Thai UNIFYING A NATION
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.