Thai language

From Academic Kids

Thai (ภาษาไทย)
Spoken in: Thailand
Region:  --
Total speakers: 46–50 million
Ranking: 24
Genetic classification: Tai-Kadai

      East Central
       Chiang Saeng

Official status
Official language of: Thailand
Regulated by: --
Language codes
ISO 639-1th
ISO 639-2tha
See also: LanguageList of languages

The Thai language is the official language of Thailand. The Thai name for the language is ภาษาไทย (phasa thai, meaning "the language of Thais"). Thai is part of the Tai languages group of the Tai-Kadai language family. The Tai-Kadai languages are thought to have originated in southern China, and some linguists have proposed links to the Austroasiatic, Austronesian, or Sino-Tibetan language families. It is a tonal and analytic language. The combination of tonality, complex orthography, relational markers and a different phonology can make Thai a difficult language for Westerners to learn.


Languages and Dialects

Standard Thai, also known as Central Thai or Siamese, is the official language of Thailand, spoken by about 25 million people (1990) including speakers of Bangkok Thai (although the latter is sometimes considered as a separate dialect). Khorat Thai is spoken by about 400,000 (1984) in Nakhon Ratchasima; it occupies a linguistic position somewhere between Central Thai and Isan, and may be considered a dialect of either.

In addition to Standard Thai, Thailand is home to several other related Tai languages, including:

  • Isan (Northeastern Thai), the language of the Isan region of Thailand, is considered by some to be a dialect of the Lao language, which it closely resembles. It is spoken by about 15 million people (1983).
  • L (Tai Lue, Dai), spoken by about 78,000 (1993) in northern Thailand.
  • Northern Thai (Lanna, Kam Mueang, or Tai Yuan), spoken by about 6 million (1983).
  • Phuan, spoken by an unknown number of people in central Thailand and Isan.
  • Phu Thai, spoken by about 156,000 around Nakhon Phanom province (1993).
  • Shan (Thai Luang, Tai Long), spoken by about 56,000 in north-west Thailand (1993).
  • Song, spoken by about 20,000 to 30,000 in central and northern Thailand(1982).
  • Southern Thai (Pak Dtai or Dambro), spoken about 5 million (1990).
  • Tai Dam, spoken by about 20,000 (1991) in Isan and Saraburi province.

Statistics are from Ethnologue 2003-10-4 ( Many of these languages are spoken by larger numbers outside Thailand. Most speakers of dialects and minority languages speak Central Thai in addition.

Within Standard Thai, there are different forms for different social contexts:

  • Street Thai: informal, without polite terms of address, as used between close relatives and friends.(ภาษาพูด)
  • Elegant Thai: official and written version, includes respectful terms of address; used in simplified form in newspapers.(ภาษาเขียน)
  • Rhetorical Thai: used for public speaking.
  • Sacred Thai.
  • Royal Thai. (ราชาศัพท์)

Less educated Thais can speak only at the first level. Few can speak the Sacred or Royal versions.


Main article: Thai alphabet

The Thai alphabet derived from the Khmer alphabet (อักขระเขมร), which is modeled after the Brahmic script from the Indic family. Much like the Burmese adopted the Mon script (which also has Indic origins), the Thais adopted and modified Khmer script to create their own writing system. While the oldest known inscription in the Khmer language dates from 611 CE, inscriptions in Thai writing began to appear around 1292 CE. Notable features include:

  1. It is an abugida script, in which the implicit vowel is a short /a/ for consonants standing alone and a short /o/ if the initial consonant or cluster is followed by another consonant.
  2. Tone markers are placed above the initial consonant of a syllable or on the last consonant of an initial consonant cluster.
  3. Vowels associated with consonants are nonsequential: they can be located before, after, above or below their associated consonant, or in a combination of these positions.

The latter in particular causes problems for computer encoding and text rendering.

There is no universal standard for transliterating Thai into English. For example, the name of King Rama IX, the present monarch, is transliterated variously as Bhumibol, Phumiphon, or many other versions. Guide books, text books and dictionaries may each follow different systems. For this reason, most language courses recommend that learners master the Thai alphabet. In scholarly usage, French scholars tend to romanize Thai with a letter-for-letter transcription according to the original Sanskrit value of the characters. Anglophone scholars generally prefer either a simplified phonetic rendering or some variation on the International Phonetic Alphabet. This article uses a simplified IPA system which does not indicate tone or vowel quantity.

