Thai Language
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Thai Language
?, Phasa Thai
Thai Language.png
Malaysia (Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Hulu Perak)
Myanmar (Tanintharyi)
Cambodia (Koh Kong District)
EthnicityCentral Thai, Thai Chinese, Malaysian Siamese
Native speakers
20 to 36 million (2000)[1]
44 million L2 speakers with Lanna, Isan, Southern Thai, Northern Khmer and Lao (2001)[1]
Thai script
Thai Braille
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated byRoyal Society of Thailand
Language codes
Idioma tailandés.png
Non native speaker, recorded in Taiwan.

Thai,[a]Central Thai[b] (historically Siamese;[c]Thai: ?), is the national language of Thailand[3][4] and de facto official language; it is the first language of the Central Thai people[d] and most Thai Chinese, depending on age. It is a member of the Tai group of the Kra-Dai language family, and one of over 60 languages of Thailand. Over half of Thai vocabulary is derived from or borrowed from Pali, Sanskrit, Mon[5] and Old Khmer. It is a tonal and analytic language, similar to Chinese and Vietnamese.

Thai has a complex orthography and system of relational markers. Spoken Thai, depending on standard sociolinguistic factors such as age, gender, class, spatial proximity, and the urban/rural divide, is partly mutually intelligible with Lao, Isan, and some fellow Southwestern Tai languages. These languages are written with slightly different scripts but are linguistically similar and effectively form a dialect continuum.[6]


The Thai language is classified as a Tai language, closely related to other Southwestern Tai languages including Lao, Shan in Myanmar, and numerous indigenous languages spoken in an arc from Hainan and Yunnan south through Laos and Northern Vietnam to the Cambodian border. It is the principal language of education and government and spoken throughout the country. The standard is based on the dialect of the central Thai people, and it is written in the Thai alphabet.

According to Chinese source, during Ming Dynasty, Yingya Shenglan (1405-1433), Ma Huan reported on the language of the Hsien Lo somewhat resembles the local patois as pronounced in Kuang tung province[7]:107 Thai has undergone various historical sound changes. Some of the most significant changes occurred during the evolution from Old Thai to modern Thai. The Thai writing system has an eight-century history and many of these changes, especially in consonants and tones, are evidenced in the modern orthography.

Old Thai

Old Thai had a three-way tone distinction on "live syllables" (those not ending in a stop), with no possible distinction on "dead syllables" (those ending in a stop, i.e. either /p/, /t/, /k/ or the glottal stop which 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 four-way occurred in labials (/p p? b ?b/) and dentals (/t t? d ?d/); the three-way distinction among velars (/k k? ?/) and palatals (/t? t d?/), with the glottalized member of each set apparently missing.

The major change between old and modern Thai was due to voicing distinction losses and the concomitant tone split. This may have happened between about 1300 and 1600 CE, possibly occurring at different times in different parts of the Thai-speaking area. All voiced-voiceless pairs of consonants lost the voicing distinction:

  • Plain voiced stops (/b d ? d?/) became voiceless aspirated stops (/p? t? k? t/).[e]
  • Voiced fricatives became voiceless.
  • Voiceless sonorants became voiced.

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 t? ?b ?d/) 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 were the 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. 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.[f]

Early Old Thai

Early Old Thai also apparently had velar fricatives /x ?/ as distinct phonemes. These were represented by the now-obsolete letters ? kho khuat and ? kho khon, respectively. During the Old Thai period, these sounds merged into the corresponding stops /k? ?/, 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 ? 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 ? yo yak, which consistently represents /j/. This suggests that /?/ > /j/ in native words occurred in the pre-literary period. It is 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 /?j/ in Li Fang-Kuei (1977[full ]). Corresponding Thai words are generally spelled , which implies an Old Thai pronunciation of /hj/ (or /j?/), but a few such words are spelled , which implies a pronunciation of /?j/ 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 short or long. According to Li (1977[full ]), however, many Thai dialects have only one such short-long pair (/a a:/), 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:

  • In open syllables, only long vowels occur. (This assumes that all apparent cases of short open syllables are better described as ending in a glottal stop. This makes sense from the lack of tonal distinctions in such syllables, and the glottal stop is also reconstructible across the Tai languages.)
  • In closed syllables, the long high vowels /i: u:/ are rare, and cases that do exist typically have diphthongs in other Tai languages.
  • In closed syllables, both short and long mid /e e: o o:/ and low /? ? ?:/ do occur. However, generally, only words with short /e o/ and long /?:/ are reconstructible back to Proto-Tai.
  • Both of the mid back unrounded vowels /? ?:/ are rare, and words with such sounds generally cannot be reconstructed back to Proto-Tai.

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 /a:/.

