History of the Thai Language and Thai Alphabet

History of Thai

The national and official language of Thailand is Thai. It is spoken by around twenty million residents of the Southeast Asian country. The spoken language is thought to have originated in the area around Vietnam and China. Thai is related to the languages spoken in eastern Myanmar, northern Vietnam, Yunnan and Laos. Thai is a tonal language in the Tai group and the Tai-Kadai language family. Today, standard Thai is spoken nationwide with regional dialects differing widely from north to south and east to west, including Issan (Northeastern Thai), Passa Neua or Lanna (Northern Thai) and Thai Tai or Pak Thai (Southern Thai).

Early Thai settlers in the late Dvaravati period gradually enlarged their Chinese-influenced, tonal, monosyllabic language by borrowing certain Mon and Khmer words. Later, the language absorbed polysyllabic Sanskrit (the classical language of Hindu India) and Pali words as Brahmanism and Theraveda Buddhism were infused. Foreign traders and Chinese immigrants made minor additions in later centuries.

Thai as a written language was introduced by King Ramkamhaeng in the Sukothai period. The writing system has undergone very few modifications since this time. Writings from the Sukothai period can be read because it retains many similarities to modern Thai writings. The writing was based on Pali, Sanskrit and Indian concepts, and many Mon and Khmer words entered the Thai languages as well.

Thai Alphabet

King Ramkamhaeng created the first Thai alphabet in 1283. The Thai alphabet uses forty-four consonant and fifteen basic vowel characters. These are horizontally placed, left to right, with no intervening space, to form syllables, words and sentences. Vowels are written above, below, before, or after the consonant they modify, although the consonant always sounds first when the syllables is spoken. The vowel characters (and a few consonants) can be combined in various ways to produce numerous compound vowels (dipthongs and tripthongs).

4 thoughts on “History of the Thai Language and Thai Alphabet

    1. Thai and Lao belong to the same language family, Tai-Kadai, which explains why Laotian speakers can understand Thai speakers and vice versa. However, Khmer belongs to the same language family as Vietnamese and Mon.
      In the medieval era, Thai borrowed many words and cultural traditions from Khmer. For example, the Thai word for association ‘สมาคม'(s̄mākhm) is very similar to Khmer word for association (sameakom).

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