Thai language explained

Thai
Also Known As:Siamese
Nativename:ภาษาไทย phasa thai
Script:Thai script
States:Thailand, Northern Malaysia, Cambodia, Southern Burma, Laos, USA, Canada, France, England, Australia
Speakers:26 million
Date:2001
Ref:e16
Speakers2:Total: 60 million (2001)
Ethnicity:Thai
Familycolor:Tai-Kadai
Fam2:Tai
Fam3:Southwestern (Thai)
Fam4:Chiang Saen
Nation:Thailand
Agency:The Royal Institute
Iso1:th
Iso2:tha
Iso3:tha
Lingua:47-AAA-b
Notice:Indic
Notice2:IPA

Thai (Thai: ภาษาไทย Phasa Thai[1]), more precisely Central Thai[2] or Siamese,[3] is the national and official language of Thailand and the native language of the Thai people, Thailand's dominant ethnic group. Thai is a member of the Tai group of the Tai–Kadai language family. Some 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.[4]

Languages and dialects

Thai is the official language of Thailand, spoken by over 20 million people (2000),[5] Standard Thai is based on the register of the educated classes of Bangkok.[6] [7] Khorat Thai is spoken by about 400,000 (1984) in Nakhon Ratchasima; it occupies a linguistic position somewhere between Siamese Thai and Isan on a dialect continuum, and may be considered a variant of either. A majority of the people in the Isan region of Thailand speak a dialect of the Lao language, which has influenced the Siamese Thai dialect.

In addition to Siamese Thai, Thailand is home to other related Tai languages, including:

Statistics are from Ethnologue 2003-10-4.

Many of these languages are spoken by larger numbers outside of Thailand. Most speakers of dialects and minority languages speak Central Thai as well, since it is the language used in schools and universities all across the kingdom.

Numerous languages not related to Thai are spoken within Thailand. Near 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) (also spoken in central Suphanburi province.[8]

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.

Script

See main article: Thai script.

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 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:

  1. It is an abugida script, in which the implicit vowel is a short in a syllable without final consonant and a short in a syllable with final consonant.
  2. Tone markers are placed above the final onset consonant of the syllable.
  3. Vowels sounding after a consonant are nonsequential: they can be located before, after, above or below the consonant, or in a combination of these positions.

Transcription

There is no universal standard for transcribing Thai into the Latin alphabet. For example, the name of King Rama IX, the present monarch, is transcribed variously as Bhumibol, Phumiphon, phuuM miH phohnM, or many other versions. Guide books, text books and dictionaries may each follow different systems. For this reason, most language courses recommend that learners master the Thai script.

What comes closest to a standard is the Royal Thai General System of Transcription (RTGS), published by the Thai Royal Institute.[9] This 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. Retro-transliteration, that is, reconstruction of Thai spelling from RTGS romanisation, is not possible.

Transliteration

The ISO published an international standard for the transliteration of Thai into Roman script in September 2003 (ISO 11940) http://www.iso.org/iso/en/CatalogueDetailPage.CatalogueDetail?CSNUMBER=20574&ICS1=1&ICS2=140&ICS3=10. By adding diacritics to the Latin letters, it makes the transcription reversible, making it a true transliteration. This system is intended for academic use, but is rarely used in any context.

Grammar

See main article: Thai grammar. 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.

Adjectives and adverbs

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. Intensity can be expressed by a duplicated word, which is used to mean "very" (with the first occurrence at a higher pitch) or "rather" (with both at the same pitch) (Higbie 187-188). Usually, only one word is duplicated per clause.

Comparatives take the form "A X กว่า B" (kwa,), A is more X than B. The superlative is expressed as "A X ที่สุด" (thi sut,), A is most X.

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.

Verbs

Verbs do not inflect (i.e. do not change with person, tense, voice, mood, or number) nor are there any participles. Duplication conveys the idea of doing the verb intensively.