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 /i ? u/, mid /e ? o/, low /? a ?/.
  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 /a/, which became short /a/ in closed syllables and created a phonemic length distinction /a a:/. Eventually, length in all other vowels became phonemic as well and a new /?/ (both short and long) was introduced, through a combination of borrowing and sound change. Li believes that the development of long /i: u:/ from diphthongs, and the lowering of /?/ to /a/ to create a length distinction /a a:/, 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[full ]), 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 /k ?/. He also seems to believe that the Proto-Southwestern-Tai vowel length distinctions can be reconstructed back to similar distinctions in Proto-Tai.

Connection to ancient Yue language(s)

Thai descends from proto-Tai-Kadai, which has been hypothesized to originate in the Lower Yangtze valleys. Ancient Chinese texts refer to non-Sinitic languages spoken cross this substantial region and their speakers as "Yue". Although those languages are extinct, traces of their existence could be found in unearthed inscriptional materials, ancient Chinese historical texts and non-Han substrata in various Southern Chinese dialects. Thai, as the most-spoken language in the Tai-Kadai language family, has been used extensively in historical-comparative linguistics to identify the origins of language(s) spoken in the ancient region of South China. One of the very few direct records of non-Sinitic speech in pre-Qin and Han times having been preserved so far is the "Song of the Yue Boatman" (Yueren Ge ), which was transcribed phonetically in Chinese characters in 528 BC, and found in the Shanshuo chapter of the Shuoyuan or 'Garden of Persuasions'. In the early 80's the Zhuang linguist Wei Qingwen using reconstructed Old Chinese for the characters discovered that the resulting vocabulary showed strong resemblance to modern Zhuang.[8] Later, Zhengzhang Shangfang (1991) followed Wei's insight but used Thai script for comparison, since this orthography dates from the 13th century and preserves archaisms vis-à-vis the modern pronunciation.[9] The following is a simplified interpretation of the "Song of the Yue Boatman" by Zhengzhang Shangfang quoted by David Holm (2013) with Thai script and Chinese glosses being omitted.[10] The upper row represents the original text, the next row the Old Chinese pronunciation, the third a transcription of written Thai, and the fourth line English glosses. Finally, there is Zhengzhang's English translation.

? ? ? ? ?
?graams ?ee brons tshuu? ?graams
glamx ?ee bln c, c glamx
evening ptl. joyful to meet evening
Oh, the fine night, we meet in happiness tonight!
? ? ? ? ? ? ?
la thjang < khljang gaah draag la thjang tju < klju
raa djaangh kra? - ?daak raa djaangh cu
we, I be apt to shy, ashamed we, I be good at to row
I am so shy, ah! I am good at rowing.
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
tju khaam? tju jen ?aa dzin sa
cu khaamx cu jnh ?aa djnh sa?
to row to cross to row slowly ptl. joyful satisfy, please
Rowing slowly across the river, ah! I am so pleased!
? ? ? ? ? ? ?
moons la ?aa tjau < kljau daans dzin lo
mm raa ?aa caux daanh djin ruux
dirty, ragged we, I ptl. prince Your Excellency acquainted know
Dirty though I am, ah! I made acquaintance with your highness the Prince.
? ? ? ? ?
sr?ms dje? < glje? s?loi gaai gaa
zumh caï r?aih graih ga?
to hide heart forever, constantly to yearn ptl.
Hidden forever in my heart, ah! is my adoration and longing.
Map of the Chinese plain at the start of the Warring States Period in the 5th century BC, showing the locations of the states of Yue and Wu.

Besides this classical case, various papers in historical linguistics have employed Thai for comparative purposes in studying the linguistic landscape of the ancient region of Southern China. Proto-reconstructions of some scattered non-Sinitic words found in the two ancient Chinese fictional texts, Mu tianzi zhuan ? (4th c. B.C.) and Yuejue shu (1st c. A.D.), are used to compare to Thai/Siamese and its related languages in Tai-Kadai language family in an attempt to identify the origins of those words. The following examples are cited from Wolfgang Behr's work (2002):

"The say y? for 'good' and hu?n for 'way', i.e. in their titles they follow the central kingdoms, but in their names they follow their own lords."

? y? < MC ?jij < OC *bq(l)ij diiA1, Longzhou dai1, Bo'ai nii1 Daiya li1, Sipsongpanna di1, Dehong li6 < proto-Tai *?d?iA1 | Sui ?daai1, Kam laai1, Maonan ?daai1, Mak ?daai6 < proto-Kam-Sui/proto-Kam-Tai *?daai1 'good'

? [hu?n] < MC hwanX < OC *awan honA1, Bo'ai h?n1, Dioi thon1 < proto-Tai *xronA1| Sui khw?n1-i, Kam khw?n1, Maonan khun1-i, Mulam khw?n1-i < proto-Kam-Sui *khw?n1 'road, way' | proto-Hlai *kuun1 || proto-Austronesian *Zalan (Thurgood 1994:353)

  • yuè jué sh? (The Book of Yuè Records), 1st c. A.D.[12]

? jué < MC dzjwet < OC *bdzot codD1 'to record, mark' (Zhengzhang Shangfang 1999:8)

"The Middle mountains of G? are the mountains of the Yuè's bronze office, the Yuè people call them 'Bronze g?[g?]dú'."

