unto its end." It is this capacity for a noble idealism, together with the enthusiasms inseparable from it, which constitute the Prince's real claim to distinction—a claim which I feel sure no one who reads the record will disallow. We need not enquire how far the actual performance fell short of the inward vision. Fall short it must. But to have known and loved the Highest, and with all one's heart to have striven to establish that Highest in the world, is distinction high enough for any man.—Indeed there is no higher.

But I detain you too long among these preliminaries. Let us hear the Prince himself.

  1. See Notes, ll. 51—52.
  2. The practice of setting of identical monuments in different places is illustrated also in the case of the other Sukhothai inscription, already referred to above as standing beside our stone in the Sala at Wat Phra Kæo. A duplicate of it—but in Siamese—has recently been discovered, and there is no reason yet to despair of finding one or more of the duplicates of our stone.
  3. Translated from หนังสือ พระราชประวัติ พระบาทสมเด็จ พระเจ้าแผ่นดิน ๔ รัชกาล pp. 306—308. The reference in the last sentence is to the other stone. I am quite at a loss to understand how it is that the Siamese generally seem to value so highly Prince Kamaradeng At and his Khamen inscription.
  4. The recently discovered duplicate of the other Sukhothai stone referred to above, p. 4, has had one of its faces so entirely worn down by the same misuse, that nothing can now be made out of the writing which was once on it. As for rough usage in transportation, any one who has watched the handling of recent "finds," would simply stand aghast.
  5. Three letters only project at all above the line:—ป, ฝ, and ฟ.
  6. This occurs regularly in certain vowel combinations (where the result is really to make a new unit, as in the case of our diphthongs æ and œ); it occurs somewhat frequently in the case of an อ or a ย directly following a vertical stroke; but rather rarely in other consonantal combinations. This practice has entirely disappeared in standard modern Siamese; but it continued in the north throughout the whole of the period of the so-called Fak Kham letters, until those gave way at last to the modern round Lao writing.
  7. This is due chiefly to the fact that the vowels which now are written above or below the consonants that lead them in pronounciation, in this writing all stand in the line, and precede their consonants.
  8. The inscription distinguishes thirteen simple vowels and eleven diphthongs as follows:–a) อา, อะ with อำ and อนน (for อัน), all symbols for short a in different combinations; ◌ิอ, ◌ีอ, อื, ◌ุอ, ◌ูอ, เอ, แอ, โอ, อก (short o), ออ, ◌ืเอก (for เอิก); and b) เอา, อาว, อยว (for เอียว), แอว; ไอ and ใอ, อาย, อวย, โอย, ออย; อยย (for เอีย), ◌ืเออ and ◌ีเออ (for เอือ), in variant spellings of the same word. Modern Siamese writing distinguishes further the simple short vowels: อึ, เอะ, แอะ, เอาะ, เออะ; and the diphthongs: อิว, เอว, เอือย, อุย เอย.
  9. There is quite a series of the Sukhothai inscriptions, following this of Prince Ram Khamhæng; but in none of them, so far as I can ascertain, do the vowels retain their places in the line. I find it difficult to accept Père Schmitt's conclusion from this fact (Mission Pavie, II:177) that the reduction of the vowels to the line was no part of the Prince's scheme, but rather a mere variation introduced by the stone cutter who "a voulu faciliter par là son travail, et donner de la netteté à ses caractères." Such presumption in dealing with his master's pet invention is hardly to be expected on the part of a workman who might be sure that his meddling would not escape his master's scrutiny.
  10. The very first line reveals uncertainity as to how an initial vowel should be rendered:—◌ีนทรา for อีนทรา. A very puzzling variation occurs ll. 51—53 and 63—66. in the spelling of a now famous word, อรัญญิก. These cases are all considered in the Notes. But the greatest uncertainty, or perhaps carelessness, is found in the use of the tonal accents, which are exchanged almost at random, or are omitted entirely. This last is equally true of the "tails" of the sibilants and of f and p: but this, of course, is a lapsus manus merely.
  11. See a statement as to its origin, with a note thereon by the editor, in Phongsawadan Yonok, p. 95.
  12. Since the matter is of some moment, it may be well to state the grounds on which words have been admitted to group 4. They are 1) Long domiciliation of the word and familiar use of it within the Thai area, especially if supported by evidence of the appearance of the word in the related dialects. 2) Use of the word in the metrical and linked phrases, or in the assonant or alliterative "jingles" peculiar to Thai speech, since these are almost invariably old or constructed out of native materials. 3) Appearance in the word of the peculiar Thai vowels or diphthongs. This last, of course, is conclusive only as against certain foreign origins. These same criteria have determined also the selection of certain words noted as native or naturalized from groups 1 and 2. The obvious criticism upon this method is that the question of purity is thereby judged by the nineteenth century instead of by the thirteenth. But the thirteenth century can no longer by any possibility be brought to sit in judgment on the case; and if it could, it is not likely that the result would be very different as concerns the overwhelming preponderance of the native element. Those who may care to review the case will find the complete lists at the end of the paper.
  13. This tendency is strikingly exemplified in the recurrent forms of ballad literature everywhere.
  14. Least sonorous of all is the word that ends with a stopped consonant k, t, or p. Of words otherwise equal the one with the long vowel, or the one whose vowel is followed by a sonorous nasal—n, m, or ng,—is given the final position.
  15. Since the above was written there has come unexpected confirmation of this statement. In looking casually over some fragments of inscriptions which arrived a few days ago at the Royal Library, l was surprised and pleased to light upon the precise duplicate of the second of the three referred to, the one found in ll. 27—28.
  16. The Me Khong is fed by melting snows on the slopes north of the Himalaya. When its spring flood is over, I am told that it runs clear and cold. But in such a matter I should be quite willing to take the word of a man with eyes and heart like those of the Prince. Only one who had seen and tasted and felt could have spoken so.
  17. Phitsanulok, distant about twenty miles from Sukhothai to the south-east, is named in the list of places added by the Prince to his realm. The fact that the name of Si Sachanalai, at about the same distance to the north, does not appear as part of the Prince's style and title until we find ourselves among the later events of his reign, leads us to count it also as a city that he had recently won. Tak, at a little greater distance to the west, seems to have been contested ground at the opening of the story.
    In comparison with Siam of today, the Prince's territory in its northern portion was considerably larger, reaching as it did from beyond the Me Khong (ll. 115—116) to Pegu and the ocean (l. 120), and including the valley of the U, the great northern affluent of the Khong (l. 100). At the same time, it did not include the Chiangmai-Chiangrai area, which at this time was dominated by the picturesque and famous Meng Rai, who founded Chiangmai in 1296 A.D., only three years later than our date. In the Menam delta, the list includes nothing to the east and south-east of the Phitsanulok-Nakhawnsawan-Suphan-Thachin line,—nothing, that is, to the east of the western delta-stream. The omission of Lawo (Lophburi) is also significant. The forces which brought about the supremacy of Ayuthia, and with it the downfall of Sukhothai, were, no doubt already at work, though the city of Ayuthia was not founded until sixty years later; that is, in 1350 A.D.