Northern Thai language

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Northern Thai
Tai Tham script traditional transcription (top)
Thai alphabet currently popular
with non-standard form (bottom)
Native toThailand
(Chiang Mai, Lamphun,
Lampang, Uttaradit,
Phrae, Nan, Phayao,
Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son and Communities throughout Thailand)

(Tachileik, Myawaddy)
(Houayxay, Ton Pheung)
RegionNorthern Thailand
EthnicityNorthern Thai
Native speakers
6 million (2015)[1]
Tai Tham script
Thai script
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3nod

Kam Mueang (Northern Thai: ᨣᩴᩤᨾᩮᩬᩥᨦ, กำเมือง ) or Northern Thai language (Thai: ภาษาไทยถิ่นเหนือ) is the language of the Northern Thai people of Lanna, Thailand. It is a Southwestern Tai language that is closely related to Tai Lue language. Kam Mueang has approximately six million speakers, most of whom live in the native Northern Thailand, with a smaller community of Lanna speakers in northwestern Laos.

Speakers of this language generally consider the name "Tai Yuan" to be pejorative[citation needed]. They refer to themselves as Khon Mueang (ᨤᩫ᩠ᨶᨾᩮᩬᩥᨦ, คนเมือง, [kʰon˧.mɯaŋ˧] – literally "people of Mueang" meaning "city dwellers"), Lanna, or Northern Thai. The language is also sometimes referred to as Phayap (พายัพ, Thai pronunciation: [pʰāː.jáp]), "Northwestern (speech)".

The term Yuan is still sometimes used for Northern Thai's distinctive Tai Tham alphabet, which is closely related to the old Tai Lue alphabet and the Lao religious alphabets. The use of the Tua Mueang, as the traditional alphabet is known, is now largely limited to Buddhist temples, where many old sermon manuscripts are still in active use. There is no active production of literature in the traditional alphabet, and when used in writing standard Thai script is invariably used. The modern spoken form is called Kam Mueang. There is a resurgence of interest in writing it in the traditional way, but the modern pronunciation differs from that prescribed in spelling rules.[2]

Nameboard of a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai written with Tai Tham script: Wat Mokhamtuang (and street number 119 in Thai)


Northern Thai is classified as one of the Chiang Saen languages—others being Thai, Southern Thai and numerous smaller languages, which together with the Northwestern Tai and Lao-Phutai languages, form the Southwestern branch of Tai languages. The Tai languages are a branch of the Kra–Dai language family, which encompasses a large number of indigenous languages spoken in an arc from Hainan and Guangxi south through Laos and Northern Vietnam to the Cambodian border.

From a purely genealogical standpoint, most linguists consider Northern Thai to be more closely related to Central Thai than to Lao or Isan, but the language has been heavily influenced by both Lao and Central Thai throughout history. All Southwestern Tai languages form a coherent dialect continuum of more or less mutually intelligible varieties, with few sharp dividing lines. Nevertheless, Northern Thai has today become closer to the Central Thai language, as Standard Thai is the principal language of education and government and spoken throughout Thailand.



The Northern Thai language has various names in Northern Thai, Thai, and other Tai languages.

  • In Northern Thai, it is commonly called kam mueang (ᨣᩴᩤᨾᩮᩬᩥᨦ, /kām.mɯ̄aŋ/, literally "city language"; cf. Standard Thai: คำเมือง /kʰām.mɯ̄aŋ/), or phasa Lan Na (ᨽᩣᩈᩣᩃ᩶ᩣ᩠ᨶᨶᩣ, ภาษาล้านนา /pʰāː.sǎː.láːn.nāː/, literally "the language of Lan Na").
  • In Central Thai and Southern Thai, Northern Thai is known as phasa thin phayap (ภาษาถิ่นพายัพ /pʰāː.sǎː.tʰìn.pʰāː.jáp/, literally "the language of the northwestern region"), or phasa thai thin nuea (ภาษาไทยถิ่นเหนือ /pʰāː.sǎː.tʰāj.tʰìn.nɯ̌a/, literally "the Thai language of the northern region", or colloquially it is known as phasa nuea (ภาษาเหนือ /pʰāː.sǎː.nɯ̌a/, literally "the northern language").
  • In Lao, it is known as phasa nyuan or phasa nyon (ພາສາຍວນ or ພາສາໂຍນ respectively, /pʰáː.sǎː.ɲúan/ or /pʰáː.sǎː.ɲóːn/ respectively, literally "the Tai Yuan language").
  • In Tai Lü, it is known as kam yon (ᦅᧄᦍᦷᧃ kâm.jôn, literally "the Tai Yuan language").
  • In Shan it is known as kwam yon (ၵႂၢမ်းယူၼ်း kwáːm.jón, literally "the Tai Yuan language").


Tai migration[edit]

Map showing the general migration patterns and diversification of the Tai peoples and languages from the original Tai Urheimat of southeastern China.

The ancestors of the Northern Thai people were speakers of Southwestern Tai dialects that migrated from what is now southeastern China, specifically what is now Guangxi and northern Vietnam where the diversity of various Tai languages suggests an Urheimat. The Southwestern Tai languages began to diverge from the Northern and Central branches of the Tai languages, covered mainly by various Zhuang languages, sometime around 112 AD, but likely completed by the sixth century.[3] Due to the influx of Han Chinese soldiers and settlers, the end of the Chinese occupation of Vietnam, the fall of Jiaozhi and turbulence associated with the decline and fall of the Tang dynasty led some of the Tai peoples speaking Southwestern Tai to flee into Southeast Asia, with the small-scale migration mainly taking place between the eighth and twelfth centuries. The Tais split and followed the major river courses, with the ancestral Northern Thai originating in the Tai migrants that followed the Mekong River.[4]

Indianized kingdoms[edit]

Ancestors of the Northern Thai people established Ngoenyang, an early kingdom that existed between the 7th to 13th centuries, as well as smaller kingdoms like Phayao, in what is now modern-day northern Thailand. They settled in areas adjacent to the kingdom of Hariphunchai, coming into contact with Mon-speaking people whose writing system was eventually adapted for the Northern Thai language as the Tai Tham script.[5] In the 13th century, King Mangrai consolidated control of these territories, establishing the kingdom of Lan Na. In the 15th century, King Tilokkarat ushered in a golden age for Northern Thai literature, with a profusion of palm leaf manuscripts written in Tai Tham, using vernacular Northern Thai and interspersed with Pali and Buddhist Indic vocabulary.[6][5]

Thai subordination[edit]

In 1775, Kawila of Lampang revolted with Siamese assistance, and captured the city, ending 200 years of Burmese rule. Kawila was installed as the prince of Lampang and Phraya Chaban as the prince of Chiang Mai, both as vassals of Siam. In 1899, Siam annexed the Northern Thai principalities, effectively dissolving their status as sovereign tributary states.

