Thai Language

The Thai Language

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Thai Language

Thai Language

When speaking about Asian languages, many people know a thing or two about Chinese, Japanese, and since K-Pop became popular even Korean. But Thai remains a very mysterious language. That is, despite the fact, that the Thai language has a long and very interesting history!

History and Origin

The Thai language most likely originated in the region which now is the border between Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and China. There are a lot of loan words in Thai, the oldest of which are Chinese. Since then, many different languages have made their way into the Thai language – Khmer, Portuguese, English, French and others. While the language had already been spoken for a long time, only King Ramkhamhaeng, who ruled over Thailand in the late 13th century, introduced the written Thai language. This written system was based on languages like Pali and other Indian languages – also during this time, many words from Khmer started being used in Thai.

Where is it used?

Thai is mainly used in Thailand of course, however, there are around 65 million Thai speakers worldwide. Only 20 million of those 65 million are native speakers, the rest speaks Thai as their second language. This is mostly due to the fact that many different regions in Thai use different dialects, that are considered their own languages. Though since the “normal” Thai, that’s based on “Central Thai” is used in official communication, media and in culture, almost every Thai can speak this too.

Because different classes (also known as registers) have existed for a long time now, there are multiple versions of the Thai language.

  • Common Thai: This version is only used between close relatives and friends, and there are no polite terms used. It is very informal, and it would never be used to refer to anybody outside of the closest social circle.
  • Formal Thai: This version is like the written version of Thai. It uses respectful addressing and is used in newspapers and magazines.
  • Rhetorical Thai: Is used in public speaking, for example by politicians.
  • Royal Thai: This version is used when Thais want to address the Royal Family or want to talk about what they do.
  • Religious Thai: Does exactly what the name suggests; It is used when talking about religion, and it’s also used by Monks.

Comparison to other languages

Thai is very closely related to another language of the same language family: Lao. While the alphabet is different, most speakers of these languages have no problem understanding the other. That is in spite of there being some differences between the two, such as different tones.

English is very popular in Thailand, especially for young people. It is seen as a “trendy” language, and many people also learn it to improve their business opportunities. Due to the English influence, more and more English loan words are used in the Thai language too.

While Thai and Chinese share no obvious similarities for foreigners, learners of both languages often report problems of mixing the two up. The grammar is similar, but there are also a lot of differences that can make conversations really awkward, when the languages get mixed up.

Interesting facts

Like many other Asian languages, Thai is a tonal language. It has 5 different tones, and an extensive alphabet consisting of 36 vowels and 44 consonants! It even has its own numbers, although Arabic numbers are also used in Thailand.

The Thai tones and alphabet might be hard to learn, but the grammar makes up for it. The word order is similar to English, and the grammatical rules are more than easy: there are no declinations, no special endings and no articles.

You might be familiar with some Thai terms and words, even though you might not have realised that it is Thai. Take for example, tuk-tuk – the name for a type of tricycle you know from countries just like Thailand, Muay Thai, a popular sport even outside of Asia, and Tom Yam Kung, a popular dish among people around the world.

Some basic examples

Are you going for a short vacation in Thailand? Or are you looking to do your Internship there? Or perhaps you are just interested in the language? Some of the easiest words are quite simple to remember and can get you started!

Thank you is understood by all people in Thailand, but the proper way to say it is ขอบคุณครับ – or Khob khun krab.

For easy confirmation, you can say ครับ – Krap (yes), or ใช่ ครับ - Chai Krap, which means “you are correct!”. No is ไม่ – Mai, but that sounds harsh, and it is normally only used with ไม่ใช่ ครับ – Mai Chai Krap.

How about something nice to say? ดิฉัน ชอบ คุณ ครับ - Dichan chorb kun Krab means “I like you” – a good sentence to start a conversation with the locals.

Curious about what Thailand has to offer besides the language? Why not consider doing an internship in Thailand?

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