The Thai Royal Institute [1] ( publishes sets of rules for transliterating Thai words into the Roman alphabet and vice versa (the Royal Thai General System of Transcription), but these are far from universally applied.

The ISO published an international standard for the transliteration of Thai into Roman script in September 2003 [2] (


From the perspective of linguistic typology, Thai can be considered to be an analytic language. The word order is Subject-Verb-Object, although the subject is often omitted. As in many Asian languages, the Thai pronominal system varies according to the sex and relative status of speaker and audience.


Adjectives follow the noun. A duplicated adjective is used for emphasis, e.g. คนอ้วนๆ (khon uan uan)- "a really fat person."

Comparatives take the form "A X กว่า (gwa) B" (A is more X than B). The superlative is expressed as A X ที่สุด (theesut).


Verbs do not inflect (i.e. do not change with person, tense, voice, mood or number) nor are there any participles. Duplication conveys the idea of doing the verb a lot. The passive voice is indicated by the insertion of โดน (dohn) or ถูก (thuuk) before the verb. Tense is conveyed by tense markers before or after the verb: กำลัง (gamlang) before the verb for ongoing action (like English -ing form) or อยู่ (yuu) after the verb for the present; จะ (ja) before the verb for the future; ได้ (dai) before the verb (or a time expression) for the past.


Many adverbs are expressed by a duplicated adjective. Adverbs usually follow the verb.


Nouns are uninflected and have no gender; there are no plural forms or articles. Plurals are expressed by adding "nouns of multitude" (ลักษณนาม) or classifiers in the form of noun-number-classifier, e.g. "teacher five person" for "five teachers".

While in English, such classifiers are usually absent ("four chairs") or optional ("two bottles of beer" or "two beers"), a classifier is almost always used in Thai (hence "chair four item" and "beer two bottle").


Subject pronouns are often omitted, while nicknames are often used where English would use a pronoun. There are specialised pronouns in the royal and sacred Thai languages. The following are appropriate for conversational use:

  • ผม (phom) = I/me (masculine)
  • ดิฉัน (di-chan) = I/me (feminine)
  • ฉัน (chan) = I/me (masculine or feminine; informal)
  • คุณ (khun) = you (polite)
  • เธอ (thœ) = you (informal)
  • เรา (rao) = we
  • เขา (khao) = he/she
  • มัน (man) = it
  • พวกเขา (phuak-khao) = they
  • พี่ (phee) = older brother or sister (often used loosely for older non-relatives)
  • น้อง (nong) = younger brother or sister (often used loosely for younger non-relatives)


The particles are often untranslatable words added to the end of a sentence to indicate respect, a request, encouragement or other moods (similar to the use of intonation in English), as well as varying the level of formality. They are not used in written Thai. The most common particles indicating respect are ครับ (pronounced "khrap", with a high tone, the "r" sound is usually omitted) for a man, and ค่ะ (pronounced "kha" with a falling tone) for a woman; these can also be used to indicate an affirmative.

Other common particles are:

  • จ๊ะ (ja) indicating a request;
  • จ้ะ, จ้า or จ๋า (ja) indicating emphasis;
  • ละ or ล่ะ (la) indicating emphasis;
  • สิ (si) indicating emphasis or an imperative; and
  • นะ (na) indicating a request.


Template:IPA notice


There are five phonemic tones: middle, low, high, rising and falling. They are indicated in the written script by a combination of the class of the initial consonant (high, mid or low), vowel length (long or short), closing consonant (unvoiced/plosive or voiced/sonorant) and sometimes one of four tone marks. The tonal rules are shown in the following chart:

tone of syllable initial consonant
tone marksyllable compositionhigh classmid classlow class
nonelong vowel or vowel plus sonorant rising mid mid
nonelong vowel plus plosive low low falling
noneshort vowel at end or plus plosive low low high
mai ek (–่)any low low falling
mai tho (–้)any falling falling high
mai tri (–๊)any high high high
mai chattawa (–๋)any rising rising rising

The letters ห (high class) and sometimes อ (mid class) are used as silent letters before another consonant to produce the correct tone. In polysyllabic words, an initial high class consonant with an implicit vowel renders the following syllable also high class.

There are a few exceptions to this system, notably the pronouns chan and khao, which are both pronounced with a high tone rather than the rising tone indicated by the script.


