The Thai language (ภาษาไทย) is a member of the Tai group of the Kra-Dai language family and is the official language of Thailand. There are roughly 20 million native speakers of Thai, as well as 40 million who speak it as a second language, making Thai roughly the 30th most widely spoken language in the world.
According to the 2017 American Community Survey, there are roughly 320,000 persons of Thai origin living in the United States. The largest group of Thai immigrants can be found in Los Angeles, which also contains the world’s first “Thai Town.” Other sizeable communities are located in Nevada, Illinois, Texas, and the Washington, DC Metro Region.
There are numerous regional dialects of Thai, as well as other distinct but closely related languages spoken throughout Thailand. Standard Thai is based on the Ayutthaya dialect of the Central Plains region and serves as the predominant language of television, education, news reporting, and all forms of media. That being the case, many speakers of other dialects and regional languages are also fluent in Standard Thai. Other major dialect groups include Capital Core, Upper Central, Southwestern, and Khorat. Related Southwestern Tai languages include Isan, Northern Thai, Southern Thai, and Phu Thai. There is also a high degree of mutual intelligibility between spoken Thai and Lao.
Thai is a tonal language and include five phonemic tones (mid, low, falling, high, and rising). It is also an analytic language, wherein relationships between words in sentences are conveyed through helper words and word order rather than inflections. The typical word order is subject-verb-object (SVO), although the subject is frequently omitted. Nouns are not inflected and contain no number or gender, nor do they utilize articles. There is also no morphological distinction between adjectives and adverbs so that many words can be used in either role, and they follow the word that they modify. Thai verbs are not inflected and thus do not change with person, tense, voice, mood, or number. Markers following the verb are used to indicate tense.
The Thai language also makes use of a number of complex and distinct registers, used depending on the appropriate social context. These registers include Common (or “Street”) Thai, Elegant or Formal Thai, Rhetorical Thai (used for public speaking), Religious Thai, and Royal Thai, the latter of which is used when addressing the Thai Royal Family or speaking about them.
Thai vocabulary has been heavily influenced by Thailand’s Buddhist traditions, and thus includes many loanwords from Sanskrit and Pali, two of the primary Buddhist liturgical languages in the Theravada tradition. The Thai lexicon has also been heavily influenced by Middle Chinese and Old Khmer, and more recently, many loanwords have been adapted from English. Most Thai words are monosyllabic, with the exception of compound words and words of foreign origin.
The Thai script is an abugida in which consonant-vowel sequences are written as a single unit. It includes 44 consonant symbols and 15 vowel symbols that combine with 28 vowel symbols and four diacritics used to indicate tone, creating characters that mostly represent syllables. The Thai script is derived from the Old Khmer script, which itself was derived from earlier Brahmic writing systems, and is also very similar to the Lao script.
FUN FACTS: Body language is a critical component of the Thai language, as respect and courtesy are of paramount importance in Thai culture. For example, the head is regarded as sacred and the feet as dirty. Thais show respect to people of senior status by keeping their own head at a lower level in conversation or when passing by. Western habits such as pointing at something on the ground with a foot or putting one’s feet up on a desk would be considered offensive to Thais. Also, the Thai and Lao languages are so closely related that they are often mutually intelligible.
At Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), we offer document translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services in Thai. Whether you need to translate a medical report from Thai to English, need a Thai interpreter for a legal deposition, or want to localize your website into Thai in order to market your products and services in Thailand, PGLS is here to help with all of your Thai language needs.