The Compulsory Education Act of 1921 banned schools and temples from using languages other than Central Thai (standard Thai), in an effort to bring remote regions under Siamese control.[5] Northern Thai was relegated from the public sphere, with influential religious leaders like Khruba Srivichai jailed for using Northern Thai in sermons.[5] In the 1940s, authorities promulgated Thai cultural mandates that reinforced the importance of learning and using Central Thai as the prestige language.[5]

These economic and educational pressures have increased the use of standard Thai to the detriment of other regional languages like Northern Thai.[7][8] Today, Northern Thai is typically code-switched with standard Thai, especially in more developed and urbanized areas of Northern Thailand, whereas exclusive use of Northern Thai remains prevalent in more remote areas.[8]


Thanajirawat (2018)[9] classifies Tai Yuan into five major dialect groups based on tonal split and merger patterns. (See also Proto-Tai language#Tones)

  1. most Tai Yuan varieties in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar
  2. Bokeo Province, Laos (A12-34 and BCD123-4 (B4=DL4=DS4))
  3. Mae Chaem District, Chiang Mai Province and Laplae District, Uttaradit Province, Thailand (A12-34 and BCD123-4 (A34=B123=DL123))
  4. Tha Pla District, Uttaradit Province and Xayaburi Province, Laos (A12-34, BDL1234, and CDS123-4)
  5. Ratchaburi Province, Thailand (A12-34 and BCD123-4 (A34=B123=DL123, B4=C4=DL4))



Initial consonants[edit]

Northern Thai consonant inventory is similar to that of Lao (Isan); both languages have the /ɲ/ sound and lack /tɕʰ/.

Labial Dental/
Velar Glottal
Nasal /m/
ᨿ ᩉ᩠ᨿ
tenuis /p/
aspirate //

ᨷᩕ ᨸᩕ ᨻᩕ

ᨲᩕ ᨴᩕ
(/tɕʰ/)[b] //

ᨠᩕ ᨣᩕ ᨡᩕ
voiced /b/
Fricative /f/


(/x/)[b] /h/

Approximant /w/


Rhotic/Liquid (/r/)[b]

  1. ^ Implied before any vowel without an initial and after a short vowel without a final.[what does 'implied' mean? is it there or not?]
  2. ^ a b c /tɕʰ/ and /r/ occur in loanwords from Central, Isan and Southern Thai. [x] is also a common allophone of /kʰ/

Initial consonant clusters[edit]

There are two relatively common consonant clusters:

  • /kw/ ᨠ᩠ᩅ ᨣ᩠ᩅ (กว)
  • /kʰw/ ᨡ᩠ᩅ ᨢ᩠ᩅ ᨥ᩠ᩅ ᨤ᩠ᩅ (ขว, คว)

There are also several other, less frequent clusters recorded,[10] though apparently in the process of being lost:[11]

  • /ŋw/ ᨦ᩠ᩅ ᩉ᩠ᨦ᩠ᩅ (งว)
  • /tɕw/ ᨧ᩠ᩅ ᨩ᩠ᩅ (จว)
  • /sw/ ᩈ᩠ᩅ ᨪ᩠ᩅ (ซว, สว)
  • /tw/ ᨲ᩠ᩅ ᨴ᩠ᩅ (ตว)
  • /tʰw/[12] ᨳ᩠ᩅ (ถว, ทว)
  • /nw/ ᨶ᩠ᩅ (นว)
  • /ɲw/ ᨿ᩠ᩅ ᩉ᩠ᨿ᩠ᩅ[13] (ญว, ยว)
  • /jw/ ᩀ᩠ᩅ (ยว)
  • /lw/ ᩃ᩠ᩅ ᩁ᩠ᩅ ᩉᩖ᩠ᩅ ᩉ᩠ᩃ᩠ᩅ (ลว)
  • /ʔw/ ᩋ᩠ᩅ (อว)

Final consonants[edit]

All plosive sounds (besides the glottal stop /ʔ/) are unreleased. Hence, final /p/, /t/, and /k/ sounds are pronounced as [p̚], [t̚], and [k̚] respectively.

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal /m/ /n/ ᨬ ᨱ ᨶ ᩁ ᩃ ᩊ /ŋ/
Plosive /p/ ᨷ ᨸ ᨻ ᨼ ᨽ /t/ ᨧ ᨩ ᨪ ᨭ ᨮ ᨯ ᨰ ᨲ ᨳ ᨴ ᨵ ᩆ ᩇ ᩈ /k/ ᨠ ᨡ ᨣ ᨥ /ʔ/[a]
Approximant /w/ /j/ ᨿ
  1. ^ A glottal stop occurs after a short vowel when no final consonant is written in the Thai script.


The basic vowels of the Northern Thai language are similar to those of Standard Thai. They, from front to back and close to open, are given in the following table. The top entry in every cell is the symbol from the International Phonetic Alphabet, the second entry gives the spelling in the Thai alphabet, where a dash (–) indicates the position of the initial consonant after which the vowel is pronounced. A second dash indicates that a final consonant must follow.

  Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close /i/
Mid /e/
Open /ɛ/
-ะ, -ั-

The vowels each exist in long-short pairs: these are distinct phonemes forming unrelated words in Northern Thai,[14] but usually transliterated the same: เขา (khao) means "they/them", while ขาว (khao) means "white".

The long-short pairs are as follows:

Long Short
Thai IPA Example Thai IPA Example
–า /aː/ ᨺᩣ᩠ᨶ ฝาน /fǎːn/ 'to slice' –ะ /a/ ᨺᩢ᩠ᨶ ฝัน /fǎn/ 'to dream'
–ี  /iː/ ᨲᩦ ตี๋ /tǐː/ 'to cut' –ิ  /i/ ᨲᩥ ติ๋ /tǐʔ/ 'to criticize'
–ู  /uː/ ᩈᩪᨯ สูด /sùːt/ 'to inhale' –ุ  /u/ ᩈᩩᨯ สุ๋ด /sǔt/ 'rearmost'
เ– /eː/ ᩋᩮ᩠ᨶ เอน /ʔēːn/ 'to recline' เ–ะ /e/ ᩋᩮᩢ᩠ᨶ เอ็น /ʔēn/ 'tendon, ligament'
แ– /ɛː/ ᨠᩯ᩵ แก่ /kɛ̀ː/ 'to be old' แ–ะ /ɛ/ ᨠᩯᩡ แก๋ะ /kɛ̌ʔ/ 'sheep'
–ื-  /ɯː/ ᨤᩨ᩠ᨶ ฅืน (คืน) /kʰɯ̄ːn/ 'to return' –ึ  /ɯ/ ᨡᩧ᩠᩶ᨶ ขึ้น /kʰɯ᷇n/ 'to go up'
เ–อ /ɤː/ ᨾᩮᩥ᩠ᨶ เมิน /mɤː̄n/ 'to delay; long time' เ–อะ /ɤ/ ᨦᩮᩥ᩠ᨶ เงิน /ŋɤ̄n/ 'silver'
โ– /oː/ ᨧᩰᩫ᩠ᩁ โจ๋ร (โจ๋น) /tɕǒːn/ 'thief' โ–ะ /o/ ᨧᩫ᩠ᨶ จ๋น /tɕǒn/ 'to be poor'
–อ /ɔː/ ᩃᩬᨦ ลอง /lɔ̄ːŋ/ 'to try' เ–าะ /ɔ/ ᨪᩰᩬᩡ เซาะ /sɔ́ʔ/ 'to search'

The basic vowels can be combined into diphthongs. For purposes of determining tone, those marked with an asterisk are sometimes classified as long:

Long Short
Thai script IPA Thai script IPA
–าย /aːj/ ไ–*, ใ–*, ไ–ย, -ัย /aj/
–าว /aːw/ เ–า* /aw/
เ–ีย /ia/ เ–ียะ /iaʔ/
–ิว /iw/
–ัว /ua/ –ัวะ /uaʔ/
–ูย /uːj/ –ุย /uj/
เ–ว /eːw/ เ–็ว /ew/
แ–ว /ɛːw/
เ–ือ /ɯa/ เ–ือะ /ɯaʔ/
เ–ย /ɤːj/
–อย /ɔːj/
โ–ย /oːj/

