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|ภาษาไทย phasa thai|
|Ethnicity||Thai (Central), Thai Chinese with monolingual|
|20 million (2000; monolingual)|
40 million bilingual with Lanna, Isan or Southern (2001)
Official language in
|Regulated by||The Royal Institute|
|ภาษาไทย phasa thai|
|Ethnicity||Thai (Central), Thai Chinese with monolingual|
|20 million (2000; monolingual)|
40 million bilingual with Lanna, Isan or Southern (2001)
Official language in
|Regulated by||The Royal Institute|
Thai, or more precisely Siamese or Central Thai, is the national and official language of Thailand and the native language of the Thai people and Thai Chinese. Thai is a member of the Tai group of the Tai–Kadai language family. Over half of the words in Thai are borrowed from Pali, Sanskrit and Old Khmer. It is a tonal and analytic language. Thai also has a complex orthography and relational markers. Thai is mutually intelligible with Lao.
Thai is the official language of Thailand, spoken by over 20 million people (2000), Standard Thai is based on the register of the educated classes of Bangkok. In addition to Central Thai, Thailand is home to other related Tai languages. Although linguists usually classify these idioms as related, but distinct languages, native speakers often identify them as regional variants of the "same" Thai language, or as "different kinds of Thai".
Numerous languages not related to Thai are spoken within Thailand. Near the borders to Laos and Burma, ethnic minority hill tribes people speak Hmong–Mien (Yao), Karen, Lisu, and others. Near Cambodia many communities speak Khmer, and the Mon-Khmer language variously known as Suay (ส่วย) Guay or Kuay (กวย).
Siamese Thai is composed of several distinct registers, forms for different social contexts:
Most Thais can speak and understand all of these contexts. Street and elegant Thai are the basis of all conversations; rhetorical, religious and royal Thai are taught in schools as the national curriculum.
Many scholars believe that the Thai script is derived from the Khmer script, which is modeled after the Brahmic script from the Indic family. However, in appearance, Thai is closer to Thai Dam script, which may have the same Indian origins as the Khmer script. The language and its script are closely related to the Lao language and script. Most literate Lao are able to read and understand Thai, as more than half of the Thai vocabulary, grammar, intonation, vowels and so forth are common with the Lao language. Much like the Burmese adopted the Mon script (which also has Indic origins), the Thais adopted and modified the Khmer script to create their own writing system. While in Thai the pronunciation can largely be inferred from the script, the orthography is complex, with silent letters to preserve original spellings and many letters representing the same sound. While the oldest known inscription in the Khmer language dates from 611 CE, inscriptions in Thai writing began to appear around 1292 CE. Notable features include:
There is no universally applied method for transcribing Thai into the Latin alphabet. For example, the name of the main airport is transcribed variously as Suvarnabhumi, Suwannaphum, or Suwunnapoom. Guide books, text books and dictionaries may each follow different systems. For this reason, most language courses recommend that learners master the Thai script.
Official standards are the Royal Thai General System of Transcription (RTGS), published by the Royal Institute of Thailand, and the almost identical ISO 11940-2 defined by the International Organization for Standardization. The RTGS system is increasingly used in Thailand by central and local governments, especially for road signs. Its main drawbacks are that it does not indicate tone or vowel length. As the system is based on pronunciation, not orthography, reconstruction of Thai spelling from RTGS romanisation, is not possible.
The ISO published an international standard for the transliteration of Thai into Roman script in September 2003 (ISO 11940). By adding diacritics to the Latin letters, it makes the transcription reversible, making it a true transliteration. Notably, this system is used by Google Translate, although it seems not to appear in many other contexts, such as textbooks and other instructional media. This may be because the particular problems of writing Thai for foreigners, including silent letters and placement of vowel markers, decrease the usefulness of literal transliteration.
Thai distinguishes three voice-onset times among plosive and affricate consonants:
Where English makes a distinction between voiced /b/ and aspirated /pʰ/, Thai distinguishes a third sound that is neither voiced nor aspirated, which occurs in English only as an allophone of /pʰ/, for example after an /s/ as in the sound of the p in "spin". There is similarly an alveolar /t/, /tʰ/, /d/ triplet in Thai. In the velar series there is a /k/, /kʰ/ pair and in the postalveolar series a /t͡ɕ/, /t͡ɕʰ/ pair, but the language lacks the corresponding voiced sounds /ɡ/ and /dʑ/. (In loanwords from English, English /ɡ/ and /d͡ʒ/ are borrowed as the tenuis stops /k/ and /t͡ɕ/.)
