Languages of Thailand
Thailand, and its neighbor Laos, are dominated by languages of the Southwestern Tai family. Karen languages are spoken along the border with Burma, Khmer near Cambodia (and previously throughout central Thailand), and Malay in the south near Malaysia. The Thai hill tribes speak numerous small languages, many Chinese retain varieties of Chinese, and there are half a dozen sign languages. The Ethnologue reports 73 living languages are used in Thailand.
The official language of Thailand is Standard Thai, a Thai language closely related to Lao, Shan in Burma, and numerous smaller languages of southern China and northern Vietnam. It is the principal language of education and government and is spoken throughout the country. The standard is based on the dialect of Bangkok, and it is written in the Thai alphabet, an abugida that evolved from the Khmer script.
Thailand is also host to several other minority languages, the largest of which is the Lao dialect of Isan spoken in the northeastern provinces. The region in where it is traditionally spoken was historically part of the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang. In the far south, Yawi, a dialect of Malay, is the primary language of the Malay Muslims. Varieties of Chinese are also spoken by the large Chinese population, with Teochew being best represented.
Numerous tribal languages are also spoken, including those belonging to the Mon–Khmer family, such as Mon, Khmer, Mlabri and Orang Asli; Austronesian family, such as Cham and Moken; Sino-Tibetan family such as Lawa, Akhan, and Karen; and other Thai languages such as Nyaw, Phu Thai, and Saek. Hmong is a member of the Hmong–Mien languages, which is now regarded as a language family of its own.
Several village sign languages are reported among the hill tribes, though it is not clear whether these are independent languages, as only Ban Khor Sign Language has been described. Two related Deaf-community sign languages developed in Chiangmai and Bangkok; the national Thai Sign Language developed from these under the influence of American Sign Language.
English is a mandatory school subject, but the number of fluent speakers remains very low, especially outside the cities.
- Languages of Thailand at Ethnologue