Additionally, there are three triphthongs, For purposes of determining tone, those marked with an asterisk are sometimes classified as long:

Thai script IPA
เ–ียว* /iaw/
–วย* /uaj/
เ–ือย* /ɯaj/


The following section largely concerns the Nan dialect of Northern Thai.[15]

Phoneme Allophone Context Example

(Tai Tham script)


(Thai script)

IPA Gloss
/b/ [b] onset ᨷ᩵ᩤ บ่า /bàː/ shoulder
/d/ [d] onset ᨯᩬ᩠ᨿ, ᨯᩭ ดอย /dɔ̄ːj/ mountain
/p/ [p] onset ᨸ᩵ᩣ ป่า /pàː/ forest
[p̚] coda ᩋᩣ᩠ᨷ อาบ /ʔàːp/ bath
[pm̩] coda, emphasised ᨷᩴ᩵ᩉᩖᩢᨷ บ่หลับ /bɔ̀ lǎp/ don't sleep!
/t/ [t] onset ᨲᩣ ตา /tǎː/ eye
[t̚] coda ᨸᩮᩥ᩠ᨯ เปิด /pɤ̀ːt/ open
[tn̩] coda, emphasised ᨷᩴ᩵ᨹᩮᩢ᩠ᨯ บ่เผ็ด /bɔ̀ pʰět/ not spicy!
/k/ [k] onset ᨠᩣ กา /kǎː/ crow
[k̚] coda ᨸᩦ᩠ᨠ ปีก /pìːk/ wing
[kŋ̩] coda, emphasised ᨷᩴ᩵ᩈᩩᨠ บ่สุก /bɔ̀ sǔk/ not ripe!
/x/ [x] before non-front vowels ᨡᩯ᩠ᨠ แขก /xɛ̀ːk/ guest
[ç] before front vowels ᨤᩥ᩠ᨦ ฅิง /xīŋ/ you (familiar)
/s/ [s] onset ᨪᩣ᩠ᩅ ซาว /sāːw/ twenty
[ɕ] under emphasis ᩈᩣᨴᩩ สาทุ /sǎː.túʔ/ surely
/h/ [h] non-intervocalic ᩉ᩶ᩣ ห้า /ha᷇ː/ five
[ɦ] intervocalic ᨹᩲᨾᩣᩉᩣ ใผมาหา /pʰǎj māː hǎː/ who come find (Who is here to see you?)
/nɯ̂ŋ/ [m̩] after bilabial stop ᨤᩨ᩠ᨷᨶᩧ᩠᩵ᨦ ฅืบนึ่ง /xɯ̂ːp nɯ̂ŋ/ span one (one more span)
[n̩] after alveolar stop ᨳᩯ᩠ᨾᨡ᩠ᩅᨯᨶᩧ᩠᩵ᨦ แถมขวดนึ่ง /tʰɛ̌ːm xùat nɯ̂ŋ/ more bottle one (one more bottle)
[ŋ̩] after velar stop ᨳᩯ᩠ᨾᨯᩬᨠᨶᩧ᩠᩵ᨦ แถมดอกนึ่ง /tʰɛ̌ːm dɔ̀ːk nɯ̂ŋ/ more flower one (one more flower)


The six phonemic tones in Northern Thai pronounced with the syllable '/law/':

There are six phonemic tones in the Chiang Mai dialect of Northern Thai: low-rising, low-falling, high-level with glottal closure, mid-level, high-falling, and high-rising.[16] or low-rising, mid-low, high-falling, mid-high, falling, and high rising-falling[17]

Contrastive tones in smooth syllables[edit]

The table below presents six phonemic tones in the Chiang Mai and Nan dialects in smooth syllables, i.e. closed syllables ending in sonorant sounds such as [m], [n], [ŋ], [w], and [j] and open syllables. Sources have not agreed on the phonetic realization of the six tones in the Chiang Mai dialect. The table presents information based on two sources, one from Gedney (1999)[17] and the other one from the Lanna dictionary (2007)[16] which is a Northern Thai-Thai dictionary. Although published in 1999, Gedney's information about the Chiang Mai dialect is based on data he collected from one speaker in Chiang Mai in 1964 (p. 725). As tones may change within one's lifetime (e.g., Bangkok Thai tones have changed over the past 100 years[18]), the information about the six tones from Gedney (1999) should be considered with caution.

The six tones in the Chiang Mai and Nan dialects
Chiang Mai
(the Lanna dictionary, 2007, p. ต)[16]
Chiang Mai
(Gedney, 1999, p. 725)[17]
Standard Thai tone Equated to[19] Example based on the Chiang Mai tones described in the Lanna Dictionary (2007)[16]
Name Tone letters Name Tone letters Tone letters Phonemic Phonetic Northern Thai script Thai script Gloss
low-rising (A1-2) 24 or ˨˦ low-rising (A1-2) 14 or ˩˦ 23 or ˨˧ rising /lǎw/ [läu̯˨˦] ᩉᩮᩖᩢᩣ เหลา sharpen
low-falling (B1-3) 21 or ˨˩ mid-low (B1-3) 22 or ˨˨ 22 or ˨˨ low /làw/ [läu̯˨˨] ᩉᩮᩖᩢ᩵ᩣ เหล่า forest; group
high-level with glottal closure (which falls slightly at the end[16]) (C1-3) 44ʔ or ˦˦ʔ high-falling, glottalized (C1-3) 53ʔ or ˥˧ʔ 44ʔ or ˦˦ʔ (none) /la᷇w/ [läu̯˦˦ʔ] ᩉᩮᩖᩢ᩶ᩣ เหล้า liquor, alcoholic drink
mid-level (A3-4) 33 or ˧˧ mid-high (A3-4) (which sometimes rises at the end[17]) 44 or ˦˦ 35 or ˧˥ mid /lāw/ [l̪äu̯˧˧] ᩃᩮᩢᩣ เลา beautiful, pretty; reed
high-falling (B4) 42 or ˦˨ falling (B4) 41 or ˦˩ 31 or ˧˩ falling /lâw/ [läu̯˦˨] ᩃᩮᩢ᩵ᩣ เล่า tell (a story)
high-rising (C4) 45 or ˦˥ high rising-falling, glottalized (C4) 454ʔ or ˦˥˦ʔ 41ʔ or ˦˩ʔ high /l̪áw/ [läu̯˦˥] ᩃᩮᩢ᩶ᩣ เล้า coop, pen (for chickens or pigs)

The Gedney boxes for the tones are shown below the descriptions.

Contrastive tones in checked syllables[edit]

The table below presents four phonemic tones in checked syllables, i.e. closed syllables ending in a glottal stop [ʔ] and obstruent sounds such as [p], [t], and [k].

Tone[16] Standard Thai Tone
Equated to[19]
(Northern Thai script)
(Thai script)
Phonemic Phonetic[16] gloss
low-rising (D1-3S) rising ᩉᩖᩢᨠ หลั๋ก /lǎk/ [läk̚˨˦] post
high-rising (D4S) high ᩃᩢ᩠ᨠ ลัก /la᷇k/ [läk̚˦˥] steal
low-falling (D1-3L) low ᩉᩖᩣ᩠ᨠ หลาก /làːk/ [läːk̚˨˩] differ from others
high-falling (D4L) falling ᩃᩣ᩠ᨠ ลาก /lâːk/ [läːk̚˦˨] drag


The grammar of Northern Thai is similar to those of other Tai languages. The word order is subject–verb–object, although the subject is often omitted. Just as Standard Thai, Northern Thai pronouns are selected according to the gender and relative status of speaker and audience.

