thailand language

What is the Language Spoken in Thailand?

(Last Updated On: January 5, 2024)

The Language Spoken in Thailand – An Introduction to the Thai Language

Thailand has over 120 dialects, so Thai people from different regions have difficulty understanding each other. However, the official language of Thailand, the national language is spoken in Bangkok and throughout the entire country, is Thai. Let’s look at some interesting facts about this official language and how it differs from its dialects.

What is spoken in Thailand?

The official language of Thailand is a Sino-Tibetan language called Standard Thai. Thailand has over 20 dialects and indigenous languages spoken within its borders; of these, eight are official languages with standardized writing systems, including Central Thai, Northeastern Thai, Northern Khmer (Kham Muang), and Southern Khmer (Kham Um), Buriram dialect, Khorat dialect, and Isan. This can make it challenging for visitors to learn basic greetings or begin conversations.

Indigenous and Minority Languages Thailand

Thailand’s indigenous and minority languages include Akha, Aslian, Cham, Hmong/Miao/Meo, Karen/Karenni (Sgaw), Lisu, Tai Lü (Tai Nung), Lawang, and Mulao. Deaf people also use Chiangmai Sign Language.

Sign language is incompatible with other forms of sign language in Thailand, such as Bangkok Sign Language or Northern Thailand Sign Language. There are five dialects of the Chinese language that are spoken by the descendants of immigrants from southern China who came during different periods of Siam’s history. These dialects are Yue, Hakka, Taishanese, Shanghainese, and Cantonese.

what language thailand speak

Immigrant Language

What Are The Origins Of The Thai Language?

The Thai language is a fascinating blend of several different influences. Its origins can be traced back to several sources, including Sanskrit, Pali, and Old Khmer. In addition, the Thai language has also been influenced by Chinese and more recent European languages such as English. As a result, the Thai language is a unique and complex mix of different influences.

One of the most critical influences on the Thai language is Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language used in religious texts and ceremonies. Many of the words in the Thai language have been borrowed from Sanskrit, including words for important concepts such as “dharma” and “karma.” In addition, the Thai alphabet is also derived from the Sanskrit alphabet.

Another significant influence on the Thai language is Pali. Pali is a language that was used by Buddhist scholars in India. Many religious terms in the Thai language come from Pali, such as “Buddha” and “Dhamma.” In addition, the Thai script is also based on the Pali script.

The Thai language has also been influenced by Old Khmer. Old Khmer is the common language of the Khmer people, the largest ethnic group in Cambodia. Many of the words in the Thai language that are related to the monarchy and government are borrowed from Old Khmer. In addition, the Thai alphabet is also derived from the Old Khmer alphabet.

What are some common phrases?

A couple of common phrases that are useful while traveling and even while living in Thailand are Sawasdee, which is an informal greeting that means Hello, and Mai pen rai, which means never mind or no problem. Both phrases have entered English as well. If you hear someone say I’ll be back and they walk away, you can respond with Sawasdee, meaning to see you later. The phrase Mai pen rai has been adopted by some parts of American culture to signal that everything’s all right (or if it isn’t, forget about it).

what do people in thailand speak

The Thai Language And Its Major Dialects

Thai language is a complex and exciting primary language with many different dialects. There are three main dialects of Thai: Central Thai, Northern Thai, and Isan Thai. Each dialect has unique features and is spoken in different parts of Thailand.

Central Thai is the Thai dialect spoken in the capital city of Bangkok and the central region of Thailand. This dialect is the standard form of Thai and is used in education, the media, and government. Central Thai has a more formal tone than the other Thai dialects and is the most commonly spoken form of Thai.

Northern Thai is spoken in the northern region of Thailand. This Malay dialect is less formal than Central Thai and has a more relaxed tone. Northern Thai has many loanwords from the Lao language and has a unique sound.

Isan Thai is spoken in the northeastern region of Thailand. This dialect is similar to Lao and has many loanwords from that language. Isan Thai is a more casual dialect often used in informal situations.

Other Languages Spoken In Thailand Besides Thai

There are many languages spoken in Thailand besides Thai. These include English, Chinese, Burmese, Lao, Khmer, Mon, and Vietnamese. Each of these languages has a unique history and is spoken by a different group of people in Thailand.

