What Languages Are Spoken in Thailand?

By Amber Pariona on August 13 2018 in Society

A Thai language newspaper.
A Thai language newspaper.

Official Language of Thailand

Thailand is located in Southeast Asia, in the central region of the Indochinese peninsula. The country shares borders with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Malaysia. Thailand has a population size of approximately 66 million, which consists of a number of diverse ethnic groups. Thai is the country's official language and is spoken by the majority of these individuals.

The Thai language, sometimes referred to as the Siamese language, belongs to the Tai-Kadai language family. Linguists have determined that the language originated from several languages: Sanskrit, Old Khmer, and Pali. It sounds similar to Lao when spoken.

Roughly 30% of Thailand's population speak Thai as a native language. According to linguists, this language is divided into several different languages, although native Thai speakers consider these other languages to be regional. These diverse Thai languages include: Phu Thai, Shan, Song, Isan, Southern Thai, Nyaw, Northern Thai, Phuan, and Lu. Some of these are considered minority languages of the country.

Minority Languages of Thailand

A number of minority languages are also spoken in Thailand, including Yawi, Teochew, and Lao. Of these, Lao is the most widely spoken and considered a dialect of the Isan language. The Lao language, also known as Laotian, is spoken primarily in the northeastern region of the country.

The majority of Malay Muslims in Thailand speak Yawi, which is a dialect of Malay. This dialect is also used as the language of business and commerce in rural southern areas. Although considered a dialect, it has been isolated from other Malay languages for so long that the two are not easily understood by their speakers. The area in which Yawi is spoken is separated by the South China Sea, mountains, and the rainforest.

The Teochew language is actually considered a dialect of the Chinese Minnan language. This language is rooted in Old Chinese and continues to use some of its vocabulary and pronunciation.

Indigenous Languages of Thailand

The indigenous languages of Thailand belong to 5 language families, including Austronesian, Hmong-Mien, Thai, Mon-Khmer, and Sino-Tibetan. Urak Lawoi and Moken belong to the Austronesian language family. The Moken language is spoken by the Moken people who live throughout the Mergui Archipelago, which shared between Thailand and Burma. It has approximately 8,000 native speakers.

The Hmong language belongs to the Hmong-Mien language family. It is spoken by the Hmong people, who have migrated to Thailand over the last few hundred years. Approximately 3.7 million individuals speak Hmong as a native language, although these individuals are spread out across several countries.

Saek, Nyaw, Yoy, and Phu Thai all belong to the Thai language family. Of these, Phu Thai is the most widely spoken, with approximately 870,000 native speakers in Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. In 1993, Thailand reported 156,000 Phu Thai speakers.

The Mon-Khmer language family has the greatest number of indigenous languages in Thailand, with 5 different languages: Khmer, Mlabri, Orang Asli, Mon, and Lawa. Of these, Khmer is the most widely spoken, and has around 16 million speakers in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Akhan and Karen are the two Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in Thailand. The Akha language is spoken in northern Thailand by the Akha people. Most of these individuals live in remote and mountainous regions.

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