The passive voice is indicated by the insertion of ถูก (thuk,) before the verb. For example:

To convey the opposite sense, a sense of having an opportunity arrive, ได้ (dai,, can) is used. For example:

Note, dai (and), though both spelled ได้, convey two separate meanings. The short vowel dai conveys an opportunity has arisen and is placed before the verb. The long vowel dai 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, not) before the verb.

Tense is conveyed by tense markers before or after the verb.

Present can be indicated by กำลัง (kamlang,, currently) before the verb for ongoing action (like English -ing form), by อยู่ (yu,) after the verb, or by both. For example:

Future can be indicated by จะ (cha,, will) before the verb or by a time expression indicating the future. For example:

Past can be indicated by ได้ (dai,) before the verb or by a time expression indicating the past. However, แล้ว (laeo, :, already) is more often used to indicate the past tense by being placed behind the verb. Or, both ได้ and แล้ว are put together to form the past tense expression, i.e. Subject + ได้ + Verb + แล้ว. For example:

Thai exhibits serial verb constructions, where verbs are strung together. Some word combinations are common and may be considered set phrases.

Nouns

Nouns are uninflected and have no gender; there are no articles.

Nouns are neither singular nor plural. Some specific nouns are reduplicated to form collectives: เด็ก (dek, child) is often repeated as เด็กๆ (dek dek) to refer to a group of children. The word พวก (phuak,) may be used as a prefix of a noun or pronoun as a collective to pluralize or emphasise the following word. (พวกผม, phuak phom,, we, masculine; พวกเรา phuak rao,, 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").

Pronouns

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:

WordRTGSIPAMeaning
ผมphomI/me (masculine; formal)
ดิฉันdichan)I/me (feminine; formal)
ฉันchanI/me (feminine; informal; also commonly used by transsexuals; in the past this was both masculine and feminine)
คุณkhunyou (polite)
ท่านthanyou (polite to a person of high status)
เธอthoeyou (informal), she/her (informal)
เราraowe/us, I/me/you (casual)
เขาkhaohe/him, she/her
มันmanit, he/she (sometimes casual or offensive; if used to refer to a person)
พวกเขาphuak khaothey/them
พี่phiolder brother, sister (also used for older acquaintances)
น้องnongyounger brother, sister (also used for younger acquaintances)
ลูกพี่ ลูกน้องluk phi luk nongfirst cousin (male or female)

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 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).

Thai has many more pronouns than those listed above. Their usage is full of nuances. For example:

Particles

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,, with a high tone) for a man, and ค่ะ (kha,, with a falling tone) for a woman; 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:

WordRTGSIPAMeaning
จ๊ะcha/jaindicating a request
จ้ะ, จ้า or จ๋าcha/jaindicating emphasis
ละ or ล่ะlaindicating emphasis
สิsiindicating emphasis or an imperative
นะnasoftening; indicating a request

Phonology

Tones

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.[10] The table shows an example of both the phonemic tones and their phonetic realization, in the IPA.

ToneThaiExamplePhonemicPhoneticExample meaning in English
midสามัญนาpaddy field
lowเอกหน่า(a nickname)
fallingโทหน้าface
highตรีน้า or aunt/uncle (younger than one's mother)
risingจัตวาหนา or thick

Note that the full complement of five tones exist only on live syllables, those that end in a long vowel or a sonorant (/m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /j/, /w/). For dead syllables, which end in either a plosive (/p/, /t/, or /k/) or a short vowel, only two tonal distinctions are possible: 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). Note that syllables that phonemically end in a short vowel have an automatic glottal stop added to the end (especially in slower speech). Hence, an alternative characterization of dead syllables is simply those syllables ending in a phonetic plosive consonant.