Adjectives and adverbs[edit]

There is no morphological distinction between adverbs and adjectives. Many words can be used in either function. They succeed the word which they modify, which may be a noun, verb, or another adjective or adverb.

  • ᨾᩯ᩵ᨿᩥ᩠ᨦᨳᩮᩢ᩶ᩣ / แม่ญิงเฒ่า (mae nying thao, [mɛ̂ː.ɲīŋ.tʰa᷇w]) an old woman
  • ᨾᩯ᩵ᨿᩥ᩠ᨦᨴᩦ᩵ᨳᩮᩢ᩶ᩣᩅᩮᩥ᩠ᨿ / แม่ญิงตี้เฒ่าโวย (mae nying ti thao woi, [mɛ̂ː.ɲīŋ.tîː.tʰa᷇w.wōːj]) a woman who became old quickly

Because adjectives can be used as complete predicates, many words used to indicate tense in verbs (see Verbs:Aspect below) may be used to describe adjectives.

  • ᨡ᩶ᩣᩉᩥ᩠ᩅ / ข้าหิว (kha hiw, [kʰa᷇ː hǐw]) I am hungry.
  • ᨡ᩶ᩣᨧᩢᩉᩥ᩠ᩅ / ข้าจะหิว (kha cha hiw, [kʰa᷇ː t͡ɕa.hǐw]) I will be hungry.
  • ᨡ᩶ᩣᨠ᩵ᩣᩴᩃᩢ᩠ᨦᩉᩥ᩠ᩅ / ข้ากะลังหิว (kha kalang hiw, [kʰa᷇ː ka.lāŋ hǐw]) I am hungry right now.
  • ᨡ᩶ᩣᩉᩥ᩠ᩅᩓ᩠ᩅ / ข้าหิวแล้ว (kha hiu laew, [kʰa᷇ː hǐw lɛ́ːw]) I am already hungry.


Verbs do not inflect. They do not change with person, tense, voice, mood, or number; nor are there any participles.

  • ᨡ᩶ᩣᨲᩦᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶ / ข้าตี๋เปิ้น (kha ti poen, [kʰa᷇ː tǐː pɤ̂n]), I hit him.
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨲᩦᨡ᩶ᩣ / เปิ้นตี๋ข้า (poen ti kha, [pɤ̂n tǐː kʰa᷇ː]), He hit me.

The passive voice is indicated by the insertion of ᨯᩰ᩠ᨶ / โดน (don, [dōːn]) before the verb. For example:

  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨯᩰᩫ᩠ᨶᨲᩦ / เปิ้นโดนตี๋ (poen don ti, [pɤ̂n dōːn tǐː]), He is hit or He got hit. This describes an action that is out of the receiver's control and, thus, conveys suffering.

To convey the opposite sense, a sense of having an opportunity arrive, ᨯᩱ᩶ / ได้ (dai, [da᷇j], can) is used. For example:

  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨧᩢᨯᩱ᩶ᨸᩱᩋᩯ᩠᩵ᩅᨾᩮᩬᩥᨦᩃᩣ᩠ᩅ / เปิ้นจะได้ไปแอ่วเมืองลาว (poen cha dai pai aew mueang lao, [pɤ̂n t͡ɕa.da᷇j pǎj ʔɛ̀w mɯ̄a̯ŋ lāːw]), He gets to visit Laos.
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨲᩦᨯᩱ᩶ / เปิ้นตี๋ได้ (poen ti dai, [pɤ̂n tǐː da᷇j]), He is/was allowed to hit or He is/was able to hit

Negation is indicated by placing บ่ (bor,[bɔ̀ː] or [bàʔ] not) before the verb.

  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨷᩴ᩵ᨲᩦ / เปิ้นบ่ตี๋, (poen bor ti, [pɤ̂n bɔ̀ː tǐː]) He is not hitting. or He not hit.

Aspect is conveyed by aspect markers before or after the verb.

Present can be indicated by ᨠ᩵ᩣᩴᩃᩢ᩠ᨦ / กะลัง (kalang, [ka.lāŋ], currently) or ᨠ᩵ᩣᩴᩃᩢ᩠ᨦᩉᩡ / กะลังหะ (kalangha, [ka.lāŋ.hà], currently) before the verb for ongoing action (like English -ing form), by ᩀᩪ᩵ / อยู่ (yu, [jùː]) after the verb, or by both. For example:
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨠ᩵ᩣᩴᩃᩢ᩠ᨦᩉᩡᩃᩫ᩠᩵ᨶ / เปิ้นกะลังหะล่น (poen kalangha lon, [pɤ̂n ka.lāŋ.hà lôn]), or
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᩃᩫ᩠᩵ᨶᩀᩪ᩵ / เปิ้นล่นอยู่ (poen lon yu, [pɤ̂n lôn jùː]), or
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨠ᩵ᩣᩴᩃᩢ᩠ᨦᩃᩫ᩠᩵ᨶᩀᩪ᩵ / เปิ้นกะลังหะล่นอยู่ (poen kalanɡha lon yu, [pɤ̂n ka.lāŋ.hà lôn jùː]), He is running.
Future can be indicated by ᨧᩢ / จะ (cha, [t͡ɕǎʔ], will) before the verb or by a time expression indicating the future. For example:
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨧᩢᩃᩫ᩠᩵ᨶ / เปิ้นจะล่น (poen cha lon, [pɤ̂n t͡ɕa.lôn]), He will run or He is going to run.
Past can be indicated by ᨯᩱ᩶ / ได้ (dai, [da᷇j]) before the verb or by a time expression indicating the past. However, ᩓ᩠ᩅ / แล้ว (laew,  :[lɛ́ːw], already) is often used to indicate the past aspect by being placed behind the verb. Or, both ได้ and แล้ว are put together to form the past aspect expression. For example:
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨯᩱ᩶ᨠᩥ᩠ᨶ / เปิ้นได้กิ๋น (poen dai kin, [pɤ̂n da᷇j kǐn]), He ate.
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᩓ᩠ᩅ / เปิ้นกิ๋นแล้ว (poen kin laew, [pɤ̂n kǐn lɛ́ːw], He has eaten.
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨯᩱ᩶ᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᩓ᩠ᩅ / เปิ้นได้กิ๋นแล้ว (poen dai kin laew, [pɤ̂n da᷇j kǐn lɛ́ːw]), He's already eaten.

Aspect markers are not required.

  • ᨡ᩶ᩣᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᨴᩦ᩵ᩉᩢ᩠᩶ᨶ / ข้ากิ๋นตี้หั้น (kha kin tihan, [kʰa᷇ kǐn tîː.ha᷇n]), I eat there.
  • ᨡ᩶ᩣᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᨴᩦ᩵ᩉᩢ᩠᩶ᨶᨲᩅᩤ / ข้ากิ๋นตี้หั้นตะวา (kha kin tihan tawa, [kʰa᷇ kǐn tîː.ha᷇n ta.wāː]), I ate there yesterday.
  • ᨡ᩶ᩣᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᨴᩦ᩵ᩉᩢ᩠᩶ᨶᩅᩢ᩠ᨶᨻᩕᩪᨠ / ข้ากิ๋นตี้หั้นวันพูก (kha kin tihan wanphuk, [kʰa᷇ kǐn tîː.ha᷇n wān.pʰûːk]), I'll eat there tomorrow.

