LEARN THAI

This information has been put together by http://www.thai-language.com/ if you want to learn the Thai language this website is a good place to start, it has lessons, useful info, dictionary, and a forum you can use if you get stuck, as well as a good online store to buy Thai language resources.

Thai is the national language of Thailand, spoken by around eighty percent of the sixty million residents of the South-East Asian country. Linguists consider it an “uninflected, primarily monosyllabic, tonal language” in the “Ka-Tai group.” The spoken language is believed to have originated in the area which is now the border between Vietnam and China, an idea which provides clues to the origin of the Thai people, an area of continued scholarly debate. Linguistically, the language is related to languages spoken in eastern Burma (Myanmar), northern Vietnam, Yunnan, and Laos.

The written Thai Language was introduced by the third Sukhothai period king, Ramkhamhaeng, in 1283. This writing system has undergone little change since its introduction, so inscriptions from the Sukothai era can be read by modern Thai scholars. The writing was based on Pali, Sanskrit, and Indian concepts, and many Mon and Khmer words entered the language.

Regional variation

Within Thailand, there are four major dialects, corresponding to the southern, northern (“Yuan”), northeastern (close to Lao language), and central regions of the country; the latter is called Central Thai or Bangkok Thai and is taught in all schools, is used for most television broadcasts, and is widely understood in all regions. Nowadays, English is also taught in all public schools. There are a few minor Thai dialects such as Phuan and Lue, spoken by small populations. Also within Thailand, small ethnic minority groups (including so-called “hill tribes”) account for around sixty languages which are not considered related to Thai.

The four primary dialects of Thai should not be confused with four different “languages” used by Thais in different social circumstances. For example, certain words are used only by Thai royalty, creating a royal language. There are also languages used for religious figures, polite everyday interactions, and gruff or crude communications.

Alphabet and tones

The Thai language uses a phonemic alphabet of fourty-four consonant and fifteen basic vowel graphemes. The latter are assembled into about thirty-two vowel combinations. In Thai writing, characters are horizontally placed, left to right, with no intervening space, to form syllables, words, and sentences. Vowel graphemes are written above, below, before, or after the consonant they modify, although the consonant always sounds first when the syllable is spoken. The vowel graphemes (and a few consonants) can be combined in various ways to produce numerous compound vowels (diphthongs and triphthongs).

All syllables must contain a vowel sound, but may begin and/or end with a consonant sound. A syllable which ends in a vowel sound is called open, and a syllable which ends in a consonant is called closed. Each syllable is pronounced in one of five tones: mid, high, low, rising, or falling; as a result, speaking correctly creates pleasing melodic patterns which has led the language to sometimes be called a sing-song language by foreigners.

Unlike the Chinese language, the Thai alphabet is phonemic, so pronunciation of a word is independent of its meaning (English is also an alphabetic language). Because of this, it is possible to pronounce a word without knowing it’s meaning. On the other hand, Thai is tonal, like Chinese and unlike English. This means that each word has a certain pitch characteristic with which it must be spoken to be properly understood. The Thai language uses five tones: mid, low, high, rising, and falling.

Each syllable, consisting of one or more consonants and a simple or compound vowel (possibly inherent or implied, and thus not written) has a “default” tone determined by several factors, including the type of consonant(s) present (consonants are divided into three classes for this purpose). The syllable’s tone can be modified by one of four tone marks. Some people incorrectly assume that the tone marks identify all necessary tones, or perhaps force certain tones, but neither of these is correct. Actually the final tone of a syllable is determined by the tone mark in conjunction with the type of syllable, as determined by the vowel and consonant characters present.

Grammar

The grammar of the Thai language is considerably simpler than grammar in Western languages, and for many students, this makes up for the additional difficulty of the tones. Most significantly, words are not modified or conjugated for tenses, declensions, plurals, genders, or subject-verb agreement. Articles such as a, an, or the are not used. Most Thai words are a simple single immutable syllable. Thai words are assembled into larger forms by aggregation; particles and other helper-words are sprinkled about to fine-tune the meaning. Tenses, levels of politeness, verb-to-noun conversion, and other semantic objectives are accomplished with the simple addition of modifying words to the basic subject-verb-object word order.

As you will surely notice when speaking Thai people, they “greatly appreciate puns and double-entendres which, besides enlivening everyday vernacular, spice and propel outrageous dialogue in popular art forms such as folk theatre.”

Learning Thai

Many westerners do not make time to learn written Thai, focusing instead only on speaking. One problem with this approach is that the various reference materials you will accumulate each use a different transcription scheme (phonemic spelling with a western alphabet), and it thus becomes difficult to recognize connections between your multiple sources of information. Although only you can decide whether to make the extra effort to study Thai script, I think it can provide a valuable and rewarding foundation for continued learning of the Thai language.

Some beginning students are intimidated by the initricacies of language used by people of different social class in Thailand. This is not a problem, however, since the rules are quite general, and foreigners may be allowed more leeway, since the effort to speak Thai is widely appreciated. There are many ways to say “I” or “you,” for example, but some are only used by royalty, ecclesiastics, etc., so they won’t be of concern to the beginner.

COMMON WORDS & PHRASES

What is Your Name? Khun shu aria?
Yes Cha
No Mai
I don’t understand you. Phom mai khow chai
Thank You Khob khun
Smile Yim
Sorry Sia-chai
Mosquito yung
Drunk Maow
Hungry Hiew
Money Ngoen>
Pretty Suai
I don’t speak Thai Phom phound Thai mia-dai

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This information has been gathered from the following website http://www.thai-language.com