In the nineteenth century, as Thailand embraced modernity, standard Thai language courses evolved to accommodate a diverse linguistic landscape, including the influence of Thai Chinese speakers and the linguistic legacies dating back to the 13th century, highlighting the rich tapestry of other languages spoken in Thailand besides Thai.

English

With over 50 million people, Thailand is the 20th most populous country in the world. What’s more, the English language is the most widely spoken second language in Thailand. This is due to several factors, including the country’s history, proximity to other English-speaking countries, and educational commitment.

A significant reason why the English language is so widely spoken in Thailand is because of the country’s history. For centuries, Thailand was ruled by various empires, including the British and the Americans. As a result, the English language became entrenched in Thai society. Even after Thailand gained independence, the English language continued to be taught in schools and used in the government and business sectors.

Another reason why English is so widely spoken in Thailand is because of the country’s proximity to other English-speaking countries. Thailand is in Southeast Asia, home to several English-speaking nations, such as Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. This makes it easy for Thais to interact with people from other English-speaking countries.

Chinese

A large number of people in Thailand speak Chinese. It is one of the most popular languages in the country. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that Thailand has many Chinese immigrants and the two countries have a lot of trade and cultural ties. One of the main reasons that Chinese is so prevalent in Thailand is the large number of Chinese immigrants. Many of these immigrants come from southern China, and they bring with them their language and culture. This has made Chinese one of the most commonly spoken languages in Thailand.

Burmese

Burmese spoken in Thailand is a language that is spoken by the ethnic Burmese people who live in Thailand. There are an estimated 300,000 Burmese speakers in Thailand, making it one of the largest Burmese-speaking communities outside of Myanmar. The Burmese language is a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family and is closely related to other languages spoken in Southeast Asia, such as Thai and Lao.

Burmese spoken in Thailand has been influenced by Thai and other languages spoken in the region, such as Mon and Karen. As a result, the Burmese spoken in Thailand is not identical to the Burmese spoken in Myanmar. However, the two varieties of Burmese are mutually intelligible, meaning that speakers of one type can understand speakers of the other.

How difficult is it to learn Thai?

The goal of today’s post is to give you a good understanding of just how difficult it can be for an English speaker to learn Thai. Hopefully, by reading through it, you’ll be able to find out if learning Thai will fit into your busy schedule or not. There are plenty of spoken languages that people want to learn, but they don’t make it because they’re too complicated. That is one of those foreign languages. It’s been around for over 2,000 years and has over 40 dialects within its country alone! For beginners, most textbooks introduce 3,000 words that would take about one year to master. But most books also contain around 10,000 vocabulary words which learners would need five years to finish mastering! That said, anyone who wants to learn this significant language should set aside some time and put in some hard work!

Which alphabet does the Thai use?

It depends on what region of Thailand you’re referring to. The Northern Thai language is an abugida, meaning consonants carry more stress than vowels and are written with a different alphabet from that used in Central or Southern Thailand. In these regions, Thai uses a modified version of the Khmer alphabet. More recently, modern technology has allowed for variations of both alphabets to be developed for use online. Learning how to read Thai can take years of study. If you’re not up for that, there are plenty of great resources available online where anyone can type in their native language and have it automatically translated into Thai!

Words and writing

One of the most exciting things about Thai is its unique alphabet. Unlike most international languages, which use some form of the Latin alphabet, Thai uses an alphabet of 44 consonants and 32 vowels. This can make learning to read and write Thai a challenge for beginners!  Another exciting feature of Thai is its tonal system. Thai is a tonal language, meaning a word’s meaning can change depending on the tone it is spoken with.

There are five tones in Thai: high, middle, low, rising, and falling. This can make it difficult for non-native speakers to communicate appropriately. Thai is a very concise independent language. In Thai, it is common to use single words to convey complex ideas. This can make Thai seem simple, but it can be challenging to master.

In the words and writing of the Thai language, silent letters, often remnants of Latin letters, play a role in closed syllables. At the same time, the functional aspects of aspect markers contribute to linguistic richness. This linguistic complexity has a notable influence on trade and is deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of Chiang Mai City Life.

language in thailand

Thai literature

Thai literature has a long and storied history, with works dating back hundreds of years. Thai literature offers various genres and styles to enjoy from traditional folktales to more modern novels.