In each cell below, the first line indicates International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the second indicates the Thai characters in initial position (several letters appearing in the same box have identical pronunciation).
Although the overall 44 Thai consonant letters provide 21 sounds in case of initials, the case for finals is different. For finals, only eight sounds, as well as no sound, called mātrā (มาตรา) are used. To demonstrate, at the end of a syllable, บ (/b/) and ด (/d/) are devoiced, becoming pronounced as /p/ and /t/ respectively. Additionally, all plosive sounds are unreleased. Hence, final /p/, /t/, and /k/ sounds are pronounced as [p̚], [t̚], and [k̚] respectively.
Of the consonant letters, excluding the disused ฃ and ฅ, six (ฉ ผ ฝ ห อ ฮ) cannot be used as a final and the other 36 are grouped as following.
In Thai, each syllable in a word is considered separate from the others, so combinations of consonants from adjacent syllables are never recognised as a cluster. Thai has phonotactical constraints that define permissible syllable structure, consonant clusters, and vowel sequences. Original Thai vocabulary introduces only 11 combined consonantal patterns:
The number of clusters increases when a few more combinations are presented in loanwords such as /tʰr/ (ทร) in อินทรา (/intʰraː/, from Sanskrit indrā) or /fr/ (ฟร) in ฟรี (/friː/, from English free); however, it can be observed that Thai language supports only those in initial position, with either /r/, /l/, or /w/ as the second consonant sound and not more than two sounds at a time.
The basic vowels of the Thai language, from front to back and close to open, are given in the following table. The top entry in every cell is the symbol from the International Phonetic Alphabet, the second entry gives the spelling in the Thai alphabet, where a dash (–) indicates the position of the initial consonant after which the vowel is pronounced. A second dash indicates that a final consonant must follow.
The vowels each exist in long-short pairs: these are distinct phonemes forming unrelated words in Thai, but usually transliterated the same: เขา (khao) means "he" or "she", while ขาว (khao) means "white".
The long-short pairs are as follows:
|–า||/aː/||ฝาน||/fǎːn/||'to slice'||–ะ||/a/||ฝัน||/fǎn/||'to dream'|
|เ–||/eː/||เอน||/ʔēːn/||'to recline'||เ–ะ||/e/||เอ็น||/ʔēn/||'tendon, ligament'|
|แ–||/ɛː/||แพ้||/pʰɛ́ː/||'to be defeated'||แ–ะ||/ɛ/||แพะ||/pʰɛ́ʔ/||'goat'|
|–ื-||/ɯː/||คลื่น||/kʰlɯ̂ːn/||'wave'||–ึ||/ɯ/||ขึ้น||/kʰɯ̂n/||'to go up'|
|โ–||/oː/||โค่น||/kʰôːn/||'to fell'||โ–ะ||/o/||ข้น||/kʰôn/||'thick (soup)'|
The basic vowels can be combined into diphthongs. Tingsabadh & Abramson (1993) analyze those ending in high vocoids as underlyingly /Vj/ and /Vw/. For purposes of determining tone, those marked with an asterisk are sometimes classified as long:
|–าย||/aːj/||ไ–*, ใ–*, ไ–ย, -ัย||/aj/|
Additionally, there are three triphthongs, all of which are long:
For a guide to written vowels, see the Thai alphabet page.
There are five phonemic tones: mid, low, falling, high, and rising, sometimes referred to in older reference works as rectus, gravis, circumflexus, altus, and demissus, respectively. The table shows an example of both the phonemic tones and their phonetic realization, in the IPA.
The full complement of tones exists only in so-called "live syllables", those that end in a long vowel or a sonorant (/m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /j/, /w/).
