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Thai, Central Thai, or Siamese, is the national and official language of Thailand and the first language of the Thai people and the vast majority of Thai Chinese. It is a member of the Tai group of the Tai–Kadai language family. Over half of its words are borrowed from Pali, Sanskrit and Old Khmer. It is a tonal and analytic language. Thai also has a complex orthography and system of relational markers.Spoken Thai is mutually intelligible with Laotian, the language of Laos; the two languages are written with slightly different scripts but are linguistically similar.
Thai is the official language of Thailand, natively spoken by over 20 million people. Standard Thai is based on the register of the educated classes of Bangkok. In addition to Central Thai, Thailand is home to other related Tai languages. Although linguists usually classify these idioms as related, but distinct languages, native speakers often identify them as regional variants or dialects of the "same" Thai language, or as "different kinds of Thai".
Central Thai is composed of several distinct registers, forms for different social contexts:
Most Thais can speak and understand all of these contexts. Street and Elegant Thai are the basis of all conversations. Rhetorical, religious, and royal Thai are taught in schools as the national curriculum.
Many scholars believe that the Thai script is derived from the Khmer script, which is modeled after the Brahmic script from the Indic family. However, in appearance, Thai is closer to Thai Dam script, which may have the same Indian origins as the Khmer script. The language and its script are closely related to the Lao language and script. Most literate Lao are able to read and understand Thai, as more than half of the Thai vocabulary, grammar, intonation, vowels and so forth are common with the Lao language. Much like the Burmese adopted the Mon script (which also has Indic origins), the Thais adopted and modified the Khmer script to create their own writing system. While in Thai the pronunciation can largely be inferred from the script, the orthography is complex, with silent letters to preserve original spellings and many letters representing the same sound. While the oldest known inscription in the Khmer language dates from 611 CE, inscriptions in Thai writing began to appear around 1292 CE. Notable features include:
There is no universally applied method for transcribing Thai into the Latin alphabet. For example, the name of the main airport is transcribed variously as Suvarnabhumi, Suwannaphum, or Suwunnapoom. Guide books, textbooks and dictionaries may each follow different systems. For this reason, most language courses recommend that learners master the Thai script.
Official standards are the Royal Thai General System of Transcription (RTGS), published by the Royal Institute of Thailand, and the almost identical ISO 11940-2 defined by the International Organization for Standardization. The RTGS system is increasingly used in Thailand by central and local governments, especially for road signs. Its main drawbacks are that it does not indicate tone or vowel length. As the system is based on pronunciation, not orthography, reconstruction of Thai spelling from RTGS romanisation is not possible.
The ISO published an international standard for the transliteration of Thai into Roman script in September 2003 (ISO 11940). By adding diacritics to the Latin letters, it makes the transcription reversible, making it a true transliteration. Notably, this system is used by Google Translate, although it seems not to appear in many other contexts, such as textbooks and other instructional media. This may be because the particular problems of writing Thai for foreigners, including silent letters and placement of vowel markers, decrease the usefulness of literal transliteration.