Words that indicate obligation include at cha (ᩣ᩠ᨧᨧᩢ / อาจจะ), na cha (ᩉ᩠ᨶ᩶ᩣᨧᩢ / น่าจะ), khuan cha (ᨤ᩠ᩅᩁᨧᩢ / ควรจะ)[dubious ], and tong (ᨲ᩶ᩬᨦ / ต้อง).

  • at cha (ᩋᩣ᩠ᨧᨧᩢ / อาจจะ, [ʔàːt.t͡ɕǎ]) Might
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᩋᩣ᩠ᨧᨧᩢᨾᩣ / เปิ้นอาจจะมา (poen at cha ma, /pɤ̂n ʔàːt t͡ɕa.māː/) He might come.
  • na cha (ᩉ᩠ᨶ᩶ᩣᨧᩢ / น่าจะ, [na᷇ː.t͡ɕǎ]) Likely to
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᩉ᩠ᨶ᩶ᩣᨧᩢᨾᩣ / เปิ้นน่าจะมา (poen na cha ma, /pɤ̂n na᷇ː.t͡ɕa.māː/) He is likely to come.
  • khuan cha (ᨤ᩠ᩅᩁᨧᩢ / ควรจะ, [kʰūan.t͡ɕǎ]) Should
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨤ᩠ᩅᩁᨧᩢᨾᩣ / เปิ้นควรจะมา (poen khuan cha ma, /pɤ̂n kʰūan.t͡ɕa.māː/) He should come.
  • tong (ᨲᩬ᩶ᨦ / ต้อง, /tɔ᷇ːŋ/) Must
  • ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨲᩬ᩶ᨦᨾᩣ / เปิ้นต้องมา (poen tong ma, /pɤ̂n tɔ᷇ŋ māː/) He must come.

Actions that wherein one is busily engaged can be indicated by มัวก่า (mua ka, [mūa̯.kàː]).

  • ᨣᩴ᩵ᨾ᩠ᩅᩫᨣ᩵ᩤᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᩉᩢ᩠᩶ᨶᨶᩰᩬᩡ / ก่อมัวก่ากิ๋นหั้นเนาะ (kor mua ka kin han nor, [kɔ̀ mūa̯ kàː kǐn ha᷇n nɔ᷇ʔ]) (It's that you/he/she) just keeps on eating it like that, you know?

Words that express one's desire to do something can by indicated by khai (ใค่) and kan (กั๊น).

  • khai (ᨣᩕᩲ᩵ / ใค่, /kʰâj/, to want, to desire)
  • ᨡ᩶ᩣᨧᩮᩢ᩶ᩣᨣᩕᩲ᩵ᨠᩥ᩠ᨶ / ข้าเจ้าใค่กิ๋น (kha.chao khai kin, [kʰa᷇ː.t͡ɕa᷇w kʰâj kǐn]) I want to eat.
  • kan (ᨣᩢ᩠᩶ᨶ / กั๊น, /kán/, to try)
  • ᨡ᩶ᩣᨧᩮᩢ᩶ᩣᨣᩢ᩠᩶ᨶᨠᩥ᩠ᨶ / ข้าเจ้ากั๊นกิ๋น (kha.chao kan kin, [kʰa᷇ː.t͡ɕa᷇w kán kǐn]) I try to eat.

Phor tha wa (ᨹᩬᩴ᩵ᨵ᩵ᩤᩅ᩵ / ผ่อท่าว่า, [pʰɔ̀ː.tʰâː.wâː]) is used to give the impression or sensation of being something or having a particular quality.

  • ᨹᩬᩴ᩵ᨵ᩵ᩤᩅ᩵ᩤᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶᨻᩖᩥᨠᨾᩣᩓ᩠ᩅ / ผ่อท่าว่าเปิ้นปิ๊กมาแล้ว (phor tha wa poen pik ma laew, [pʰɔ̀ː tʰâː wâː pɤ̂n pi᷇k māː lɛ́ːw]) It seems that he has returned.

Final particles[edit]

Northern Thai has a number of final particles, which have different functions.

Interrogative particles[edit]

Some of the most common interrogative particles are kor (ᨣᩴ᩵ / ก่อ, [kɔ̀ː]) and ka (ᨣᩤ / กา, /kāː/)

  • kor (ᨣᩴ᩵ / ก่อ, [kɔ̀ː], denoting yes/no question)
  • ᨾ᩠ᩅ᩵ᩁᨣᩴ᩵ / ม่วนก่อ (muan kor, [mûa̯n kɔ̀ː]) Is it fun?
  • ka (ᨣᩤ / กา (and its variants: ก๋า, กา), [kāː], denoting confirmative question)
  • ᨾ᩠ᩅ᩵ᩁᨣᩤ / ม่วนกา (muan ka, [mûa̯n kāː]) It is fun, right?

Imperative particles[edit]

Some imperative particles are ᩃᩯ᩵ (แล่), ᨧᩥ᩠᩵ᨾ (จิ่ม), and ᨴᩮᩬᩥᩡ (เตอะ).

lae (ᩃᩯ᩵ / แล่, [lɛ̂ː])

  • ᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᩃᩯ᩵ / กิ๋นแล่ (kin lae, [kǐn lɛ̂ː]) Eat! (Authoritative).

chim (ᨧᩥ᩠᩵ᨾ / จิ่ม, [t͡ɕìm])

  • ᨡᩬᩴᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᨧᩥ᩠᩵ᨾ / ขอกิ๋นจิ่ม (khor kin chim, /kʰɔ̌ː kǐn t͡ɕìm/) May I eat please?

hia (ᩉᩮ᩠ᨿ / เหีย, /hǐa/)

  • ᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᩉᩮ᩠ᨿ / กิ๋นเหีย (kin hia, /kǐn hǐa/) Eat! (because I know it will be beneficial to you).

toe (ᨴᩮᩬᩥᩡ / เต๊อะ, /tɤ᷇ʔ/)

  • ᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᨴᩮᩬᩥᩡ / กิ๋นเต๊อะ (kin toe, /kǐn tɤ᷇ʔ/) Eat, please.

Polite particles[edit]

Polite particles include ᨣᩕᩢ᩠ᨷ (คับ) and ᨧᩮᩢ᩶ᩣ (เจ้า).

  • khap (ᨣᩕᩢ᩠ᨷ / คับ, /kʰa᷇p/, used by males)
  • ᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᨡᩮᩢ᩶ᩣᩓ᩠ᩅᨣᩕᩢ᩠ᨷ / กิ๋นเข้าแล้วคับ (kin khaw laew khap, /kǐn kʰa᷇w lɛ́ːw kʰa᷇p/) I have eaten, sir/ma'am.
  • chao (ᨧᩮᩢ᩶ᩣ / เจ้า, /t͡ɕa᷇w/, used by females)
  • ᨠᩥ᩠ᨶᨡᩮᩢ᩶ᩣᩓ᩠ᩅᨧᩮᩢ᩶ᩣ / กิ๋นเข้าแล้วเจ้า (kin khaw laew chao, /kǐn kʰa᷇w lɛ́ːw t͡ɕa᷇w/) I have eaten, sir/ma'am.


Nouns are uninflected and have no gender; there are no articles.

Nouns are neither singular nor plural. Some specific nouns are reduplicated to form collectives: ᩃᩡᩋᩬ᩵ᩁ / ละอ่อน (la-orn, [la.ʔɔ̀ːn], child) is often repeated as ᩃᩡᩋᩬ᩵ᩁᪧ ละอ่อน ๆ (la-orn la-orn, [la.ʔɔ̀ːn la.ʔɔ̀ːn],) to refer to a group of children.