Consonants

Initials

Thai distinguishes among three voice/aspiration patterns for plosive and affricate consonants:

Where English has only a distinction between the voiced, unaspirated and the unvoiced, aspirated, Thai distinguishes a third sound that is neither voiced nor aspirated, which occurs in English only as an allophone of, approximately the sound of the p in "spin". There is similarly an alveolar,, triplet. In the velar series there is a, pair and in the postalveolar series the, pair.

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).

BilabialLabio-
dental
AlveolarPost-
alveolar
PalatalVelarGlottal
Nasal

ณ,น

Plosive

ผ,พ,ภ


ฏ,ต

ฐ,ฑ,ฒ,ถ,ท,ธ

ฎ,ด


ข,ฃ,ค,ฅ,ฆ*

**
Fricative
ฝ,ฟ

ซ,ศ,ษ,ส

ห,ฮ
Affricate

ฉ, ช, ฌ
Trill
Approximant
ญ,ย

Lateral
approximant

ล,ฬ

Finals

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 and ด are devoiced, becoming pronounced as and 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.

BilabialLabio-
dental
AlveolarPost-
alveolar
PalatalVelarGlottal
Nasal

ญ,ณ,น,ร,ล,ฬ

Plosive
บ,ป,พ,ฟ,ภ

จ,ช,ซ,ฌ,ฎ,ฏ,ฐ,ฑ,ฒ,
ด,ต,ถ,ท,ธ,ศ,ษ,ส

ก,ข,ค,ฆ

Fricative
Affricate
Trill
Approximant

Lateral
approximant

Clusters

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 very limited number of clusters. Original Thai vocabulary introduces only 11 combined patterns:

The number of clusters increases when a few more combinations are presented in loanwords such as (ทร) in อินทรา (, from Sanskrit indrā) or (ฟร) in ฟรี (, from English free). However, it can be observed that Thai language supports only those in initial position, with either,, or as the second consonant sound and not more than two sounds at a time.

Vowels

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.

 colspan=2Frontcolspan=4Back
colspan=2unroundedcolspan=2unroundedcolspan=2rounded
shortlongshortlongshortlong
Close
 -ิ 

 -ี 

 -ึ 

 -ื- 

 -ุ 

 -ู 
Close-mid
เ-ะ

เ-

เ-อะ

เ-อ

โ-ะ

โ-
Open-mid
แ-ะ

แ-
  
เ-าะ

-อ
Open  
-ะ, -ั-

-า
  

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:

LongShort
ThaiIPAcolspan=3ExampleThaiIPAcolspan=3Example
–าฝาน'to slice'–ะฝัน'to dream'
–ี กรีด'to cut'–ิ กริช'kris'
–ู สูด'to inhale'–ุ สุด'rearmost'
เ–เอน'to recline'เ–ะเอ็น'tendon, ligament'
แ–แพ้'to be defeated'แ–ะแพะ'goat'
–ื- คลื่น'wave'–ึ ขึ้น'to go up'
เ–อเดิน'to walk'เ–อะเงิน'silver'
โ–โค่น'to fell'โ–ะข้น'thick (soup)'
–อกลอง'drum'เ–าะกล่อง'box'

The basic vowels can be combined into diphthongs. analyze those ending in high vocoids as underlyingly and . For purposes of determining tone, those marked with an asterisk are sometimes classified as long:

LongShort
ThaiIPAThaiIPA
–ายไ–*, ใ–*, ไ–ย, -ัย
–าวเ–า*
เ–ียเ–ียะ
–ิว
–ัว–ัวะ
–ูย–ุย
เ–วเ–็ว
แ–ว
เ–ือเ–ือะ
เ–ย
–อย
โ–ย

Additionally, there are three triphthongs, all of which are long:

ThaiIPA
เ–ียว
–วย
เ–ือย

For a guide to written vowels, see the Thai alphabet page.

Vocabulary

Other than compound words and words of foreign origin, most words are monosyllabic. Historically, words have most often been 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).

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).

Thailand also uses the distinctive Thai six hour clock in addition to the 24 hour clock.