For "dead syllables", those that end in a plosive (/p/, /t/, /k/) or in a short vowel, only three tonal distinctions are possible: low, high, and falling. Because syllables analyzed as ending in a short vowel may have a final glottal stop (especially in slower speech), all "dead syllables" are phonetically checked, and have the reduced tonal inventory characteristic of checked syllables. In native words that have been used for a very long time, only a two-way tonal distinction occurs: falling vs. low for syllables containing a long vowel, and high vs. low for syllables containing a short vowel (i.e. ending either in a short vowel + plosive, or in a short vowel alone).
|low||เอก||หน่า||/nàː/||[naː˨˩] or [naː˩]||(a nickname)|
|high||ตรี||น้า||/náː/||[naː˦˥] or [naː˥]||maternal aunt or uncle younger than one's mother|
|rising||จัตวา||หนา||/nǎː/||[naː˩˩˦] or [naː˩˦]||thick|
|low (short vowel)||เอก||หมัก||/màk/||[mak̚˨˩]||marinate|
|low (long vowel)||เอก||หมาก||/màːk/||[maːk̚˨˩]||areca nut, areca palm, betel, fruit|
|high||ตรี||มัก||/mák/||[mak̚˦˥]||habitually, likely to|
|falling||โท||มาก||/mâːk/||[maːk̚˥˩]||a lot, abundance, many|
In some English loanwords, closed syllables with long vowel ending in an obstruent sound, have high tone, and closed syllables with short vowel ending in an obstruent sound have falling tone.
From the perspective of linguistic typology, Thai can be considered to be an analytic language. The word order is subject–verb–object, although the subject is often omitted. Thai pronouns are selected according to the gender and relative status of speaker and audience.
There is no morphological distinction between adverbs and adjectives. Many words can be used in either function. They follow the word they modify, which may be a noun, verb, or another adjective or adverb.
Because adjectives can be used as complete predicates, many words used to indicate tense in verbs (see Verbs:Tense below) may be used to describe adjectives.
The passive voice is indicated by the insertion of ถูก (thuk, [tʰùːk]) before the verb. For example:
To convey the opposite sense, a sense of having an opportunity arrive, ได้ (dai, [dâj], can) is used. For example:
Note, dai ([dâj] and [dâːj]), though both spelled ได้, convey two separate meanings. The short vowel dai ([dâj]) conveys an opportunity has arisen and is placed before the verb. The long vowel dai ([dâːj]) is placed after the verb and conveys the idea that one has been given permission or one has the ability to do something. Also see the past tense below.
Negation is indicated by placing ไม่ (mai,[mâj] not) before the verb.
Tense is conveyed by tense markers before or after the verb.
Tense markers are not required.
Thai exhibits serial verb constructions, where verbs are strung together. Some word combinations are common and may be considered set phrases.
Nouns are neither singular nor plural. Some specific nouns are reduplicated to form collectives: เด็ก (dek, child) is often repeated as เด็ก ๆ (dek dek) to refer to a group of children. The word พวก (phuak, [pʰûak]) may be used as a prefix of a noun or pronoun as a collective to pluralize or emphasise the following word. (พวกผม, phuak phom, [pʰûak pʰǒm], we, masculine; พวกเรา phuak rao, [pʰûak raw], emphasised we; พวกหมา phuak ma, (the) dogs). Plurals are expressed by adding classifiers, used as measure words (ลักษณนาม), in the form of noun-number-classifier (ครูห้าคน, "teacher five person" for "five teachers"). While in English, such classifiers are usually absent ("four chairs") or optional ("two bottles of beer" or "two beers"), a classifier is almost always used in Thai (hence "chair four item" and "beer two bottle").
Subject pronouns are often omitted, with nicknames used where English would use a pronoun. See informal and formal names for more details. Pronouns, when used, are ranked in honorific registers, and may also make a T–V distinction in relation to kinship and social status. Specialised pronouns are used for those with royal and noble titles, and for clergy. The following are appropriate for conversational use:
|ผม||phom||[pʰǒm]||I/me (masculine; formal)|
|ดิฉัน||dichan||[dìʔt͡ɕʰán])||I/me (feminine; formal)|
|ฉัน||chan||[t͡ɕʰǎn]||I/me (mainly used by women; informal) Commonly pronounced as [t͡ɕʰán]|
|เรา||rao||[raw]||we/us, I/me (casual), you (sometimes used but only when older person speaks to younger person)|
|ท่าน||than||[tʰân]||you (highly honorific)|
|เธอ||thoe||[tʰɤː]||you (informal), she/her (informal)|
|พี่||phi||[pʰîː]||older brother, sister (also used for older acquaintances)|
|น้อง||nong||[nɔːŋ]||younger brother, sister (also used for younger acquaintances)|
|มัน||man||[man]||it, he/she (sometimes casual or offensive if used to refer to a person)|
The reflexive pronoun is ตัวเอง (tua eng), which can mean any of: myself, yourself, ourselves, himself, herself, themselves. This can be mixed with another pronoun to create an intensive pronoun, such as ตัวผมเอง (tua phom eng, lit: I myself) or ตัวคุณเอง (tua khun eng, lit: you yourself). Thai also does not have a separate possessive pronoun. Instead, possession is indicated by the particle ของ (khong). For example, "my mother" is แม่ของผม (mae khong phom, lit: mother of I). This particle is often implicit, so the phrase is shortened to แม่ผม (mae phom). Plural pronouns can be easily constructed by adding the word พวก (puak) in front of a singular pronoun as in พวกเขา (puak khao) meaning they or พวกเธอ (puak thoe) meaning the plural sense of you. The only exception to this is เรา (rao), which can be used as singular (informal) or plural, but can also be used in the form of พวกเรา (puak rao), which is only plural.