[?] g?dú < MC ku=duwk < OC *aka=alok

k?auA1 'horn', Daiya xau5, Sipsongpanna xau1, Dehong xau1, x?u1, Dioi kaou1 'mountain, hill' < proto-Tai *k?auA2; Siamese luukD2l 'classifier for mountains', Siamese k?auA1-luukD2l 'mountain' || cf. OC ? g? < kuwk << *ak-lok/luwk < *ak?-lok/yowk < *blok 'valley'

"... The Yuè people call a boat x?lú. ('beard' & 'cottage')"

? x? < MC sju < OC *bs(n)o


? < MC lu < OC *bra

r?aA2, Longzhou l2, Bo'ai luu2, Daiya h?2, Dehong h?2 'boat' < proto-Tai *dr?[a,o] | Sui lwa1/?da1, Kam lo1/lwa1, Be zoa < proto-Kam-Sui *s-lwa(n)A1 'boat'

"[Líu] Ji? (the king of J?ng ?) built the western wall, it was called dìngcuò ['settle(d)' & 'grindstone'] wall."

? dìng < MC dengH < OC *adeng-s

diaa?A1, Daiya t?h2, Sipsongpanna tse?2 'wall'

? cuò < MC tshak < OC *atshak

? tokD1s 'to set->sunset->west' (tawan-tok 'sun-set' = 'west'); Longzhou tuk7, Bo'ai t?k7, Daiya tok7, Sipsongpanna tok7 < proto-Tai *tokD1s ? Sui tok7, Mak tok7, Maonan t?k < proto-Kam-Sui *t?kD1

Varieties and related languages

According to Ethnologue, Thai language is spoken by over 20 million people (2000). Moreover, most Thais in the northern and the northeastern (Isaan) parts of the country today are bilingual speakers of Central Thai and their respective regional dialects due to the fact that (Central) Thai is the language of television, education, news reporting, and all forms of media.[15] A recent research found that the speakers of the Northern Thai language (or Kham Mueang) have become so few, as most people in northern Thailand now invariably speak Standard Thai, so that they are now using mostly Central Thai words and seasoning their speech only with "kham mueang" accent.[16]Standard Thai is based on the register of the educated classes in Bangkok.[17][18] In addition to Central Thai, Thailand is home to other related Tai languages. Although some linguists classify these dialects as related but distinct languages, native speakers often identify them as regional variants or dialects of the "same" Thai language, or as "different kinds of Thai".[19]


Central Plains Thai

Capital Core Thai

Upper Central Thai (Sukhothai dialects)

Southwestern Thai (Tenasserim Thai)

Khorat Thai

Related languages

  • Isan (Northeastern Thai), the language of the Isan region of Thailand, a collective term for the various Lao dialects spoken in Thailand that show some Central Thai influences, which used to be written with Laotian scripts (Tai Noi) and Tai Tham, as well as Old Cambodian (see Khmer script) and is now written with the Thai script. It is spoken by about 20 million people. Thais from both inside and outside the Isan region often simply call this variant "Lao" when speaking informally.
  • Northern Thai (Phasa Nuea, Lanna, Kam Mueang, or Thai Yuan), which was originally written in Tai Tham and is spoken by about 6 million (1983) in the formerly independent kingdom of Lanna (Chiang Mai). Shares strong similarities with Lao to the point that in the past the Siamese Thais referred to it as Lao.
  • Southern Thai (Thai Tai, Pak Tai, or Dambro), spoken by about 4.5 million (2006)
  • Phu Thai, spoken by about half a million around Nakhon Phanom Province, and 300,000 more in Laos and Vietnam (2006).
  • Phuan, spoken by 200,000 in central Thailand and Isan, and 100,000 more in northern Laos (2006).
  • Shan (Thai Luang, Tai Long, Thai Yai), spoken by about 100,000 in north-west Thailand along the border with the Shan States of Burma, and by 3.2 million in Burma (2006).
  • (Lue, Yong, Dai), spoken by about 1,000,000 in northern Thailand, and 600,000 more in Sipsong Panna of China, Burma, and Laos (1981-2000).
  • Nyaw language, spoken by 50,000 in Nakhon Phanom Province, Sakhon Nakhon Province, Udon Thani Province of Northeast Thailand (1990).
  • Song, spoken by about 30,000 in central and northern Thailand (2000).


Central Thai is composed of several distinct registers, forms for different social contexts:

  • Street or Common Thai (?, phasa phut, spoken Thai): informal, without polite terms of address, as used between close relatives and friends.
  • Elegant or Formal Thai (, phasa khian, written Thai): official and written version, includes respectful terms of address; used in simplified form in newspapers.
  • Rhetorical Thai: used for public speaking.
  • Religious Thai: (heavily influenced by Sanskrit and P?li) used when discussing Buddhism or addressing monks.
  • Royal Thai (, racha sap): influenced by Khmer, this is used when addressing members of the royal family or describing their activities. (See Monarchy of Thailand § Rachasap.)

