Divided into four main dialects, Thai is nowadays spoken by approximately 70 million people. In the south, the people express themselves in Southern Thai. In the north, we find Northern Thai or Muang. In the northeast, it is Isan and in central Thailand, Siamese or Central Thai.
The Siamese people, leaders in the country, decided on the linguistic norms and imposed their dialect as the official language in Thailand. The Siamese, or “true Thai” as they like to call themselves, have spread the use of their language variety to the media, to the field of education and to the government.
The Thai language belongs to the Tai-Kadai language family, which originated in southern China. During the 11th century, the first Thai colonists enriched bit by bit the Chinese influence by borrowing and adapting various Mon and Khmer words. Since its creation in 1283 by King Ramakaeng of the Sukhotai kingdom, the Thai alphabet, composed of twenty consonants and twenty-four vowels, has remained unchanged. Thanks to the king’s achievement, the country developed a cultural identity and a feeling of belonging.
The Thai language distinguishes itself from other languages through the use of five different tones: middle, low, descending, high and ascending. These tones play an important role as they influence the meaning of the word to which they are attached, a feature which makes this language particularly attractive and interesting to learn.
Classification by language family:
Tai-Kadai languages > Kam Tai languages > Southwestern Tai languages > East Central Tai languages > Chiang Saeng languages > Thai