Thai has many more pronouns than those listed above. Their usage is full of nuances. For example:
The particles are often untranslatable words added to the end of a sentence to indicate respect, a request, encouragement or other moods (similar to the use of intonation in English), as well as varying the level of formality. They are not used in elegant (written) Thai. The most common particles indicating respect are ครับ (khrap, [kʰráp], with a high tone) when the speaker is male, and ค่ะ (kha, [kʰâ], with a falling tone) when the speaker is female; these can also be used to indicate an affirmative, though the ค่ะ (falling tone) is changed to a คะ (high tone).
Other common particles are:
|จ๊ะ||cha/ja||[t͡ɕáʔ]||indicating a request|
|จ้ะ, จ้า or จ๋า||cha/ja||[t͡ɕâː]||indicating emphasis|
|ละ or ล่ะ||la||[láʔ]||indicating emphasis|
|สิ||si||[sìʔ]||indicating emphasis or an imperative|
|นะ||na||[náʔ]||softening; indicating a request|
Chinese-language influence was strong until the 13th century when the use of Chinese characters was abandoned, and replaced by Sanskrit and Pali scripts. However, the vocabulary of Thai retains copious borrowed words from Middle Chinese.
Later most vocabulary was borrowed from Sanskrit and Pāli; Buddhist terminology is particularly indebted to these. Old Khmer has also contributed its share, especially in regard to royal court terminology. Since the beginning of the 20th century, however, the English language has had the greatest influence, especially for scientific and technical vocabulary. Many Teochew Chinese words are also used, some replacing existing Thai words (for example, the names of basic numbers; see also Sino-Xenic).
|Middle Chinese and/or|
Pali and/or Sanskrit
As noted above, Thai has several registers, each having certain usages, such as colloquial, formal, literary, and poetic. Thus, the word "eat" can be กิน (kin; common), แดก (daek; vulgar), ยัด (yat; vulgar), บริโภค (boriphok; formal), รับประทาน (rapprathan; formal), ฉัน (chan; religious), or เสวย (sawoei; royal), as illustrated below:
|รับประทาน||/ráp.pra.tʰāːn/||formal, polite||Often shortened to ทาน /tʰāːn/.|
Thai has undergone a number of sound changes in its history. Some of the most significant changes, at least in terms of consonants and tones, have occurred between the Old Thai spoken at the time when the language was first written and the Thai language of the present time, and are reflected in the orthography.
Old Thai had a three-way tone distinction on live syllables (those that did not end in a stop consonant) and no possible tone distinction on dead syllables (those ending in a stop consonant, i.e. either /p/, /t/, /k/ or the glottal stop that automatically closes syllables otherwise ending in a short vowel).
There was a two-way voiced vs. voiceless distinction among all fricative and sonorant consonants, and up to a four-way distinction among stops and affricates. The maximal distinctions occurred in labials (/p pʰ b ʔb/) and dentals (/t tʰ d ʔd/), while a three-way distinction occurred among velars (/k kʰ ɡ/) and palatals (/tɕ tɕʰ dʐ/), with the glottalized member of each set apparently missing.
The major change between Old Thai and modern Thai was due to the loss of voicing distinctions and concomitant tone split. This may have happened between about 1300 and 1600 AD, possibly occurring at different times in different parts of the Thai-speaking area. All of the voiced–voiceless pairs of consonants lost the voicing distinction:
However, in the process of these mergers the former distinction of voice was transferred into a new set of tonal distinctions. In essence, every tone in Old Thai split into two new tones, with a lower-pitched tone corresponding to a syllable that formerly began with a voiced consonant, and a higher-pitched tone corresponding to a syllable that formerly began with a voiceless consonant (including glottalized stops). An additional complication is that formerly voiceless unaspirated stops/affricates (original /p t k tɕ ʔb ʔd/) also caused original tone 1 to lower, but had no such effect on original tones 2 or 3.