Thai literature is rooted in oral tradition, with many of the earliest works being folktales and legends passed down from generation to generation. One of the most famous is the Ramakien, a national epic based on the Hindu Ramayana. Other early works include the Trai Phum Phra Ruang, a collection of folktales, and the Jataka Tales, a series of moral stories.

Over the centuries, Thai literature has evolved to include several different genres. One of the most popular is the lakorn, a Thai opera that combines music, dance, and drama. Other genres include poetry, short stories, and novels. Some of the most famous Thai works include the poetry of Sunthorn Phu, the lakorns of Khun Chang Khun Phaen, and the books of Duanwad Pimwan.

Thai literature has significantly impacted Thai culture, shaping the country’s values and beliefs. For example, the Ramakien is considered an essential part of Thai identity, and the Jataka Tales are still used as moral lessons for children. Thai literature also provides a window into the country’s history and way of life, giving readers a better understanding of Thai culture.

In Southeast Asia, the influence of Central Tai languages on Thai literature can be traced back to the 13th century, intensifying in the 16th century and continuing to shape modern language courses offered by language schools. By the 19th century, non-European languages, especially non-Indo-European languages, gained recognition, prompting institutions like Harvard University and Cambridge University Press to contribute grammar books and guide books to preserve and understand the linguistic nuances.

This rich literary heritage has found a digital presence through platforms like Google Books, highlighting its enduring influence in literature and the broader context of trade and cultural exchange.

Lao Language

Lao, also known as Laotian, is a tonal language of the Tai–Kadai family. It is spoken in Laos, as well as by minorities in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. Lao is the official language of Laos and is also spoken by the Lao diaspora in other countries. There are three main dialects of Lao: Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Champasak. Vientiane is the dialect of Lao used as the standard and is the most widely spoken.

Luang Prabang is spoken in the Luang Prabang Province of Laos, while Champasak is spoken in the Champasak Province. Lao has a complex writing system, including an alphabet and logograms. The Lao alphabet is derived from the Mon-Khmer script and consists of 33 consonants and 12 vowels. Lao also uses a large number of logograms, which are derived from Chinese characters.

Lao is a tonal language, which means that the meaning of a word can change depending on the tone that is used. There are six tones in Lao: high, mid, low, rising, falling, and final. Lao is also a syllable-timed language, meaning each syllable is given equal stress.

Lao has a complex system of honorifics and politeness markers. Honorifics are used to show respect to someone who is of a higher social status/social context, while politeness markers are used to show respect to someone who is of a lower social status. Lao also has a system of kinship terms, which are used to establish relationships between people.

Dialects of Thailand

Thailand indeed has a national language of its own, but most people don’t know that several different primary dialects are spoken throughout Thailand. Over 200 different regional dialects have been identified. However, there are two specific dialects that most foreigners will hear and understand: Northeastern (Isaan) and Central Standard Thai. The Northeastern (Isaan) dialect originates from northeastern Thailand and parts of Laos and Cambodia. Another common element among Thai dialects is using different versions of words based on familiarity or social context. Isan, a Thai dialect of Lao, and Phu Thai are the native tongues of the northeast. At the same time, Northern Thai is spoken in the northern provinces that were initially a part of the autonomous kingdom of Lan Na.

The relationship of Tai languages to other language families

The Tai languages are a large family with many languages spoken in southern China, Southeast Asia, and parts of India. The Tai languages are closely related to each other and also to the Chinese language. There are three main contexts to consider when looking at the relationship of Tai languages to other language families:

1. The Tai languages are part of the Sino-Tibetan family, including Chinese and Tibetan.

2. The Tai languages are also related to the Austronesian language family, including those spoken in Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

3. Chinese and Austronesian language families have influenced the Tai languages.

The Tai languages are part of the 26th Sino-Tibetan family, including Chinese and Tibetan. The Sino-Tibetan language family is one of the most prominent language families in the world, and it is thought that the Tai language split off from the Chinese language around 3,000 years ago. The Tai languages and the Chinese language influence are closely related to each other. This is evident in the similarities between the common languages, their grammar, and their vocabulary. For example, “person” in the Tai language is very similar to “person” in Chinese.

