Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Language Profile: Thai

This week we're taking a look at Thai, the sole official language of Thailand. It's a member of the Tai-Kadai language family which also includes Lao, the official language of neighboring Laos. The two languages are very closely related, and are even said by some to be partly mutually intelligible.

A mythological creature at Wat Phra Kaew
Buddhist temple in Bangkok.
Thai is also known as Siamese, due to the fact that the Thai ethnic group was formerly known by that name. That doesn't mean that your mind should be filled with images of certain cats and conjoined twins, however. Standard Thai is based on a dialect native to Bangkok that is generally used by the educated classes.

The Thai language uses various registers for communication in different social situations. Most conversations involve use of the informal or formal registers, which are fairly self-explanatory. There are also three other registers that can be used. The rhetorical register is used for public speaking, while the royal register is used when speaking to or about the royal family. Finally, the religious register is reserved for discussions of Buddhism or conversations with monks, something we also saw in our profile on Burmese.

In terms of its lexicon, it is interesting to note that most Thai words are monosyllabic. The language also has borrowed some terminology from Chinese and Sanskrit in the past, while English has been more influential in recent years.

Thai is written using Thai script, an abugida with 44 consonants. It is also a tonal language that uses five tones, referred to as mid, low, falling, high, and rising. The tones can be seen in written Thai in the form of tone markers.