Thai language, also called Siamese, the standard spoken and literary language of Thailand, belonging to the Tai language family of Southeast Asia. It is based largely on the dialect of Bangkok and its environs in the central region of the country but retains certain consonant distinctions (such as l versus r, kl versus k), which are usually merged in the spoken language but preserved in the orthography. Other dialects, differing mostly in their tones and to some degree their consonants, are spoken in other major regions of the country. These are Northeastern (e.g., in Ubon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen), Northern (around Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai), and Southern (Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat). The Northeastern dialects are similar to those of Laos.
Thai words are predominantly monosyllabic, but many are polysyllabic. The language makes use of tones to distinguish between otherwise identical words. There are five distinct tones in Thai: mid, low, falling, high, and rising. There are 21 consonant sounds and 9 distinguishable vowel qualities. Inflection is completely lacking in Thai, but word-compounding occurs widely—e.g., khamnam ‘preface’ (literally, ‘word-leading’), and khâwcaj ‘understand’ (literally, ‘enter-heart’). Synonym compounds like hàaŋklaj ‘far distant’ and alliterative compounds like ramádrawaŋ ‘cautious’ add greatly to the expressiveness of the language. Thai word order is quite rigid. The typical sentence contains subject, verb, and object in that order—e.g., khǎw1 rian2 khanídtasàad3 ‘he1 studies2 mathematics3.’ Modifiers follow the words they modify, as in phaasǎa1 thaj2 ‘Thai2 language1’ or wîŋ1 rew2 ‘run1 fast2.’
Thai freely incorporates foreign words. Perhaps the oldest are Chinese, but recent Chinese loanwords also occur. Hundreds of elegant and literary words are taken from Pāli and Sanskrit, and new words are also coined from Sanskrit roots. There are also loanwords from Khmer (the official language of Cambodia), from 16th-century Portuguese, from Austronesian, and in modern times increasingly from English. The Thai alphabet (instituted in the 13th century ad) derives ultimately from the southern type of Indic script. Writing proceeds from left to right, and spaces indicate punctuation but not word division. The alphabet has 42 consonant signs, 4 tone markers, and many vowel markers.
What Language Is Spoken In Thailand?
There’s Thai. And then there are the other 72 languages.
The obvious answer to a question like “What language is spoken in Thailand?” is, well, Thai. Thai is the official language, and it’s spoken by the majority of Thailand’s residents. However, it’s rarely the case that you only encounter one language in a given country. Thailand is home to 73 living languages, 51 of which are indigenous. And that’s to say nothing of all the immigrant languages comprising the linguistic tapestry of this Southeast Asian country. Let’s get into the nuance of it all.
What Language Is Spoken In Thailand?
Thailand’s only official language is, by Ethnologue‘s count, spoken by approximately 88 percent of the country’s population of around 69 million people. Only 34 percent of Thai speakers in Thailand speak it as a native language.
Thai, also historically known as Siamese, is part of the larger Tai language family, and the “official” version spoken in Thailand is based on the dialect local to the Bangkok region.
Thai itself is not a monolith. There are different dialects spoken throughout the country, with large enough variation that speakers on different sides of the country might have trouble understanding one another. There are subtle differences in tones and consonants, with Thai being a tonal language where words change meaning depending on the tone. Regional Thai dialects include Phu Thai, Shan, Song, Isan, Southern Thai, Nyaw, Northern Thai, Phuan and Lu.
Thai is also made up of lots of foreign loanwords from other languages, including Chinese, Pāli, Sanskrit, Khmer, Portuguese, Austronesian, and more recently, English.
Indigenous And Minority Languages
Though some regional Thai dialects can kind of be considered minority languages in their own right, Thailand is also home to communities of Yawi (a Malay dialect), Teochew (which is rooted in Old Chinese) and Lao speakers, among other minority tongues.
Of the 51 indigenous tongues spoken in Thailand, there are five main discernible language families they can be sorted into. These include Austronesian, Hmong-Mien, Thai, Mon-Khmer and Sino-Tibetan.