History

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

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 and dentals, while a three-way distinction occurred among velars and palatals, 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) 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 the 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 the 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 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, and as a result the use of these letters became unstable.

At some point in the history of Thai, a palatal nasal phoneme 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 are also pronounced /j/ in modern Thai, but generally spelled with ย yo yak, which consistently represents /j/. This suggests that -> /j/ in native words occurred in the pre-literary period. It's unclear whether Sanskrit and Pali words beginning with were borrowed directly with a /j/, or whether a was re-introduced, followed by a second change -> /j/.

Proto-Tai also had a glottalized palatal sound, reconstructed as in Li Fang-Kuei (1977). Corresponding Thai words are generally spelled หย, which implies an Old Thai pronunciation of (or), but a few such words are spelled อย, which implies a pronunciation of and suggests that the glottalization may have persisted through to the early literary period.

Vowel developments

The vowel system of modern Thai contains nine pure vowels and three centering diphthongs, each of which can occur long or short. According to Li (1977), however, many Thai dialects have only one such long-short pair, and in general it is difficult or impossible to find minimal long-short 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 .

This leads Li to posit the following:

  1. Proto-Tai had a system of nine pure vowels with no length distinction, and possessing approximately the same qualities as in modern Thai: high, mid, low .
  2. All Proto-Tai vowels were lengthened in open syllables, and low vowels were also lengthened in closed syllables.
  3. Modern Thai largely preserved the original lengths and qualities, but lowered to, which became short /a/ in closed syllables and created a phonemic length distinction . Eventually, length in all other vowels became phonemic as well and a new (both long and short) was introduced, through a combination of borrowing and sound change. Li believes that the development of long from diphthongs, and the lowering of to to create a length distinction, had occurred by the time of Proto-Southwestern-Tai, but the other missing modern Thai vowels had not yet developed.

Note that not all researchers agree with Li. Pittayaporn (2009), for example, reconstructs a similar system for Proto-Southwestern-Tai, but believes that there was also a mid back unrounded vowel (which he describes as), occurring only before final velar . He also seems to believe that the Proto-Southwestern-Tai vowel length distinctions can be reconstructed back to similar distinctions in Proto-Tai.

See also

References

External links

Glossaries and word lists

Dictionaries

Learners' resources

Thai Keyboard

Notes and References

  1. [Royal Thai General System of Transcription]
  2. Not to be confused with Central Tai
  3. Although "Thai" has become more common, the older term "Siamese" is still used by linguists, especially when disambiguating from other Tai languages (Diller 2008:6). "Proto-Thai", for example, is the ancestor of all of Southwestern Tai, not just of Siamese (Rischel 1998).
  4. http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/messeas/node3.html Ausbau and Abstand languages
  5. http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=tha Ethnologue report for Thai
  6. Book: Language and national identity in Asia. Andrew Simpson. 2007. Oxford University Press. Standard Thai is a form of Central Thai based on the variety of Thai spoken earlier by the elite of the court, and now by the educated middle and upper classes of Bangkok. It ... was standardized in grammar books in the nineteenth century, and spread dramatically from the 1930s onwards, when public education became much more widespread.
  7. Web site: Linguistic Perspectives of Thai Culture. 26 April 2011. Peansiri Vongvipanond. Summer 1994. paper presented to a workshop of teachers of social science. University of New Orleans. 2. The dialect one hears on radio and television is the Bangkok dialect, considered the standard dialect..
  8. Web site: ภาษาส่วย. Dictionary. Regional Dialects and Minority Languages of the Thai Language » Suay (Guay) Language. thai-language.com. December 13, 2011.
  9. http://www.royin.go.th/ Royal Thai General System of Transcription
  10. Frankfurter, Oscar. Elements of Siamese grammar with appendices. American Presbyterian mission press, 1900 http://books.google.com/books?id=h6U6AAAAMAAJ (Full text available on Google Books)