The word ᩉ᩠ᨾᩪ᩵ / หมู่(mu, [mùː]) may be used as a prefix of a noun or pronoun as a collective to pluralize or emphasise the following word. (ᩉ᩠ᨾᩪ᩵ᨹᩫ᩠ᨾ / หมู่ผม, mu phom, [mùː pʰǒm], we (exclusive), masculine; ᩉ᩠ᨾᩪ᩵ᩁᩮᩢᩣ / หมู่เฮา mu hao, [mùː hāw], emphasised we; ᩉ᩠ᨾᩪ᩵ᩉ᩠ᨾᩣ / หมู่หมา mu ma, [mùː mǎː], (the) dogs).

Plurals are expressed by adding classifiers, used as measure words (ลักษณนาม), in the form of noun-number-classifier ( ᨣᩕᩪᩉ᩶ᩣᨤᩫ᩠ᨶ / คูห้าคน, "teacher five person" for "five teachers").


Pronouns may be omitted once they have already been established in the first sentence, unless the pronoun in the following sentences is different from the first sentence. The pronoun "you" may also be omitted if the speaker is speaking directly to a second person. Moreover, names may replace pronouns, and they can even replace the first person singular pronoun.

Person Tai Tham script Thai script Transliteration Phonemic (IPA) Phonetic (IPA) Meaning
first ᨣᩪ กู kūu /kūː/ [kuː˧] I/me (impolite/vulgar)
ᩁᩣ ฮา hāa /hāː/ [häː˧] I/me (familiar; informal)
ᨡ᩶ᩣ ข้า kha᷇a /kʰa᷇ː/ [kʰäː˥˧] I/me (formal; used by male). Literally "servant, slave".
ᨹᩪ᩶ᨡ᩶ᩣ ผู้ข้า pʰu᷇u kha᷇a /pʰu᷇ː kʰa᷇ː/ [pʰuː˥˧.kʰäː˥˧] I/me (formal)
ᨡ᩶ᩣᨶᩬ᩠᩶ᨿ, ᨡ᩶ᩣᨶ᩶ᩭ ข้าน้อย kha᷇a nóoi /kʰa᷇ː.nɔ́ːj/ [kʰäː˥˧.nɔːi̯˦˥] I/me (formal; used by male; archaic)
ᨡ᩶ᩣᨧᩮᩢ᩶ᩣ ข้าเจ้า kha᷇a cha᷇o /kʰa᷇ː tɕa᷇w/ [kʰäː˥˧.t͡ɕäu̯˥˧] I/me (formal; used by female; historically also used by male)
ᨡ᩶ᩣᨻᩕᨧᩮᩢ᩶ᩣ ข้าผะเจ้า kha᷇a pʰà cha᷇o /kʰa᷇ː pʰa.tɕa᷇w/ [kʰäː˥˧.pʰä˨.t͡ɕäu̯˥˧] I/me (very formal)
ᩁᩮᩢᩣ เฮา hāo /hāw/ [häu̯˧] we/us
ᨲᩪ ตู๋ tǔu /tǔː/ [t̪uː˨˦] we/us (exclusive)
second ᨾᩧ᩠ᨦ มึง mūenɡ /mɯ̄ŋ/ [mɨŋ˧] you (impolite/vulgar)
ᨤᩥ᩠ᨦ ฅิง khīng /kʰīŋ/ [kʰiŋ˧] you (informal, singular)
ᨲᩫ᩠ᩅ ตั๋ว tǔa /tǔa/ [t̪uə̯˨˦] you (familiar, singular)
ᨧᩮᩢ᩶ᩣ เจ้า cha᷇o /tɕa᷇w/ [t͡ɕäu̯˥˧] you (formal, singular). Literally "master, lord"
ᩈᩪ สู sǔu /sǔː/ [suː˨˦] you (informal, plural or formal, singular)
ᩈᩪᨡᩮᩢᩣ สูเขา sǔu khǎo /sǔː kʰǎw/ [suː˨˦.kʰäu̯˨˦] you (informal, plural)
ᩈᩪᨧᩮᩢ᩶ᩣ สูเจ้า sǔu cha᷇o /sǔː tɕa᷇w/ [suː˨˦.t͡ɕäu̯˥˧] you (formal, plural)
third ᨾᩢ᩠ᨶ มัน mān /mān/ [män˧] it, he/she (offensive if used to refer to a person)
ᨡᩮᩢᩣ เขา khǎo /kʰǎw/ [kʰäu̯˨˦] they/them
ᨻᩮᩥ᩠᩵ᨶ เปิ้น pôen /pɤ̂n/ [pən˥˩] he/she (general), others
ᨴ᩵ᩤ᩠ᨶ ต้าน tâan /tâːn/ [t̪äːn˥˩] he/she (formal), you (formal), others
reflexive ᨲᩫ᩠ᩅᨠᩮᩢ᩵ᩣ ตั๋วเก่า tǔa kàw /tǔa kàw/ [t̪uə̯˨˦.käu̯˨˩] oneself


Northern Thai shares much vocabulary with Standard Thai, especially scientific terms, which draw many prefixes and suffixes from Sanskrit and Pali, and it also has its own distinctive words. Just like Thai and Lao, Northern Thai has borrowed many loanwords from Khmer, Sanskrit, and Pali.

word gloss origin
[kʰɔ̌ːŋ kǐn]
food native Tai word
[ʔāː hǎːn]
food Pali and/or Sanskrit
[kàm nɤ̀ːt]
ก่ำเนิด (กำเนิด)[dubious ]
birth Khmer

Writing system[edit]

Northern Thai in its own alphabet, the Tai Tham alphabet

Currently, different scripts are used to write Northern Thai. Northern Thai is traditionally written with the Tai Tham script, which in Northern Thai is called tua mueang (ᨲᩫ᩠ᩅᨾᩮᩬᩥᨦ ตั๋วเมือง /tǔa.mɯ̄aŋ/) or tua tham (ᨲᩫ᩠ᩅᨵᩢᨾ᩠ᨾ᩺ ตั๋วธัมม์ /tǔa.tʰām/). However, native speakers are presently illiterate in the traditional script; therefore, they instead use the Thai script to write the language. In Laos, the Lao script is commonly used to write Northern Thai.

A sign written in Northern Thai, Thai, and English

Some problems arise when the Thai script is used to write Northern Thai. In particular, Standard Thai script cannot transcribe all Northern Thai tones. The two falling tones in Northern Thai correspond to a single falling tone in Thai. Specifically, Northern Thai has two types of falling tones: high-mid falling tone (˥˧) and high-falling tone (˥˩). However, Thai lacks the distinction between the two falling tones, not having a high-falling tone (˥˧). When using Thai script to write Northern Thai tones, the distinction of the two falling tones is lost because Thai script can only indicate a low falling tone (˥˩). As an example, the tonal distinction between /ka᷇ː/ (ก้า (ᨠᩖ᩶ᩣ กล้า) "to be brave") and /kâː/ (ก้า (ᨣ᩵ᩤ ค่า) "value") is lost when written in Thai since as only /kâː/ (ก้า) is permitted. Consequently, the meaning of ก้า is ambiguous as it can mean both "to be brave" and "value". Similarly, /pa᷇ːj/ (ป้าย (ᨸ᩶ᩣ᩠ᨿ ป้าย) "sign") and /pâːj/ (ป้าย (ᨻ᩵ᩣ᩠ᨿ พ่าย) "to lose") have the same problem and only /pâːj/ (ป้าย) is permitted. As a result, the spelling ป้าย is ambiguous because it can mean both "sign" or "to lose". Such tonal mergence ambiguity is avoided when the language is written with the Northern Thai script.