The Hmong language, which belongs to the Hmong-Mien family, has as many as 3.7 million native speakers spread throughout several countries. Khmer, belonging to the Mon-Khmer family, has an even more impressive demographic count, numbering 16 million speakers throughout Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Thailand is also home to enclaves of foreign language speakers from other parts of the world. For instance, there are villages in Thailand where you’ll hear more Chinese than Thai.
The most common immigrant languages in Thailand are Burmese (at around 828,000 speakers), English, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, French and German, in that order.
English might not technically be as much an immigrant language as it is a common second language. Many Thai people study English in school or independently, and this is most apparent in the major business capital of Bangkok, as well as other major tourist hotspots.
What Are The Most Popular Languages Spoken In Thailand?
What are the languages spoken in Thailand? Have you asked yourself this question? If you have, this is the right place to learn!
The answer may seem obvious, since we all know that Thai is the country’s official language. However, as a country of over 60 million people and an area that spans from China to Malaysia, there is understandably a lot of diversity in Thailand’s languages. Whether formally or informally, these dialects are shaped by the country’s rich culture.
Sound interesting? I think it is! So let’s look at some of Thailand’s different dialects and languages.
Thai: The National Language
As you might already know, ‘Thai,’ is the most spoken language in Thailand. However, we can find many dialects across the country. These are the 4 most important dialects that you will come across in Thailand.
1. Central Thai. Thai language is also known as Central Thai. This is the primary dialect used in education and the media, and therefore, the official language of the country. It is spoken by people in Central Thai and the majority of Thai Chinese. From the 60 languages in Thailand, this is the most spoken across the country.
2. Isaan. This name represents all the dialects of the Lao language. It is one of the more well-known dialects spoken in the Northeastern region.
3. Southern Thai. People in the South of Thailand speak the Southern Thai dialect.
4. Northern Thai. This dialect is spoken in the North of Thailand.
Central Thai and the rest of the dialects have many differences, but are mutually intelligible for the most part. Also, even smaller groups speak some variations of the Thai language. However, these are nowhere near as widespread around the country.
Other Languages Spoken In Thailand Besides Thai
There are, in fact, many spoken languages in Thailand, so let’s dive into the most notable ones. Understandably, sharing a border with another country will lead to people from that country stopping by. Therefore, they will bring their culture and languages with them as well.
In the case of Thailand, there are varying amounts of populations around the border who can speak the corresponding language. For example, closer to Cambodia, many people will have some level of fluency in Khmer, while people from the South of the country speak Malay.
There are also more minor languages brought by minority groups, which are local to the area, offering much more language diversity in the country.
In addition, as a significant tourist destination, language learning has increased, making it easier to communicate with visitors. You can find many Russian, Chinese, and English speakers in Thailand. However, they will mainly be concentrated in tourist destinations.
Let’s Learn About The Isaan Dialect
Isaan is how people refer to the Northeastern region of Thailand. The area is well known for its unique culture, owing to its close relations and proximity to Laos. As I previously said, the Isaan dialect is not Thai but Lao. It has many elements from the Laos language, but primarily uses Thai vocabulary and the Thai alphabet.
Thai people shouldn’t have difficulty understanding the Isaan dialect, despite some different vocabulary and accents. However, for Thai learners like us, it might take some time to get used to it before fully understanding this dialect’s unique elements.
Do People Speak English In Thailand?
Have you asked yourself this? You might be planning a trip to Thailand and are concerned about whether you will be able to communicate easily or not. But don’t worry. As I mentioned before, there is an incentive for Thai people to learn languages like English due to it being the lingua franca for travelers worldwide. Therefore, communicating in the language can make things much more convenient.
Still, you should know that English-speaking abilities amongst Thais vary quite a lot. English should be relatively widely understood and spoken in major tourist destinations around the country. Generally, communication should go smoothly. However, English becomes much less common as you start to head outside the cities and into the smaller towns and villages.
If you cannot speak Thai, your best bet is to try talking with some younger people or students, as they usually have better English abilities due to improving education. Ultimately, English is quite widely spoken, especially compared to some other countries in the region. Learning at least some Thai words will make things easier for you, though.
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