Monday, December 15, 2014

Country Profile: The Languages of Thailand

Last week, we looked at the linguistic diversity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This week we're returning to Asia, with our focus devoted to the many fascinating languages of Thailand.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Thailand is Thai, a member of the Tai-Kadai language family. Thai is spoken by the majority of the population of Thailand, and is the primary language used by the government and in education.

Minority Languages

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a Buddhist temple in Thailand.
Despite having just one official language, Thailand is home to many other minority languages. The Isan dialects of Lao, the official language of neighboring Laos, are spoken by many Thai people in northeastern Thailand. Isan dialects differ from the Lao language spoken in Laos because they tend to incorporate many elements of the Thai language, such as vocabulary and grammar.

Another important minority language in Thailand is Yawi, a dialect of Malay, an Austronesian language spoken in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. It is primarily spoken by the Thai Malay ethnic group.

Other minority languages spoken in Thailand include the Karen languages, a group of tonal languages that belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family, and Khmer, the official language of Cambodia. The Karen languages are spoken by the Karen people near Thailand's border with Burma, while Khmer, an Austro-Asiatic language, is mainly spoken in regions bordering Cambodia. Varieties of the Chinese language are also spoken by the many ethnic Chinese people living in Thailand.

There are many more languages spoken in Thailand, we just don't have time to discuss them all. They include Austro-Asiatic languages such as Mon and Vietnamese, Austronesian languages like the Cham language, and Hmong, the language of the Hmong people.