Northern Thai and Standard Thai[edit]

The tables below present the differences between Northern Thai and Standard Thai.

Different sounds[edit]

Unlike Northern Thai, Standard Thai lacks alveolo-palatal nasal sound (/ɲ/). Thus, the alveolo-palatal nasal sound (/ɲ/) and the palatal approximant sound (/j/) in Northern Thai both correspond to the palatal approximant sound in Standard Thai:

Standard Thai Northern Thai gloss note
difficult cf. Lao: ຍາກ [ɲâːk]
mosquito cf. Lao: ຍຸງ [ɲúŋ]
long cf. Lao: ຍາວ [ɲáːw]
medicine cf. Lao: ຢາ [jàː]
desire cf. Lao: ຢາກ [jȁːk]
manner, way cf. Lao: ຢ່າງ [jāːŋ]

Unlike Northern Thai, Standard Thai lacks a high-mid-falling tone ([˥˧]). The high-mid falling tone ([˥˧]) and high-falling tone ([˥˩]) in Northern Thai both correspond to the high-falling tone in Standard Thai ([˥˩]).

Standard Thai Northern Thai gloss
village, home
master, lord, you
tell (a story)

Different words[edit]

Many words differ from Standard Thai greatly:

Standard Thai Northern Thai gloss note
twenty cf. Lao: ຊາວ [sáːw] "twenty"
and Shan: သၢဝ်း [sáːw] "twenty"
older brother cf. Lao: ອ້າຍ [ʔâːj] "older brother"
and Shan: ဢၢႆႈ [ʔāːj] "eldest brother, first born son"
nape cf. Lao: ງ່ອນ [ŋɔ̄n] "nape"
nose cf. Lao: ດັງ [dàŋ] "nose",
Standard Thai: ดั้ง [dâŋ] "nasal bridge".
look cf. Lao: ຜໍ່ [pʰɔ̀ː] "to see, to look"
and Tai Lü: ᦕᦸᧈ [pʰɔ̀ː] "to see, to look"
visit, travel cf. Tai Lü: ᦶᦀᧁᧈ [ʔɛ᷄w] "to visit, to travel"
meat cf. Lao: ຊີ້ນ [sîːn] "meat"
no cf. Lao: ບໍ່ [bɔ̄ː] "no, not"
like cf. Lao: ມັກ [māk] "to like"
much, many
walk cf. Tai Lü: ᦵᦑᧁ [têw] "to walk"


laugh cf. Tai Lü: ᦺᦆᧈᦷᦠ [xāj.hó] "to laugh"


funny, amusing cf. Lao: ມ່ວນ [mūan] "fun, amusing, pleasant",
Tai Lü: ᦷᦙᦓᧈ [mōn] "fun, amusing, pleasant",
and Shan: မူၼ်ႈ [mōn] "fun, amusing, pleasant"


lie cf. Tai Lü: ᦈᦳ [t͡su᷄ʔ] "to lie, to deceive"
what cf. Lao: ອີ່ຫຍັງ [ʔī.ɲǎŋ] "what"
child cf. Tai Lü: ᦟᦳᧅᦀᦸᧃᧈ [lūk.ʔɔ᷄n] "child, young offspring"
Buddhist monk cf. Tai Lü: ᦑᦳᦈᧁᧉ [tūʔ.tsa᷅w] "Buddhist monk"

Similar words[edit]

There is not a straightforward correspondence between the tones of Northern and Standard Thai. It also depends on the initial consonant, as can be seen from the merged Gedney tone boxes for Standard Thai and the accent of Chiang Mai:

Ancestral tone: A (smooth, no tone mark) B (mai ek) DL (checked, long vowel) DS (dead, short vowel) C (mai tho)
Initial Consonant Std Thai CM NT gloss Std Thai CM NT gloss Std Thai CM NT gloss Std Thai CM NT gloss Std Thai CM NT gloss
1. High rising low-rising ear low mid-low four low low to hit low low-rising to dig falling high-falling old
2. CM High but Std Mid (= Std Thai ก ต ป) mid low-rising eye low mid-low turtle low low mouth low low-rising to fall falling high-falling aunt
3. Mid for Both (= Std Thai ด บ อ อย) mid mid-high good low mid-low to scold low low flower low low-rising to bend falling high-falling mad
4. Low mid mid-high fly falling falling mother falling falling knife high high-falling bird high high rising-falling horse

Note that the commonalities between columns are features of the Chiang Mai accent. On the other hand, the relationships between rows are typical of Northern Thai, being found for at least for Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai,[20] Phayao,[20] Nan and Prae,[20] and extending at least to Tak[20] and the old 6-tone accent of Tai Khuen,[20] except that the checked syllables of Chiang Rai are more complicated.

The primary function of a tone box is etymological. However, it also serves as a summary of the rules for tone indication when the writing system is essentially etymological in that regard, as is the case with the major Tai-language writing systems using the Thai, Lanna, New Tai Lue, Lao and Tai Dam scripts.

Some words differ only as a result of the regular tone correspondences:

Standard Thai Northern Thai gloss
be (copula)

Other tone differences are unpredictable, such as:

Standard Thai Northern Thai gloss

Some words differ in a single sound and associated tone. In many words, the initial ร (/r/) in Standard Thai corresponds to ฮ (/h/) in Northern Thai:

Standard Thai Northern Thai gloss note
hot cf. Lao: ຮ້ອນ [hɔ̂ːn] "to be hot" and Shan: ႁွၼ်ႉ [hɔ̰n] "to be hot"
love cf. Lao: ຮັກ [hāk] "to love" and Shan: ႁၵ်ႉ [ha̰k] "to love"
know cf. Lao: ຮູ້ [hûː] "know" and Shan: ႁူ [hṵ] "know"

Aspiration of initial consonants[edit]

Some aspirated consonants in the low-class consonant group (อักษรต่ำ /ʔàk.sɔ̌ːn.tàm/) in Standard Thai correspond to unaspirated sounds in Northern Thai. These sounds include ค, ช, ท, and พ (/kʰ/, /tɕʰ/, /tʰ/, and /pʰ/ respectively), but sounds such as ฅ, คร, ฆ, ฒ, พร, ภ (/kʰ/, /kʰr/, /kʰ/, /tʰ/, /pʰr/, and /pʰ/ respectively) remain aspirated. Such aspirated consonants that are unaspirated in Northern Thai correspond to unaspirated voiced sounds in Proto-Tai which are *ɡ, *ɟ, *d, and *b (ค, ช, ท, and พ respectively).:

Standard Thai Northern Thai gloss note
[t͡ɕʰiaŋ rāːj]
[t͡ɕiaŋ hāːj]
Chiang Rai city and province cf. Tai Lü: ᦵᦈᧂᦣᦻ [tsêŋ hâːj] "Chiang Rai"
think cf. Tai Lü: ᦅᦹᧆ [kɯ̄t] "to think"
spoon cf. Tai Lü: ᦋᦸᧃᧉ [tsɔ̀n] "spoon"
use cf. Shan: ၸႂ်ႉ [tsa̰ɰ] "to use", Tai Lü: ᦺᦋᧉ [tsàj] "to use"
father cf. Shan: ပေႃႈ [pɔ̄] "father", Tai Lü: ᦗᦸᧈ [pɔ̄] "father"
way cf. Shan: တၢင်း [táːŋ] "way", Tai Lü: ᦑᦱᧂ [tâːŋ] "way"

But not:

Standard Thai Northern Thai gloss note
[kʰôːt sa.nāː]
[kʰôːt sa.nāː]
commercial, advertisement cf. Tai Lü: ᦷᦆᦉᦓᦱ [xôː.sa.nâː] "advertisement"
[pʰāː sǎː]
language cf. Tai Lü: ᦘᦱᦉᦱ [pʰâː.sáː] "nationality"
culture cf. Tai Lü: ᦞᧆᦒᦓᦱᦒᧄ [wāt.tʰʰâm] "culture"
Dharma cf. Tai Lü: ᦒᧄ [tʰâm] "Dharma"

Though a number of aspirated consonants in Standard Thai often correspond to unaspirated sounds in Northern Thai, when an unaspirated consonant is followed by ร (/r/) the unaspirated consonant becomes aspirated:

Standard Thai Northern Thai gloss note
country cf. Tai Lü: ᦕᦵᦑᧆ [pʰa.te᷄ːt] "country"
kowtow, prostrate cf. Tai Lü: ᦃᦱᧇ [xa᷄ːp] "to prostrate oneself"
[prāː sàːt]
[pʰǎː sàːt]
palace cf. Tai Lü: ᦕᦱᦉᦱᧆ [pʰáː sa᷄ːt] "palace"


  1. ^ Northern Thai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Natnapang 2004, Section 3.5.6 The changing pronunciation of the Lanna script and Kammuang As with all languages, the pronunciation of the written and spoken forms changes over time. This is another problem that Kammuang speakers may have when they learn to write the Lanna script. These changes occur in only some words, and there are no readily apparent rules to explain the changes....
  3. ^ Edmondson, J.A. and Gregerson, K.J. (2007). The Languages of Vietnam: Mosaics and Expansions in Language and Linguistics Compass, 1(0). pp. 727–749.
  4. ^ Pittayaporn, Pittayawat (2014). 'Layers of Chinese Loanwords in Proto-Southwestern Tai as Evidence for the Dating of the Spread of Southwestern Tai.' MANUSYA: Journal of Humanities, Special Issue No 20: 47–64.
  5. ^ a b c d e Kemasingki, Pim; Prateepkoh, Pariyakorn (2017-08-01). "RIP Kham Mueang: the slow death of a language". Chiang Mai Citylife. Retrieved 2021-11-01.
  6. ^ Chiu, Angela S. (2017-03-31). The Buddha in Lanna: Art, Lineage, Power, and Place in Northern Thailand. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-7312-7.
  7. ^ Panyaatisin, Kosin (2018-07-21). Dialect Maintenance, Shift and Variation in a Northern Thai Industrial Estate (phd thesis). University of Essex.
  8. ^ a b Sukprasert, Maliwan; Wongsothorn, Achara (2015). "Kham Mueang Dialect Usage over Three Generations in Tambon Wiang Phayao". Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities. 41: 153–166. ISSN 0125-2860.
  9. ^ Thanajirawat, Zirivarnphicha (2018). Tonal Geography of Tai Yuan in Southeast Asia. Paper presented at the 28th Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, held May 17–19, 2018 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
  10. ^ Rungruengsi 2004, pp. ณ-ด
  11. ^ Natnapang 2004, Section 3.5.2 Initial consonant clusters in the Lanna script
  12. ^ Rungrueangsi 2004, p. 307, but not listed by Natnapang
  13. ^ Rungruengsi 2004, p. 795, word ᩉ᩠ᨿ᩠ᩅᩣ᩠ᨾ
  14. ^ Tingsabadh & Abramson (1993:25)
  15. ^ Hundius, Harald. Phonologie und Schrift des Nordthai. Marburg: Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft ;, 1990. Print.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g พจนานุกรมภาษาล้านนา = The Lanna dictionary (พิมพ์ครั้งที่ 2). (พ.ศ. 2550 [= 2007 CE]). เชียงใหม่: สถาบันภาษา ศิลปะและวัฒนธรรม มหาวิทยาลัยราชภัฏเชียงใหม่.
  17. ^ a b c d Gedney, W. J. (1999). Southwestern Tai dialects: Glossaries, texts, and translations (T. J. Hudak, Ed.). University of Michigan Center for South East Asian Studies.
  18. ^ Pittayaporn, P. (2007). Directionality of tone change. Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS XVI), 1421–1424.
  19. ^ a b Rungrueangsi 2004, p. ฉ
  20. ^ a b c d e Li, Fang Kuei (1977). A Handbook of Comparative Tai. Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications. Vol. 15. The University Press of Hawaii. pp. 46, 52. ISBN 0-8248-0540-2.
  21. ^ Rungrueangsi 2004, pp. ฉ, ช & 769
  22. ^ Rungrueangsi 2004, pp. ฉ, ช & 199
  23. ^ Rungrueangsi 2004, pp. ฉ, ช & 746


  • Khamjan, Mala (2008). Kham Mueang Dictionary พจนานุกรมคำเมือง [Photchananukrom Kham Mueang] (in Thai). Chiang Mai: Bookworm. ISBN 978-974-8418-55-1.
  • Natnapang Burutphakdee (October 2004). Khon Muang Neu Kap Phasa Muang [Attitudes of Northern Thai Youth towards Kammuang and the Lanna Script] (PDF) (M.A. Thesis). Presented at 4th National Symposium on Graduate Research, Chiang Mai, Thailand, August 10–11, 2004. Asst. Prof. Dr. Kirk R. Person, adviser. Chiang Mai: Payap University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-05-05. Retrieved June 8, 2013.
  • Rungrueangsi, Udom (ศาสตราจารย์ ดร.อุดม รุ่งเรืองศรี) (2004) [1991]. Lanna-Thai Dictionary, Princess Mother Version พจนานุกรมล้านนา ~ ไทย ฉบับแม่ฟ้าหลวง [Photchananukrom Lanna ~ Thai, Chabap Maefa Luang] (in Thai) (Revision 1 ed.). Chiang Mai: Rongphim Ming Mueang (โรงพิมพ์มิ่งเมือง). ISBN 974-8359-03-4.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bilmes, J. (1996). Problems And Resources In Analyzing Northern Thai Conversation For English Language Readers. Journal of Pragmatics, 26(2), 171–188.
  • Davis, R. (1970). A Northern Thai reader. Bangkok: Siam Society.
  • Filbeck, D. (1973). Pronouns in Northern Thai. Anthropological Linguistics, 15(8), 345–361.
  • Herington, Jennifer, Margaret Potter, Amy Ryan and Jennifer Simmons (2013). Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Thai. SIL Electronic Survey Reports.
  • Howard, K. M. (2009). "When Meeting Khun Teacher, Each Time We Should Pay Respect": Standardizing Respect In A Northern Thai Classroom. Linguistics and Education, 20(3), 254–272.
  • Khankasikam, K. (2012). Printed Lanna character recognition by using conway's game of life. In ICDIM (pp. 104–109).
  • Pankhuenkhat, R. (1982). The Phonology of the Lanna Language:(a Northern Thai Dialect). Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, Mahidol University.
  • Strecker, D. (1979). "A preliminary typology of tone shapes and tonal sound changes in Tai: the La-n N-a A-tones", in Studies in Tai and Mon-Khmer Phonetics and Phonology In Honour of Eugénie J.A. Henderson, ed. T.L. Thongkum et al., pp. 171–240. Chulalongkorn University Press.
  • Wangsai, Piyawat. (2007). A Comparative Study of Phonological Yong and Northern Thai Language (Kammuang). M.A. thesis. Kasetsart University.

External links[edit]