Thai distinguishes among three voice/aspiration patterns for plosive consonants:

  • unvoiced, unaspirated
  • unvoiced, aspirated
  • voiced, unaspirated

Where English has only a distinction between the voiced, unaspirated and the unvoiced, aspirated , Thai distinguishes a third sound which is neither voiced nor aspirated, which occurs in English only as an allophone of , approximately the sound of the p in "spin." There is similarly an alveolar , , triplet. In the velar series there is a , pair and in the postalveolar series the , pair.

In each cell below, the first line indicates IPA, the second indicates the Thai characters in initial position (more letters appearing in the same box have identical pronunciation).

Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal











ฉ, ช, ฌ



* the glottal plosive is implied after a short vowel without final, or the silent อ before a vowel.


The basic vowels of the Thai language, from front to back and close to open, are given in the following table, The top entry in every cell is the symbol from the International phonetic alphabet, the second entry gives the spelling in the Thai alphabet, where a dash (–) indicates the position of the initial consonant after which the vowel is pronounced. A second dash indicates that a final consonant must follow.

  Front Central Back
(–ี, –ิ)

(–ื, –ึ)

(–ู, –ุ)
(เ–, เ–ะ)
(โ–, โ–ะ)
(แ–, แ–ะ)

(เ–ิ –, เ–ิอ)

(–อ, เ–าะ)
(–า, –ะ)
(–ั, รร)

The vowels each exist in long-short pairs: these are distinct phonemes forming unrelated words in Thai, but usually transliterated the same: เขา (khao) means he or she, while ขาว (khao) means white.

The long-short pairs are as follows:

Long Short
Thai IPA Explanation Thai IPA Explanation
–า a in "father" –ะ u in "nut"
–ี ee in "see" –ิ y in "greedy"
–ู ue in "blue" –ุ oo in "look"
เ– a in "lame" เ–ะ e in "set"
แ– <td>a in "ham" แ–ะ a in "at"
–ื u in French "dur" (long) –ึ u in French "du" (short)
เ–อ u in "burn" (long) เ–อะ u in "burn" (short)
โ– ow in "bowl" โ–ะ oa in "boat"
–อ aw in "raw" เ–าะ o in "for"

The basic vowels can be combined into diphthongs as follows:

Long Short
Thai IPA Explanation Thai IPA Explanation
–าย I in "I" (stressed) ไ–, ใ–, ไ–ย I in "I"
–าว ao in "Lao" เ–า ow in "cow"
เ–ีย ea in "ear" (long) เ–ียะ ea in "ear"
–ิว ew in "new" (short)
–ัว ewe in "newer" –ัวะ ure in "pure" (short)
–ูย ooee in "cooee!" –ุย uey in "bluey"
เ–ว a in "lame" + o in "poke" เ–็ว e in "set" + o in "poke"
แ–ว a in "ham" + o in "poke"
เ–ือ u in French "dur" + a in "father"
เ–ย u in "burn" + y in "yes"
–อย oy in "boy" (long)
โ–ย oe in "Chloe"

Additionally, there are three triphthongs, all of which are long:

Thai IPA Explanation
เ–ียว ee + aow
–วย oo + I in "I"
เ–ือย u in French "dur" + I in "I"

For a guide to written vowels, see the Thai alphabet page.


Other than compound words and words of foreign origin, most words are monosyllabic. Historically, words have most often been imported from Sanskrit and Pali; Buddhist terminology was a particularly fruitful source of these. Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, the English language has been the greatest influence.

Thailand also uses a distinctive six hour clock in addition to the 24 hour clock.


  • Higbie, James and Thinsan, Snea. Thai Reference Grammar. The Structure of Spoken Thai. Bangkok: Orchid Press, 2003. ISBN 9748304965.
  • Segaller, Denis. Thai Without Tears: A Guide to Simple Thai Speaking. Bangkok: BMD Book Mags, 1999. ISBN 9748711528.
  • Smyth, David. Thai. An Essential Grammar. London: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0415226147.

External links


bg:Тайски език de:Thailndische Sprache et:Tai keel eo:Taja lingvo fi:Thain kieli fr:Tha ms:Bahasa Thai nl:Thai (taal) id:Bahasa Thailand ja:タイ語 sv:Thailndska th:ภาษาไทย zh:泰语 pl:Język tajski


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools