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13
Aug-2014

A History of the Thai Language – How Did it Evolve?

thai-language2Thai, also known as Siamese or Central Thai, is the national official language of Thailand and the native language of the Thai People. It is a fascinating and complex tonal and analytic language and it is spoken by over 20 million people.

Many historians believe that the Thai Script is derived from the Khmer script, which comes from the Brahmic script that originates from the Indic family. Thai is nearer in appearance to the Thai Dam script – a language that might have similar Indian origins like the Khmer script. The language is also very closely related to Lao and literate Lao people can read and understand Thai as well. In fact, more than half of the grammar, vocabulary and intonation is shared with the Lao language.

If you are planning on travelling in Thailand for a while, consider learning some of the language. Even if you just learn a few phrases it will really help. Most people will speak English, but if you attempt to use a few phrases of Thai they will appreciate it and it will bring a smile to their faces.

How Does the Thai Alphabet Work?

The Thai alphabet consists of 44 basic consonants, each which has an inherent vowel. The direction of the writing is from left to right in horizontal lines and for some consonants there are multiple letters, which represent separate sounds. Thai is a tonal language and there are five different tones.

Since there are so many consonants, the Thai alphabet actually has way more than it needs! There are 4 different ways to write “s” for example and 6 different ways to write “t”. This excessive amount of letters comes from the Indian origin of the language, which was designed for a very different sound system. The government tried to reduce the number of letters in the 1940s, but this proved to be an unpopular idea.

Thai words usually only have one syllable. The only multi-syllabic words are those to do with academic subjects, government or religion and these words usually came to the language through Sanskrit.

Politeness is Part of the Language

One of the interesting aspects of Thai culture that is evident in the language is the emphasis on politeness. There are many words, prefixes and suffixes in Thai that are used to make speech more polite. This reflects the value of mutual respect, politeness and social structure in the Thai culture. Most people do not speak about controversial subjects and little white lies are told often to keep things pleasant. Most people don’t speak sarcastically or abusively and speaking loudly or rudely is avoided. If you get angry or annoyed when you are in Thailand, it is best to keep this in mind and try to resolve your conflict in a calm and level headed way – so as not to offend anyone.

Can you speak Thai? What observations do you have about this language? Let us know in the comments below. 

photo credit: nacaseven via photopin cc

photo credit: Mayu ;P via photopin cc

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