Thai language

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Thai ( ภาษา ไทย )

Spoken in

speaker 20 million native speakers (standard or central shark), 40 million second language speakers
Official status
Official language in Thailand
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


The Thai language (the Thai , ภาษา ไทย - spoken: [ pʰaːsǎː tʰaj ], listen to ? / I ), also Siamese , is the official language of Thailand . It belongs to the Tai languages within the Tai Kadai language family . Audio file / audio sample

In contrast to most European languages, Thai, like the languages ​​of neighboring countries (except Khmer ), is a so-called tonal language : the mostly monosyllabic words acquire completely different meanings through pronunciation in different pitches and tone courses. There are five different tones in Thai.

Thai is written with its own alphabet , see Thai script .


Language levels

The centuries-old hierarchical structure of society was carried over to the Thai language and is still noticeable today. There are at least five language levels (tab):

Regional variants

The standard Thai language ( ภาษา ไทย มาตรฐาน , phasa thai mattrathan ) is based on the Central Thai ( ภาษา ไทย กลาง , phasa thai sound ) as spoken by educated residents of the capital, Bangkok. Thai knows many different dialects , most Thai do not speak the standard language in everyday life. Standard Thai and the Central Thai dialects together have over 20 million speakers.

The regional varieties differ so clearly from the standard Thai that they are classified by linguists as related, but independent languages. Native speakers, on the other hand, often understand them as regional expressions of "a larger Thai language", as "different types of Thai". This is particularly noticeable in the northeast ( Isan ), where there is a dialect continuum , i.e. a transition between Thai and Lao , which in turn occurs in numerous local dialects. The Thai-Laotian dialects of the northeast are summarized as Phasa Isan ("Isan language"), whereby this category is more subjective and political / historical than linguistic, since the transitions in the dialect continuum run smoothly and without rigid borders. They have a total of over 15 million speakers. Other important regional variants, which are disputed as to whether they are dialects or independent languages, are Northern Thai (also called Lanna or Kam Mueang ) with around 6 million speakers and Southern Thai (also Pak Tai or Dambro ) with around 4.5 Million speakers.

The regional dialects have no official status; standard thai is used almost exclusively in schools and universities, the press and radio. The regional languages ​​are almost exclusively used for oral communication, the written Lao (Tai Noi) and the Lanna script , which used to be widespread in the north, have almost completely been pushed back. The dialects are often given little social prestige, which is especially true of the Isan dialects. Younger and educated speakers in particular try to speak the standard language in official situations and to outsiders and to hide their native dialect. Many also operate code switching .



When it comes to plosives, Thai not only differentiates between voiced and unvoiced sounds as in German, but also three different categories:

  • voiceless, not aspirated
  • voiceless, aspirated
  • voiced (not aspirated)

In the following table the pronunciation of the initial consonants in IPA is given in the first line, including the corresponding letters of the Thai alphabet. Several letters correspond to some sounds.

bilabial labiodental alveolar post-alveolar palatal velar glottal
Plosive sound p

ผ, พ, ภ
ฏ, ต

ฐ, ฒ, ท, ธ
ฎ, ฑ, ด

ข, ฃ, ค, ฅ, ฆ
nasal m
ณ, น
Fricative f
ฝ, ฟ
ซ, ศ, ษ, ส
ห, ฮ
Affrict ʨ
ฉ, ช, ฌ
Trill r
Approximant j
ญ, ย
lateral approximant l
ล, ฬ

* The glottic closure sound always comes after a short vowel at the end of the syllable if there is no other consonant, and as a mute before a vowel.

A common departure from standard pronunciation is that / r / is pronounced as [l].


The following table lists the vowels of Thai. The first line contains the vowel in phonetic transcription, underneath the vowel in the Thai alphabet, where a dash (-) stands for an initial consonant. A second dash means that a final consonant must follow.