Most Thais can speak and understand all of these contexts. Street and Elegant Thai are the basis of all conversations.[20][] Rhetorical, religious, and royal Thai are taught in schools as part of the national curriculum.


Thai is written in the Thai script, an abugida written from left to right. Many scholars believe[] that it is derived from the Khmer script. Certainly the numbers were lifted directly from Khmer. 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.

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:

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


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, textbooks 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,[21] and the almost identical defined by the International Organization for Standardization. The RTGS system is increasingly used in Thailand by central and local governments, especially for road signs.[22] 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).[23] 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 does not seem to appear in many other contexts, such as textbooks and other instructional media.




Standard Thai distinguishes three voice-onset times among plosive and affricate consonants:

Where English makes a distinction between voiced /b/ and unvoiced aspirated /p?/, Thai distinguishes a third sound - the unvoiced, unaspirated /p/ that occurs in English only as an allophone of /p?/, for example after an /s/ as in the sound of the p in "spin". There is similarly an alveolar /d/, /t/, /t?/ triplet in Thai. In the velar series there is a /k/, /k?/ pair and in the postalveolar series a /t/, /t/ pair, but the language lacks the corresponding voiced sounds /?/ and /d?/. (In loanwords from English, English /?/ and /d/ are borrowed as the tenuis stops /k/ and /t/.)

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). The letter ?, one of the two h letters, is also used to help write certain tones (described below).

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal [m]
Plosive voiced [b]
tenuis [p]
aspirated [p?]
Affricate tenuis [t?]
aspirated [t]
Fricative [f]
Approximant [l]
Trill [r]

* ? and ? are no longer used. Thus, modern Thai is said to have 42 consonant letters.
** Initial ? is silent and therefore considered as a glottal stop.


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 m?tr? () are used. To demonstrate, at the end of a syllable, ? (/b/) and ? (/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 [p?], [t?], and [k?] respectively.

Of the consonant letters, excluding the disused ? and ?, six (? ? ? ? ? ?) cannot be used as a final and the other 36 are grouped as following.

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal [m]
Plosive [p?]
Approximant [w]
* The glottal plosive appears at the end when no final follows a short vowel


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:

  • /kr/ (), /kl/ (), /kw/ ()
  • /k?r/ (,), /k?l/ (,), /k?w/ (,)
  • /pr/ (), /pl/ ()
  • /p?r/ (), /p?l/ (,)
  • /tr/ ()

The number of clusters increases when a few more combinations are presented in loanwords such as /t?r/ () in (/int?ra:/, from Sanskrit indr?) or /fr/ () in (/fri:/, 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 vowel nuclei of the Thai language 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.

Monophthongs of Thai. From Tingsabadh & Abramson (1993:25)
Diphthongs of Thai. From Tingsabadh & Abramson (1993:25)
  Front Back
Unrounded Rounded
short long short long short long
High /i/
Mid /e/
Low /?/
-?, -?-

The vowels each exist in long-short pairs: these are distinct phonemes forming unrelated words in Thai,[24] but usually transliterated the same: (khao) means "he" or "she", while (khao) means "white".

The long-short pairs are as follows:

Long Short
Thai IPA Example Thai IPA Example
-? /a:/ /f?:n/ 'to slice' -? /a/ /f?n/ 'to dream'
-?  /i:/ ? /krì:t/ 'to cut' -?  /i/ ? /krìt/ 'kris'
-?  /u:/ /sù:t/ 'to inhale' -?  /u/ /sùt/ 'rearmost'
?- /e:/ /:n/ 'to recline' ?-? /e/ ? /n/ 'tendon, ligament'
?- /?:/ /p:/ 'to be defeated' ?-? /?/ /p?/ 'goat'
-?-  /?:/ /k?l:n/ 'wave' -?  /?/ ? /kn/ 'to go up'
?-? /?:/ ? /d:n/ 'to walk' ?- /?/ ? /n/ 'silver'
?- /o:/ ? /k?ô:n/ 'to fell' ?-? /o/ /k?ôn/ 'thick (soup)'
-? /?:/ ? /kl?:?/ 'drum' ?- /?/ /kl/ 'box'

There are also opening and closing diphthongs in Thai, which Tingsabadh & Abramson (1993) analyze as underlyingly /Vj/ and /Vw/. For purposes of determining tone, those marked with an asterisk are sometimes classified as long:

Long Short
Thai script IPA Thai script IPA
- /a:j/ ?-*, ?-*, ?-?, - /aj/
- /a:w/ ?-?* /aw/
?- /i:?/ ?- /i?/
- - - /iw/
- /u:?/ - /u?/
- /u:j/ - /uj/
?-? /e:w/ ?- /ew/
?-? /?:w/ - -
?- /?:?/ ?- //
?-? /?:j/ - -
- /?:j/ - -
?-? /o:j/ - -