The above consonant mergers and tone splits account for the complex relationship between spelling and sound in modern Thai. Modern "low"-class consonants were voiced in Old Thai, and the terminology "low" reflects the lower tone variants that resulted. Modern "mid"-class consonants were voiceless unaspirated stops or affricates in Old Thai — precisely the class that triggered lowering in original tone 1 but not tones 2 or 3. Modern "high"-class consonants all remaining voiceless consonants in Old Thai (voiceless fricatives, voiceless sonorants, voiceless aspirated stops). The three most common tone "marks" (the lack of any tone mark, as well as the two marks termed mai ek and mai tho) represent the three tones of Old Thai, and the complex relationship between tone mark and actual tone is due to the various tonal changes since then. Note also that since the tone split, the tones have changed in actual representation to the point that the former relationship between lower and higher tonal variants has been completely obscured. Furthermore, the six tones that resulted after the three tones of Old Thai were split have since merged into five in standard Thai, with the lower variant of former tone 2 merging with the higher variant of former tone 3, becoming the modern "falling" tone. (Note that modern Lao and northern Thai dialects are often described as having six tones, but these are not necessarily due to preservation of the original six tones resulting from the tone split. For example, in standard Lao, both the high and low variants of Old Thai tone 2 merged; however, the mid-class variant of tone 1 became pronounced differently from either the high-class or low-class variants, and all three eventually became phonemic due to further changes, e.g. /kr/ > /kʰ/. For similar reasons, Lao has developed more than two tonal distinctions in "dead" syllables.)
Early Old Thai also apparently had velar fricatives /x ɣ/ as distinct phonemes. These were represented by the now-obsolete letters ฃ kho khuat and ฅ kho khon, respectively. During the Old Thai period, these sounds merged into the corresponding stops /kʰ ɡ/, and as a result the use of these letters became unstable.
At some point in the history of Thai, a palatal nasal phoneme /ɲ/ also existed, inherited from Proto-Tai. A letter ญ yo ying also exists, which is used to represent a palatal nasal in words borrowed from Sanskrit and Pali, and is currently pronounced /j/ at the beginning of a syllable but /n/ at the end of a syllable. Most native Thai words that are reconstructed as beginning with /ɲ/ are also pronounced /j/ in modern Thai, but generally spelled with ย yo yak, which consistently represents /j/. This suggests that /ɲ/ > /j/ in native words occurred in the pre-literary period. It is unclear whether Sanskrit and Pali words beginning with /ɲ/ were borrowed directly with a /j/, or whether a /ɲ/ was re-introduced, followed by a second change /ɲ/ > /j/.
Proto-Tai also had a glottalized palatal sound, reconstructed as /ʔj/ in Li Fang-Kuei (1977[full citation needed]). Corresponding Thai words are generally spelled หย, which implies an Old Thai pronunciation of /hj/ (or /j̊/), but a few such words are spelled อย, which implies a pronunciation of /ʔj/ and suggests that the glottalization may have persisted through to the early literary period.
The vowel system of modern Thai contains nine pure vowels and three centering diphthongs, each of which can occur short or long. According to Li (1977[full citation needed]), however, many Thai dialects have only one such short–long pair (/a aː/), and in general it is difficult or impossible to find minimal short–long pairs in Thai that involve vowels other than /a/ and where both members have frequent correspondences throughout the Tai languages. More specifically, he notes the following facts about Thai:
Furthermore, the vowel that corresponds to short Thai /a/ has a different and often higher quality in many of the Tai languages compared with the vowel corresponding to Thai /aː/.
This leads Li to posit the following:
Note that not all researchers agree with Li. Pittayaporn (2009[full citation needed]), for example, reconstructs a similar system for Proto-Southwestern-Tai, but believes that there was also a mid back unrounded vowel /ǝ/ (which he describes as /ɤ/), occurring only before final velar /k ŋ/. He also seems to believe that the Proto-Southwestern-Tai vowel length distinctions can be reconstructed back to similar distinctions in Proto-Tai.
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