Thai vowels
  Front Back
short long short long short long
closed / ⁠ i ⁠ /
 - ิ 
/ iː /
  - ี 
/ ⁠ ɯ ⁠ /
 - ึ 
/ ɯː /
  - ื - 
/ ⁠ u ⁠ /
/ uː /
closed-medium / ⁠ e ⁠ /
เ - ะ
/ eː /
เ -
/ ⁠ ɤ ⁠ /
เ - อะ
/ ɤː /
เ - อ
/ ⁠ o ⁠ /
โ - ะ
/ oː /
โ -
open-medium / ⁠ ɛ ⁠ /
แ - ะ
/ ɛː /
แ -
    / ⁠ ɔ ⁠ /
เ - าะ
/ ɔː /
- อ
open     / ⁠ a ⁠ /
- ะ , - ั -
/ aː /
- า

Each vowel can be long or short, and this feature is meaningful. In many transcription systems this is not taken into account, for example เขา [ kʰǎw ] means “he / she”, ขาว [ kʰǎːw ] means “white”.

long short
Thai IPA Explanation Thai IPA Explanation
- า like in father - ะ a like in water
- ี as in deep - ิ i as in tip
- ื ɯː as in tired - ึ ɯ as in grumpy
- ู as in courage - ุ u like in mother
เ - like in berries เ - ะ e as in legal
แ - ɛː like in bears แ - ะ ɛ as in would have
เ - อ ɤː like in a boat, but without rounded lips เ - อะ ɤ as in profit, but without rounded lips
โ - O like in boat โ - ะ O as in profit
- อ ɔː as in engl. god เ - าะ ɔ like in wood

There are also several diphthongs:

long short
Thai IPA Explanation Thai IPA Explanation
- า ย aːj ใ -, ไ -, ไ - ย, - ั ย aj like in hot
- า ว aːw เ - า aw like in house
เ - ี ย iːa like in here เ - ี ยะ ia
- - - - ิ ว iw
เ - ื อ ɯːa - - -
- ั ว uːa like in o'clock - ั วะ among others
- ู ย uːj - ุ ย uj
เ - ว eːw เ - ็ ว ew
แ - ว ɛːw - - -
เ - ย ɤːj - - -
โ - ย oːj - - - -
- อย ɔːj - - -

There are three triphthongs, all of which are long:

Thai  IPA  Explanation
เ - ี ย ว  iːaw
เ - ื อย  ɯːaj
- ว ย  uːaj


There are five tones in Thai: medium ( a ), low ( à ), high ( á ), rising ( ǎ ) and falling ( â ). In writing, they are expressed through the combination of the initial consonant (which belongs to one of three tone categories), vowel length, final consonant and, if necessary, an additional tone sign. The exact rules are shown in the following table, the resulting tone in the pronunciation is highlighted in color:

Initial consonant category
Beep Syllable type high medium deep
- short vowel or long vowel or vowel plus m / n / ŋ increasing medium medium
- long vowel plus plosive sound ( p / t / k ) deep deep falling
- short vowel plus plosive sound  deep deep high
mai ek ( - ่ ) all deep deep falling
mai tho ( - ้ ) all falling falling high
may tri ( - ๊ ) all - high -
mai chattawa ( - ๋ ) all - increasing -

The letters (high) and sometimes (medium) are used as silent letters in front of consonants of the low category to represent the correct tone. In polysyllabic words, a consonant of the high category without a vowel mark also turns the initial consonant of the following syllable into a consonant of the high category.

A few exceptions have become established in linguistic usage, of which the pronouns [ ʨʰán ] - ฉัน (“I”) and [ kʰáw ] - เขา (“he”, “she”) are mentioned, both of which are pronounced in a high tone instead of an ascending tone Sound, as the rules should. However, the changed way of speaking is partly already incorporated into the spelling of the terms concerned.


In contrast to the written and pronunciation rules, the basic grammar of Thai has a very low level of complexity. Thai is an isolating language , which means that there are no inflections (word changes), i.e. conjugation , declination . There are also no articles . The systems of counting words (see below) and forms of address (personal pronouns and titles) are more complex than in Western languages .

sentence position

Sentences are formed even more strictly than in English in the sequence subject – predicate – object .


It can by adding [ Kan ] - การ or [ Kwame ] - ความ from many verbs and adjectives are formed nouns.


The plural of nouns is formed with the help of particles , the so-called counting words or classifiers. There are about thirty such particles that are used depending on the basic word. Some examples:

[ kʰon ] คน - counting word for people (but at the same time it also means the word "man" itself):

[ tuːa ] ตัว (literally: body ) - measure word for animals, items of clothing, furniture:

[ lam ] ลำ (literally: trunk, trunk ) - counter word for long, tubular objects:

For a complete list, see List of Thai Count Words


Tenses are (developed from the context or indicated by particles, for example, [ raw paj ] เรา ไป = we go, [ raw ʨàʔ paj ] เรา จะ ไป = we will go [ raw kamlaŋ paj ] เรา กำลัง ไป = we go straight, [ raw paj lɛ́ːw ] เรา ไป แล้ว = we have already left).