Additionally, there are three triphthongs. For purposes of determining tone, those marked with an asterisk are sometimes classified as long:

Thai script IPA
?-* /i?w/
-* /u?j/
?-* /j/


The five phonemic tones of Standard Thai pronounced with the syllable '/na:/':

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

Thai language tone chart


  1. Five-level tone value: Mid [33], Low [21], Falling [43], High [44], Rising [323]. Traditionally, the high tone was recorded as either [44] or [45]. This remains true for the older generation, but the high tone is changing to [334] among youngsters.[26][27]
  2. For the diachronic changes of tone value, please see Pittayaporn (2007).[28]
  3. The full complement of tones exists only in so-called "live syllables", those that end in a long vowel or a sonorant (/m/, /n/, /?/, /j/, /w/).
  4. 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.

Unchecked syllables

Tone Thai Example Phonemic Phonetic Gloss
mid /k:/ [k?a:?] stick
low /k?à:/ [k?a:] or [k?a:?] galangal
falling /k?â:/ [k?a:] value
high /k?á:/ [k?a:] or [k?a:?] to trade
rising /k:/ [k?a:] or [k?a:] leg

Checked syllables

Tone Thai Example Phonemic Phonetic Gloss
low (short vowel) ? /màk/ [mak] marinate
low (long vowel) ? /mà:k/ [ma:k] areca nut, areca palm, betel, fruit
high /mák/ [mak] habitually, likely to
falling /mâ:k/ [ma:k] 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.

Tone Thai Example Phonemic Phonetic Gloss
high /má:k/ [ma:k] Marc, Mark
high /sa.tá:t/ [sa.ta:t] start
high () /bá:t(.kê [ba:t(.ket.b?n?)] basketball
falling /mé:k.?âp/ [me:k.?ap] make-up

1 May be /bá:s.kê in educated speech.


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.

  • (khon uan, [k?on ?û?n ]) a fat person
  • ? (khon thi uan reo, [khon t?îû?n rew]) a person who became fat quickly

Comparatives take the form "A X ? B" (kwa, [kwà:]), A is more X than B. The superlative is expressed as "A X " (thi sut, [t?î:sùt]), A is most X.

  • (khao uan kwa chan, [kw ?û?n kwà: t?n]) S/he is fatter than me.
  • ? (khao uan thi sut, [kw ?û?n t?î:sùt]) S/he is the fattest (of all).

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.

  • (chan hiu, [t?n h?w]) I am hungry.
  • (chan cha hiu, [t?n tà? h?w]) I will be hungry.
  • (chan kamlang hiu, [t?n kamla? h?w]) I am hungry right now.
  • ? (chan hiu laeo, [t?n h?w l:w]) I am already hungry.
  • Remark ? mostly means "I am hungry right now" because normally, ? ([l:w]) marks the change of a state, but ? has many other uses as well. For example, in the sentence, ([l:w t: tà? paj n?j]): So where are you going?, ? ([l:w]) is used as a discourse particle.


Verbs do not inflect. They do not change with person, tense, voice, mood, or number; nor are there any participles.

  • (chan ti khao, [t?n ti: kw]), I hit him.
  • (khao ti chan, [kw ti: t?n]), He hit me.

The passive voice is indicated by the insertion of (thuk, [t?ù:k]) before the verb. For example:

  • (khao thuk ti, [kw t?ù:k ti:]), He is hit. This describes an action that is out of the receiver's control and, thus, conveys suffering.

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

  • (khao cha dai pai thiao mueang lao, [kw ta? dâj paj t?îow m?: la:w]), He gets to visit Laos.

Note, dai ([dâj] and [dâ:j]), though both spelled , convey two separate meanings. The short vowel dai ([dâj]) conveys an opportunity has arisen and is placed before the verb. The long vowel dai ([dâ:j]) 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.

  • (khao ti dai, [kw ti: dâ:j]), He is/was allowed to hit or He is/was able to hit

Negation is indicated by placing (mai,[mâj] not) before the verb.

  • , (khao mai ti) He is not hitting. or He doesn't hit.

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

Present can be indicated by (kamlang, [kamla?], currently) before the verb for ongoing action (like English -ing form), by ? (yu, [jù:]) after the verb, or by both. For example:
  • (khao kamlang wing, [kw kamla? wî?]), or
  • (khao wing yu, [kw wî? jù:]), or
  • ? (khao kamlang wing yu, [kw kamla? wî? jù:]), He is running.
Future can be indicated by (cha, [ta?], "will") before the verb or by a time expression indicating the future. For example:
  • (khao cha wing, [kw ta? wî?]), He will run or He is going to run.
Past can be indicated by (dai, [dâ:j], "did") before the verb or by a time expression indicating the past. However, ? (laeo,  :[l:w], already) is often used to indicate the past tense by being placed behind the verb. Or, both and ? are put together to form the past tense expression. For example:
  • (khao dai kin, [kw dâ:j kin]), He ate.
  • ? (khao kin laeo, [kw kin l:w], He has eaten.
  • ? (khao dai kin laeo, [kw dâ:j kin l:w]), He's already eaten.

