Thai UNI­FY­ING A NA­TION

Asian Geographic - - On Assignment -

The Thai lan­guage is be­lieved to have emerged in the 8th cen­tury, when Tai speak­ers mi­grated west and south­west to present-day Thai­land from the bor­der area be­tween north­ern Viet­nam and China’s Guangxi Prov­ince, the spec­u­lated birth­place of the Tai lan­guage fam­ily. Lan­guages in this fam­ily are dis­trib­uted across South­east and South Asia, from north­ern Viet­nam to north­ern In­dia.

The Thai al­pha­bet is based on the an­cient Kh­mer and Mon scripts, which are in turn de­rived from south­ern In­dian scripts used through­out South­east Asia dur­ing the first mil­len­nium AD. Th­ese scripts were orig­i­nally used to write texts in the an­cient In­dian lan­guages of San­skrit and Pali, but were later adapted to rep­re­sent lo­cal lan­guages.

King Rama I was a gen­eral dur­ing the Ayut­thaya pe­riod, where he spoke Thai with Ayut­thaya tones and ac­cent. Thai spo­ken in Bangkok changed over time due to the in­flu­ence of Teochew and other Chi­nese lan­guages spo­ken there. To­day, Thai spo­ken in Bangkok sounds dis­tinc­tively dif­fer­ent from the Thai as­so­ci­ated with cen­tral Thai cul­ture, which be­gan de­vel­op­ing in the historic king­dom of Ayut­thaya.

Lan­guage is an ex­pres­sion of Thai cul­ture, par­tic­u­larly a peck­ing or­der ex­pressed by a com­plex pro­noun sys­tem and de­cided by gen­der, age, so­cial sta­tus, con­tex­tual for­mal­i­ties and the de­gree of in­ti­macy of speak­ers. An im­por­tant as­pect of this is เกรงใจ (/krehng/jhai/), loosely trans­lated as ‘to be con­sid­er­ate’, where one can feel เกรงใจ to­wards any­one re­gard­less of their sta­tus. Rather than per­pet­u­ate pas­siv­ity or docil­ity, be­ing เกรงใจ is an im­por­tant part of Thai cul­ture, in­volv­ing the ex­pres­sion of gen­uine con­sid­er­a­tion and good man­ners with­out be­ing su­per­fi­cial.

The stan­dard Thai lan­guage is used by be­tween 20 to 25 mil­lion peo­ple in Thai­land, about 45 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion. There are also 47,000 flu­ent speak­ers in Sin­ga­pore, the United Arab Emi­rates and the United States. For most na­tive speak­ers, the lan­guage for­merly known as Si­amese is first en­coun­tered in school; the first lan­guage one learns is usu­ally one of the many re­gional di­alects in the north, north­east and south­ern parts of the penin­sula such as Isaan, Kho­rat, Kham Mueang and Pak Tai. As the of­fi­cial na­tional lan­guage and with wide­spread use, the Thai lan­guage plays its part in full, act­ing as a uni­fy­ing force for the Thai peo­ple and their cul­ture.

WRIT­TEN SCRIPT Com­pared to the English al­pha­bet, there are a daunt­ing 44 let­ters in the Thai al­pha­bet. There no up­per­case or low­er­case let­ters in Thai, and there are also no spa­ces be­tween words. Spa­ces are used only at the end of a clause or sen­tence (on this page, spa­ces are used for il­lus­tra­tion pur­poses). In ad­di­tion, there are sev­eral ways of translit­er­at­ing Thai (i.e. writ­ing Thai with English let­ters), and th­ese translit­er­a­tions of­ten omit the tones.

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