As in German, it is common to characterize a basic form of a verb with the help of adverbs:

Linguistic geography

Thai is the official language in Thailand , the language code is thor tha(according to ISO 639 ). There are regional dialects: the in northern Thailand spoken Lanna (including Kham Mueang), which spread in northeastern Isan and in southern Thailand used Dambro . There are also numerous mixed languages, such as Yawi , which is spoken in the extreme south of Thailand and in the north of Malaysia.

Languages ​​closely related to Thai, such as the southwestern Tai languages, are spoken in Thailand , Laos , north Cambodia , northwest Vietnam , Yunnan ( People's Republic of China ) and in the north and east of Myanmar .

See also: Tai Kadai languages

Text example

Thai กลุ่ม ประเทศ ผู้ ส่ง ออก น้ำมัน หรือ โอเปค จะ ประชุม ที่ กรุง เวียนนา ระหว่าง วัน ที่ 19 ถึง 20 กันยายน เป็นการ ประชุม ตาม ปกติ แต่ ได้ รับ รับ ความ สนใจ จาก ชาว โลก โลก อย่าง มาก เพราะ ราคา น้ำมัน ที่ ขึ้น สูง ใน ปัจจุบัน
IPA [ Klum pràtʰêːt PU Son ʔɔːk nám you rɯ̌ː ʔoːpèːk ʨàʔ pràʨʰum TI Krun wiːannaː Rawan wan ti SIP Kaw tʰɯ̌ŋ Ji SIP kanjaːjon pen Kan pràʨʰum Tam pòkkàtìʔ tɛː DAJ Rap kwam sǒn ʨaj ʨàːk ʨʰaːw Lok Jan Mak pʰrɔ ʔ Raka nám to TI kʰɯn sǔːŋ naj pàtʨùban ]
German The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will hold a regular meeting in Vienna from September 19-20, which will be followed closely by the global public due to the current high oil prices.


  • Anthony Diller: The Tai-Kadai Languages . Ed .: Anthony VN Diller, Jerold A. Edmondson, Yongxian Luo. Routledge, London, New York 2008, ISBN 978-0-7007-1457-5 , Resources for Thai Language Research, pp. 31-81 .
  • Charles F. Keyes, Sumit Ganguly: Fighting Words. Language Policy and Ethnic Relations in Asia . Ed .: Michael E. Brown, Šumit Ganguly. MIT Press, Cambridge MA 2003, ISBN 978-0-262-52333-2 , The Politics of Language in Thailand and Laos, pp. 177-210 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Thai . In M. Paul Lewis, Gary F. Simons, Charles D. Fennig (Eds.): Ethnologue. Languages ​​of the World. 18th edition, SIL International, Dallas 2015. Online edition:
  2. Although "Thai" and "Central Thai" has become more common, the older term "Siamese" is still used by linguists, especially to distinguish it from other Tai languages ​​(Diller 2008)
  3. ^ Antonio L. Rappa, Lionel Wee: Language Policy and Modernity in Southeast Asia - Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand . Springer, 2006, Chapter 5: The Kingdom of Thailand , pp. 105-127, at pp. 114-115.
  4. NJ (Nick) Enfield: How to define 'Lao', 'Thai', and 'Isan' language? A view from linguistic science. In: Tai Culture , Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 62-67.
  5. ^ Thai, Northeastern. In: Ethnologue. 2015.
  6. ^ Thai, Northern. In: Ethnologue. 2015.
  7. ^ Thai, Southern. In: Ethnologue. 2015.
  8. Duncan McCargo , Krisadawan Hongladarom: Contesting Isan-ness. Discourses of Politics and Identity in Northeast Thailand. In: Asian Ethnicity , Volume 5, No. 2, June 2004, pp. 224-225.
  9. MR Kalaya Tingsabadh, Arthur S. Abramson: Thai. In: Journal of the International Phonetic Association. Vol. 23, No. 1, 1993, ISSN  0025-1003 , pp. 24-28, doi : 10.1017 / S0025100300004746 .