Tense markers are not required.

  • ? (chan kin thinan, [t?n kin t?î:nân]), I eat there.
  • (chan kin thinan mueawan), I ate there yesterday.
  • (chan kin thinan phrungni), I'll eat there tomorrow.

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

  • (khao pai kin khao, [kw paj kin k?â:w]) He went out to eat, literally He go eat rice
  • (chan fang mai khao chai, [t?n fa? mâj k?âw taj]) I don't understand what was said, literally I listen not understand
  • (khao ma, [k?âw ma:]) Come in, literally enter come
  • ! (ok pai, [:k paj]) Leave! or Get out!, literally exit go


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 (dek, child) is often repeated as ? ? (dek dek) to refer to a group of children. The word (phuak, [p?ûak]) may be used as a prefix of a noun or pronoun as a collective to pluralize or emphasise the following word. (, phuak phom, [p?ûak pm], we, masculine; phuak rao, [p?ûak raw], emphasised we; phuak ma, (the) dogs). Plurals are expressed by adding classifiers, used as measure words (), in the form of noun-number-classifier ( khru ha khon, "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").

Possession in Thai is indicated by adding the word (khong) in front of the noun or pronoun, but it may often be omitted. For example:

  • (luk khong mae) = "child belonging to mother" English = mother's child
  • ? (na a) = "field uncle" English = uncle's field [29]


Subject pronouns are often omitted, with nicknames used where English would use a pronoun. See Thai names#Formal and informal 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 royalty, and for Buddhist monks. The following are appropriate for conversational use:

Word RTGS IPA Meaning
phom [pm] I/me (masculine; formal)
dichan [dì?tán]) I/me (feminine; formal)
chan [t?n] [tán]}
ku [k?] I/me (informal/impolite)
rao [raw] we/us, I/me (casual), you (sometimes used but only when older person speaks to younger person)
khun [k?un] you (polite)
? than [t?ân] you (highly honorific)
thoe [t:] you (informal), she/her (informal)
phi [p?î:] older brother, sister (also used for older acquaintances)
? nong [n?:?] younger brother, sister (also used for younger acquaintances)
khao [kw] he/him, she/her
man [man] it, he/she (sometimes casual or offensive if used to refer to a person)

The reflexive pronoun is (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 (tua phom eng, lit: I myself) or (tua khun eng, lit: you yourself). Thai also does not have a separate possessive pronoun. Instead, possession is indicated by the particle (khong). For example, "my mother" is (mae khong phom, lit: mother of I). This particle is often implicit, so the phrase is shortened to (mae phom). Plural pronouns can be easily constructed by adding the word (phuak) in front of a singular pronoun as in (phuak khao) meaning they or (phuak thoe) meaning the plural sense of you. The only exception to this is (rao), which can be used as singular (informal) or plural, but can also be used in the form of (phuak rao), which is only plural.

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

  • " ? ? " all translate to "I", but each expresses a different gender, age, politeness, status, or relationship between speaker and listener.
  • (rao) can be first person (I), second person (you), or both (we), depending on the context.
  • Children or younger female could use or being referred by word (nu) when talking with older person. The word could be both feminine first person (I) and feminine second person (you) and also neuter first and neuter second person for children.
    • commonly means rat or mouse, though it also refers to small creatures in general.
  • The second person pronoun (thoe) (lit: you) is semi-feminine. It is used only when the speaker or the listener (or both) are female. Males usually don't address each other by this pronoun.
  • Both (khun) and (thoe) are polite neuter second person pronouns. However, (khun thoe) is a feminine derogative third person.
  • Instead of a second person pronoun such as "" (you), it is much more common for unrelated strangers to call each other " ? " (brother/sister/aunt/uncle/granny).
  • To express deference, the second person pronoun is sometimes replaced by a profession, similar to how, in English, presiding judges are always addressed as "your honor" rather than "you". In Thai, students always address their teachers by "" or "" or "?" (each means "teacher") rather than (you). Teachers, monks, and doctors are almost always addressed this way.


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 ? (khrap, [k?ráp], with a high tone) when the speaker is male, and (kha, [k?â], with a falling tone) when the speaker is female. Used in a question or a request, the particle (falling tone) is changed to a (high tone).

Other common particles are:

Word RTGS IPA Meaning
cha/ja [tá?] indicating a request
, or cha/ja [tâ:] indicating emphasis
or la [lá?] indicating emphasis
si [sì?] indicating emphasis or an imperative
na [ná?] softening; indicating a request


As noted above, Thai has several registers, each having certain usages, such as colloquial, formal, literary, and poetic. Thus, the word "eat" can be (kin; common), (daek; vulgar), (yat; vulgar), (boriphok; formal), (rapprathan; formal), (chan; religious), or ? (sawoei; royal), as illustrated below:

"to eat" IPA Usage Note
/k?n/ common
/d:k/ vulgar
/ját/ vulgar Original meaning is 'to cram'
/b:.ri.p?ô:k/ formal, literary
/ráp.pra.t:n/ formal, polite Often shortened to /t:n/.
/t?n/ religious
? /sa.w:j/ royal

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


Other than compound words and words of foreign origin, most words are monosyllabic.

