The World’s alphabets:
The Thai alphabet

thai alphabet

One widely spread historical theory is that the roots of the Thai language are to be found in China.
The first Thai speakers were to be found in along the Yellow river in what is now today Yunnan province.
In the 7th century ad arose the first Kingdom of the Thai people. This settlement lasted until the twelfth century until Kublai Khan invaded the area and displaced the Thai people.
After the destruction of their Kingdom the Thais migrated south.
There they settled in what is today Thailand.
Since this time all Thai people speak one language: Thai

Today there are about 60 million native speakers of Thai.
In Thailand, Thai is the official language.
Thai is also spoken outside of Thailand in Burma, China, Laos and Vietnam.

The Thai alphabet

กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยามหาดิลก ภพนพรัตน์ราชธานีบุรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์ มหาสถานอมรพิมาน อวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยะ วิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์
What you see above is the longest name for a place on the Earth.
Translated it means:
“City of angels, great city and residence of the holy jewels of the Indras, impregnable city of God, great capital of the world, bejewelled with nine precious Gems, rich in might royal palaces, that rival the heavenly home of the new born God, a gift of Indra and built by Vishnukarm.

This is however only the official name for one of the largest cities in the world, which is b better known as Bangkok.
You have already seen some examples of Thai script and of Thai letters.

Thai: an Abugida script

Thai is a Abugida language

The Thai language is one of the Abugida languages.
Abugida languages are a subclass of the Syllabic languages and are viewed as an intermediate script between Syllabic and Alphabetic scripts.
Syllabic languages are those that use individual symbols for syllables.
Perhaps you already know the Hiragana or Katagana scripts from Japan or the Devanagari script from India.
These three scripts are Syllabic scripts.

Alphabetic languages however use a symbol to depict every phoneme (the smallest pronounceable sound in a word).
Two examples of alphabetic scripts are Roman and Greek.
But what distinguishes Thai?

The signs for Thai consonants

Thai has twenty consonants.
However these consonants are written with 43 different symbols.
This means that many symbols are pronounced the same.

Now it’s time to take a look at the consonants.
In Thai dictionaries you will always find the words beginning with consonants.
Afterwards come all the words that begin with vowels.

Thai Consonants
Symbol Pronunciation:
ฎ / ด [d]
ฏ / ต [dt]
ฝ / ฟ [f]
ห / ฮ [h]
ญ / ย [j]
ข / ฃ / ค / ฅ / ฆ [kh]
ล / ฬ [l]
ฌ / น [n]
ผ / พ / ภ [ph]
ซ / ศ / ษ / ส [s]
ฐ / ฑ/ ฒ / ถ / ท / ธ [th]
ฉ / ช / ณ [tsh]

As well as the consonants you will also need to know the Thai vowels to be able to write the Thai language.
These vowels can be pronounced either long or short and can be combined with each other.
You should also note that these vowels can be either above or below the consonants or in front of or behind the consonants.

The Thai vowels
Symbol Position Equivalent to:
xั: above* [a]
xะ: behind [a] (short vowel)
xา: behind [aa] (long vowel)
xำ: behind [a(m)]
ไx before [ai]
ใx before [ai]
เx: prima [e]
xึ: sopra -
xื: above -
แx: before [ɛ]
xิ : above [i] (short vowel)
xี: above [ii] (long vowel)
โx: before [o]
xุ: below [u] (short vowel)
xู: below [uu] (long vowel)

* Please note: The x stands for the consonant with which the vowel is combined.

These vowels can also be combined to form diphthongs.
Combinations with vowel symbols:

Vowel combinations in Thai
Symbol: Position: Equivalent to:
เา เxา: enclosed [ao]
เะ เxะ: enclosed [e]
แะ แxะ: enclosed [ɛ]
เี ีย เxีย : enclosed with letter omission [ia]
เี ีย ะ เxียะ : enclosed with letter omission [ia]
โะ โxะ: enclosed [o]
เาะ เxาะ: enclosed [ɔ]
อ * - [ɔ]
ัว xัว: above and behind [ua]
ัวะ xัวะ: above and behind [ua]

Learning written Thai

We would strongly recommend that learning written Thai should be done not just on the the computer, but also in the traditional manner of paper and pen.
If you also read the letters out loud while writing them you will learn them a lot quicker and more easily.
Here are few rules of writing Thai:

  1. All letters are written in stroke. The pen marks the paper and does not leave until the script is complete.
  2. Normally a letter is begun in the middle. Therefore writing begins from inside to out.
  3. If it is not possible to write a letter from inside to outside, then you begin on the left.
  4. In Thai a symbol is begun by writing the ring first (if there is one in the letter).
  5. If a symbol has two rings, the top one is written first.

Try to use this description of Thai consonants and vowels to write them down.
At first they will look very shaky, but with practice they will quickly get better.

Would you like to learn more about the Thai language and alphabet?

We are pleased to offer you more information and links about Thai language, culture and alphabet.

  1. Here is the entry from Wikipedia about the Thai alphabet.
  2. You would like to hear more about the Thai language?
    Here is an interesting blog article we have written about it.
  3. You would like to learn Thai?
    Do you know the Thai courses from 17 Minute Languages?
    A1/A2: Basic Thai for beginners
    B1/B2: Further Thai for intermediate students
    C1/C2: Advanced Thai Vocabulary with other 1,800 words