In the 19th century, scholars at Oxford University Press explored the intricate relationships of Tai languages, uncovering the historical connections between Central Tai and Southwestern Tai and observing the evolution of consonant letters from Middle Chinese influences. The standard dialect, evident in road signs and linguistic patterns such as “kham mueang,” played a pivotal role in shaping the language spoken by Thai Chinese communities in Ubon Ratchathani since the 16th century, highlighting the dynamic linguistic landscape within the broader context of language families.

The Tai languages are also related to the Austronesian language family, which includes national languages spoken in Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The Austronesian language family is thought to have originated in Taiwan, and the Tai languages are thought to have split off from this family around 2,000 years ago.

The similarities between the Tai and Austronesian languages are most evident in the vocabulary. For example, “water” in the Tai languages is very similar to “water” in the Austronesian languages. When writing Northern Thai using the Thai script, the distinction between the five-level tone value is lost because Northern Thai has two falling original tones while Central Thai only has one. This is the main difference in the language structure.

The Chinese and Austronesian language families have influenced the Tai languages. The influence of the Chinese language is most evident in the grammar of the Tai languages, while the influence of the Austronesian languages is most evident in the vocabulary. For example, “person” in the Tai language is very similar to “person” in Chinese. However, the word for “water” in the Tai languages is very similar to “water” in the Austronesian languages.

language spoken in thailand

Endangered languages of Thailand

A recent study shows over two hundred languages are spoken in Thailand. Of those, however, only seventy are considered “living languages,” meaning they are still spoken by people daily.

The other hundred and thirty are considered “endangered,” meaning they are only spoken by older generations and are in danger of becoming extinct. In this essay, we will discuss three of the most endangered languages in Thailand and what is being done to preserve them.

Southern Thai, a member of the Southwestern Tai languages spoken in Southeast Asia, faces the risk of becoming endangered, particularly in regions like Chiang Mai and Ubon Ratchathani, where the influence of modern languages has led to a decline in the number of language speakers and the 20th century witnessed a gradual shift away from Southern Thai as the language of education, contributing to the endangerment of this unique linguistic heritage, particularly among hill tribes and in the availability of language courses.

At Payap University, researchers at the Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistic Society explore the dynamic interplay between modern language speakers, particularly the Thai Chinese community, within the broader context of the 26th Sino-Tibetan Languages and their influence in trade, shedding light on the intricate linguistic landscape and endangered languages of Thailand. This research collaboration extends to institutions like Chulalongkorn University, contributing valuable insights documented in BMD Book Mags.

One of the most endangered languages in Thailand is called Tai Dam. It is spoken by the Tai Dam people, who are an ethnic minority group that lives in the northwestern part of the country. Only about sixty thousand Tai Dam people are left in the world, most of whom live in Vietnam. The language is not taught in schools, and only a handful of people still speak it fluently.

Another endangered language in Thailand is called Karen. It is spoken by the Karen people, who are an ethnic minority group that lives in the northeastern part of the country. Only about two hundred thousand Karen people are left in the world, most of whom live in Myanmar. The language is not taught in schools, and only a handful of people still speak it fluently.

The third endangered language in Thailand is called Hmong. It is spoken by the Hmong people, who are an ethnic minority group that lives in the northern part of the country. There are only about three hundred thousand Hmong people left in the world, and most of them live in Laos. The language is not taught in schools, and only a handful of people still speak it fluently.

FAQ’S

Do people speak English in Thailand?

In English, people speak English. But in Thailand, they speak a different language called Thai. In all of Southeast Asia (except Malaysia), English is not widely spoken.

How are Lao and Thai different?

Lao and Thai are two of Thailand’s official languages, but they are vastly different. Lao is a tonal language, meaning it changes depending on how it is spoken.

Do Thai speak Chinese?

Thai is not a Chinese dialect; it’s a member of the Tai-Kadai language family. Though, Thai and Mandarin have many similar words and characteristics of grammar that can make them seem related at first glance. Some Thai speakers do speak Cantonese as well because Hong Kong was a former British colony. So if you plan on learning Thai or traveling there for business, you’ll have an easier time getting around if you know some Mandarin.

Is it easy to learn Thai?

No, it is not easy to learn Thai. Many people who try to learn Thai find it very difficult. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that Thai is a tonal language with a complex writing system. However, if you are dedicated and willing to put in the effort, it is possible to learn Thai. With the right resources and approach, you can make progress in learning this fascinating language.

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