Approximately 50 million people speak Thai worldwide. It is used by about 85% of the population in Thailand, as well as by small groups of people in the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore. Thai stipulates different ways to address people to show varying degrees of respect or to acknowledge a person’s social rank. For example, there are particles that can be added at the end of a sentence to indicate deference to the person being spoken to, or to communicate the speaker’s opinion about what is being described.
Thailand’s economy will remain one of the fastest growing in East Asia for the next several years. The country’s GDP growth rate hit 6.7 percent in 2003, among the highest growth rates in the world. Projected GDP growth in 2004 is 7 to 8 percent. A key factor in the strong economic growth – second only to China’s in East Asia – is strong consumer demand and domestic economic activity sustained by the Bank of Thailand.
The lack of any meaningful inflation combined with a relatively stable currency has given the monetary authorities the ability to loosen monetary policy in a way not seen since before the currency crisis in 1997. Reflecting the positive growth trend, Thailand’s key stock market index has nearly doubled in value and is one of the best performing stock markets in the world in either local or dollar terms.
Thai, which is sometimes referred to as Siamese, is part of the Tai language family. The languages in this family belong to the much larger Austric language group. The spoken language is believed to have originated in the area which is now the border between Vietnam and China, an idea which provides clues to the origin of the Thai people, an area of continued academic debate.
Thai houseThe written Thai Language was introduced by the third Sukothai period king, Ramkamhaeng, in 1283. This writing system has undergone little change since its introduction, so inscriptions from the Sukothai era can be read by modern Thai readers. The writing was based on Pali, Sanskrit, and Indian concepts, and many Mon and Khmer words entered the language.
Within Thailand, there are four major dialects, corresponding to the southern, northern (“Yuan”), north-eastern (close to Lao language), and central regions of the country; the latter is called Central Thai or Bangkok Thai and is taught in all schools, is used for most television broadcasts, and is widely understood in all regions.
Nowadays, English is also taught in all public schools. There are a few minor Thai dialects such as Phuan and Lue, spoken by small populations. Also within Thailand, small ethnic minority groups (including so-called “hill tribes”) account for around sixty languages which are not considered related to Thai.
The four primary dialects of Thai should not be confused with four different “languages” used by Thais in different social circumstances. For example, certain words are used only by Thai royalty, creating a royal language.
The Thai alphabet uses forty-four consonants and fifteen basic vowel characters. These are horizontally placed, left to right, with no intervening space, to form syllables, words, and sentences.
Vowels are written above, below, before, or after the consonant they modify, although the consonant always sounds first when the syllable is spoken. The vowel characters (and a few consonants) can be combined in various ways to produce numerous compound vowels.
Unlike the Chinese language, the system is alphabetic, so pronunciation of a word is independent of its meaning (English is also an alphabetic language). On the other hand, Thai is tonal, like Chinese and unlike English. This means that each word has a certain pitch characteristic with which it must be spoken to be properly understood. The Thai language uses five tones, called mid, low, high, rising, and falling.
The grammar of the Thai language is considerably simpler than the ones in Western languages. Most significantly, words are not modified or conjugated for tenses, plurals, genders, or subject-verb agreement. Articles such as “a”, “an”, or “the” are also not used. Tenses, levels of politeness, verb-to-noun conversion, and other language concepts are accomplished with the simple addition of various modifying words (called “particles”) to the basic subject-verb-object format.
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