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 many words borrowed from Middle Chinese.[30][31][32]

Later most vocabulary was borrowed from Sanskrit and P?li; Buddhist terminology is particularly indebted to these. Indic words have a more formal register, and may be compared to Latin and French borrowings in English. 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, technical, international, and other modern terms.

Origin Example IPA Gloss
Native Tai

Indic sources:
Pali or Sanskrit



Arabic words Thai rendition IPA Gloss
(al-qurn) or (qurn) or ? /an.kù.rá.a:n/ or /k?.rà:n/ Quran
(rajm) ? /rá.jam/ bad, vile (pejorative)


From Middle Chinese or Teochew Chinese.

Chinese words Thai rendition IPA Gloss
(teochew: gao1 in2) ? /kâw.?î:/ chair
/ (min nan: kóe-tiâu) ? / rice noodle
? (hokkien: chiá/ché, teochew:2/zia2) or /tê:/ or /té:/ older sister (used in Chinese community in Thailand)
? (hokkien: j?, teochew: ri6) /jî:/ two (archaic), but still used in word (/jî:.sìp/; twenty)
? (middle chinese: d?uH) ? /t?ù?/ bean
? (middle chinese: X/H) ? /?à:?/ basin
? (middle chinese: k?au) /k?:w/ glue
? (middle chinese: k?æ?X) ? /kâ:?/ fishbone
? (middle chinese: kmX) /km/ pit
? (middle chinese: duo/a) /t:/ to smear
? (middle chinese: t?u?iH) /tj/ to step back


English words Thai rendition IPA Remark
bank /b:?/ means bank or banknote
bill /biw/ or /bin/
cake ? /k?é:k/
captain /kàp.t?n/
cartoon ? /k?:.t?:n/
clinic /k?l?:.nìk/
computer /km.p?íw.t:/ colloquially shortened to /km/
corruption /k:.ráp.tân/
diesel /d?:.s?n/
dinosaur /d?i.n?:.s?u/
duel /dn/
email /:.m?:w/
fashion /f:.tân/
golf /k:p/
government /kàt.f?n.m?n/ (obsolete)
graph ? /krá:p/ or /ká:p/
plastic ? /p?lá:t.sà.tìk/ (educated speech)
quota /kw?:.tâ:/
shampoo /tm.p:/
suit /sù:t/
suite ? /sà.wì:t/
taxi ? /tk.sî:/
technology /t?ék.n?:.l?:.jî:/
titanium /tj.t:.nî?m/
visa /w?:.sâ:/
wreath ()? /rì:t/


French words Thai rendition IPA Remark
aval /:.w?n/
buffet ? /búp.fê:/
café /k?:.f:/
chauffeur ? /t?:.f:/
consul /k.s?n/
coupon /k:.p/
pain () /p/ means bread
parquet /p?:.kê:/
pétanque /p?:.t/


From Old Khmer.

Khmer words Thai rendition IPA Gloss
(grong) ? /kr/ capital city
(kty) /kà.t:j/ Kathoey
(chrâmuh) ? /tà.mù:k/ nose
(cra?n) /tà.r:n/ prosperous
/ (chl?t) ? /tà.là:t/ smart
(thenâl) /t?à.n?n/ road
(pl) /p?l:?/ fire
(tonle) ? /t?á.l?:/ sea


The Portuguese were the first Western nation to arrive in what is modern-day Thailand in the 16th century during the Ayutthaya period. Their influence in trade, especially weaponry, allowed them to establish a community just outside the capital and practice their faith, as well as exposing and converting the locals to Christianity. Thus, Portuguese words involving trade and religion were introduced and used by the locals.

Portuguese words Thai rendition IPA Gloss
carta / cartaz /krà.dà:t/ paper
garça () /krà.s?:/ heron
leilão /l?:.l/ auction or low-priced
padre (?) /bà:t.l?a?/ (Christian) priest[33]
real /r?an/ coin
sabão ? /sà.bù:/ soap

See also


  1. ^ In Thai: ? Phasa Thai
  2. ^ Not to be confused with Central Tai
  3. ^ Although "Thai" and "Central Thai" has become more common, the older term "Siamese" is still used by linguists, especially to distinguish it from other Tai languages (Diller 2008:6[full ]). "Proto-Thai", for example, is the ancestor of all of Southwestern Tai, not just of Siamese (Rischel 1998[full ]).
  4. ^ Occasionally referred to as the "Central Thai people" in linguistics and anthropology to avoid confusion.
  5. ^ The glottalized stops /?b ?d/ were unaffected, as they were treated in every respect like voiceless unaspirated stops due to the initial glottal stop. These stops are often described in the modern language as phonemically plain stops /b d/, but the glottalization is still commonly heard.
  6. ^ 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/ > /k?/. For similar reasons, Lao has developed more than two tonal distinctions in "dead" syllables.
  7. ^ These dialects are oftentimes stereotyped as Krung Thep dialects by outsiders.



