Usage by Country
Official Language: Thailand. Home Speakers: Vietnam, China, Laos
Thai is spoken by 25 million people in Thailand. It is a member of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages (Thai group), which means that it is distantly related to Chinese. It is closer, however, to Lao, spoken in Laos, and to the Shan language of northern Myanmar. Like Chinese, Thai is a tonal language, meaning that different tones, or intonations, distinguish words that would otherwise be homonyms. There are Central, North-eastern, Northern and Southern Thai varieties in Thailand, though Central Thai is regarded as the standard and used both in schools and for official purposes throughout the country. In Vietnam and Laos the Black, Red and White Thai varieties are spoken. The origin of the Thai alphabet is obscure, but it is believed to have had its origin in southern India. In writing, words are not separated from each other and the letters generally flow uninterruptedly until the idea changes. In China, Thai is written with the Latin script.