  1. ^ a b Thai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ "Languages of ASEAN". Retrieved 2017.
  3. ^ Diller, A.; Reynolds, Craig J. (2002). "What makes central Thai a national language?". In Reynolds (ed.). National identity and its defenders : Thailand today. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books. ISBN 974-7551-88-8. OCLC 54373362.
  4. ^ Draper, John (2019-04-17), "Language education policy in Thailand", The Routledge International Handbook of Language Education Policy in Asia, Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, 2019. |: Routledge, pp. 229-242, doi:10.4324/9781315666235-16, ISBN 978-1-315-66623-5CS1 maint: location (link)
  5. ^ Baker, Christopher (2014). A history of Thailand. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press. pp. 3-4. ISBN 9781316007334.
  6. ^ Enfield, N.J. "How to define 'Lao', 'Thai', and 'Isan' language? A view from linguistic science". Tai Culture. 3 (1): 62-67.
  7. ^ Ying-yai Sheng-lan: The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores (1433), Hakluyt Society at the University Press, 1970, ISBN 0521010322
  8. ^ Edmondson 2007, p. 16.
  9. ^ Zhengzhang 1991, pp. 159-168.
  10. ^ Holm 2013, pp. 784-785.
  11. ^ Behr 2002, pp. 1-2.
  12. ^ a b Behr 2002, p. 2.
  13. ^ Behr 2002, pp. 2-3.
  14. ^ Behr 2002, p. 3.
  15. ^ Peansiri Vongvipanond (Summer 1994). "Linguistic Perspectives of Thai Culture". paper presented to a workshop of teachers of social science. University of New Orleans. p. 2. Archived from the original on 5 January 2013. Retrieved 2011. The dialect one hears on radio and television is the Bangkok dialect, considered the standard dialect.
  16. ^ Kemasingki, Pim; Prateepkoh, Pariyakorn (August 1, 2017). "Kham Mueang: the slow death of a language". Chiang Mai City Life: 8. there are still many people speaking kham mueang, but as an accent, not as a language. Because we now share the written language with Bangkok, we are beginning to use its vocabulary as well
  17. ^ Andrew Simpson (2007). Language and national identity in Asia. 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
  18. ^ Thepboriruk, Kanjana (2010). "Bangkok Thai tones revisited". Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistic Society. University of Hawaii Press. 3 (1): 86-105. Linguists generally consider Bangkok Thai and Standard Thai, the Kingdom's national language, to be one and the same.
  19. ^ Antonio L. Rappa; Lionel Wee (2006), Language Policy and Modernity in Southeast Asia: Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, Springer, pp. 114-115
  20. ^ "The Languages spoken in Thailand". Studycountry. Retrieved .
  21. ^ Royal Thai General System of Transcription, published by the Thai Royal Institute only in Thai
  22. ^ Handbook and standard for traffic signs (PDF) (in Thai), Appendix ?
  23. ^ ISO Standard.
  24. ^ Tingsabadh & Abramson (1993:25)
  25. ^ Frankfurter, Oscar. Elements of Siamese grammar with appendices. American Presbyterian mission press, 1900 [1] (Full text available on Google Books)
  26. ^ Teeranon, Phanintra. (2007). "The change of Standard Thai high tone: An acoustic study and a perceptual experiment". SKASE Journal of Theoretical Linguistics, 4(3), 1-16.
  27. ^ Thepboriruk, Kanjana. (2010). "Bangkok Thai Tones Revisited". Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, 3(1), 86-105.
  28. ^ Pittayaporn, Pittayawat. (2007). "Directionality of Tone Change". Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS XVI).
  29. ^ "". Retrieved 2010.
  30. ^ Martin Haspelmath, Uri Tadmor Loanwords in the World's Languages: A Comparative Handbook 2009 -- Page 611 "Thai is of special interest to lexical borrowing for various reasons. The copious borrowing of basic vocabulary from Middle Chinese and later from Khmer indicates that, given the right sociolinguistic context, such vocabulary is not at all immune ..."
  31. ^ Harald Haarmann Language in Ethnicity: A View of Basic Ecological Relations 1986- Page 165 "In Thailand, for instance, where the Chinese influence was strong until the Middle Ages, Chinese characters were abandoned in written Thai in the course of the thirteenth century."
  32. ^ Paul A. Leppert Doing Business With Thailand -1992 Page 13 "At an early time the Thais used Chinese characters. But, under the influence of Indian traders and monks, they soon dropped Chinese characters in favor of Sanskrit and Pali scripts."
  33. ^ ?-? " ?" ?


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Further reading

External links

Glossaries and word lists
Learners' resources

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