The Thai script is used to write Thai and other Southeast Asian languages such as Kuy, Lavna and Pali. It is a member of the Indic family of scripts descended from Brahmi. Thai extensions to the Brahmi character set include tone marks derived from superscript digits. The Thai script lacks the conjunct consonants and independent vowels found in most Brahmi-derived scripts. Thai is written left to right.

The Thai layout in Unicode is based on the Thai Industrial Standard 620-2529 and its updated version 620-2533.

In common with Indic scripts, each Thai letter is a consonant possessing an inherent vowel sound. Thai letters further feature inherent tones. The inherent vowel and tone can be modified with vowel signs and tone marks. Most Thai vowel signs are rendered by full letter sized in-line glyphs placed either before, after or around the glyph for the base consonant. When the vowel's glyph is before the consonant, it is encoded as a separate character before the consonant. This differs from all other Indic scripts, but is necessary to comply with the Thai Industrial Standard.

There are several punctuation marks particular to Thai :

U+0E4F    Thai character fongman   is the Thai bullet, used to mark items in lists or appearing at the beginning of a verse, sentence, paragraph or other textual segment.

U+0E46    Thai character maiyamok   is used to mark repetition of preceding letters.

U+0E2F    Thai character paiyannoi   is used to indicate elision or abbreviation of letters. It is also used as a regular letter, such as in the Thai name for Bangkok. Paiyannoi is also used in combination (U+0E2F U+0E25 U+0E2F) to create a construct called paiyanyai which means et cetera and is comparable to U+17D8    Khmer sign beyyal.

U+0E5A    Thai character angkhankhu   is used to mark the end of a long segment of text. It can be followed by U+0E30    Thai character sara a   to mark even longer segments of text, such as at the end of a verse in poetry.

U+0E5B    Thai character khomut   marks the end of a chapter or document, where it always follows the angkhankhu + sara a combination.

The angkhankhu + sara a combination is closely related to U+17D4    Khmer sign khan   and U+17D5    Khmer sign bariyoosan   which are themselves ultimately related to the Devanagari characters U+0964    Devanagari danda   and U+0965    Devanagari double danda.

Thai words are not separated by spaces, but spaces are introduces where Western typography might use a comma or period. To mark a word boundary (e.g. for line breaking) use U+200B    zero width space.


Unicode's Thai code block reserves the 128 code points from U+0E00 to U+0E7F, of which 87 are currently assigned.

Sinhala <-- Thai --> Lao

All the characters in this code block were added in Unicode 1.1

Number of characters in each General Category :

Letter, Modifier       Lm :  1
Letter, Other          Lo : 56
Mark, Non-Spacing      Mn : 16
Number, Decimal Digit  Nd : 10
Punctuation, Other     Po :  3
Symbol, Currency       Sc :  1

Number of characters in each Bidirectional Category :

Left To Right                 L : 70
European Number Terminator   ET :  1
Non Spacing Mark            NSM : 16

The columns below should be interpreted as :

  1. The Unicode code for the character
  2. The character in question
  3. The Unicode name for the character
  4. The Unicode General Category for the character
  5. The Unicode Bidirectional Category for the character

If the characters below show up poorly, or not at all, see Unicode Support for possible solutions.

 

Thai

     Based on TIS 620-2533

U+0E01   ก   Thai character ko kai Lo L
U+0E02   ข   Thai character kho khai Lo L
U+0E03   ฃ   Thai character kho khuat Lo L
U+0E04   ค   Thai character kho khwai Lo L
U+0E05   ฅ   Thai character kho khon Lo L
U+0E06   ฆ   Thai character kho rakhang Lo L
U+0E07   ง   Thai character ngo ngu Lo L
U+0E08   จ   Thai character cho chan Lo L
U+0E09   ฉ   Thai character cho ching Lo L
U+0E0A   ช   Thai character cho chang Lo L
U+0E0B   ซ   Thai character so so Lo L
U+0E0C   ฌ   Thai character cho choe Lo L
U+0E0D   ญ   Thai character yo ying Lo L
U+0E0E   ฎ   Thai character do chada Lo L
U+0E0F   ฏ   Thai character to patak Lo L
U+0E10   ฐ   Thai character tho than Lo L
U+0E11   ฑ   Thai character tho nangmontho Lo L
U+0E12   ฒ   Thai character tho phuthao Lo L
U+0E13   ณ   Thai character no nen Lo L
U+0E14   ด   Thai character do dek Lo L
U+0E15   ต   Thai character to tao Lo L
U+0E16   ถ   Thai character tho thung Lo L
U+0E17   ท   Thai character tho thahan Lo L
U+0E18   ธ   Thai character tho thong Lo L
U+0E19   น   Thai character no nu Lo L
U+0E1A   บ   Thai character bo baimai Lo L
U+0E1B   ป   Thai character po pla Lo L
U+0E1C   ผ   Thai character pho phung Lo L
U+0E1D   ฝ   Thai character fo fa Lo L
U+0E1E   พ   Thai character pho phan Lo L
U+0E1F   ฟ   Thai character fo fan Lo L
U+0E20   ภ   Thai character pho samphao Lo L
U+0E21   ม   Thai character mo ma Lo L
U+0E22   ย   Thai character yo yak Lo L
U+0E23   ร   Thai character ro rua Lo L
U+0E24   ฤ   Thai character ru Lo L
* independent vowel letter used to write Sanskrit
U+0E25   ล   Thai character lo ling Lo L
U+0E26   ฦ   Thai character lu Lo L
* independent vowel letter used to write Sanskrit
U+0E27   ว   Thai character wo waen Lo L
U+0E28   ศ   Thai character so sala Lo L
U+0E29   ษ   Thai character so rusi Lo L
U+0E2A   ส   Thai character so sua Lo L
U+0E2B   ห   Thai character ho hip Lo L
U+0E2C   ฬ   Thai character lo chula Lo L
U+0E2D   อ   Thai character o ang Lo L
U+0E2E   ฮ   Thai character ho nokhuk Lo L
aka ho nok huk

     Sign

U+0E2F   ฯ   Thai character paiyannoi Lo L
aka paiyan noi
* ellipsis, abbreviation

     Vowels

U+0E30   ะ   Thai character sara a Lo L
U+0E31   ั   Thai character mai han akat Mn NSM
U+0E32   า   Thai character sara aa Lo L
ref U+0E45   ๅ   Thai character lakkhangyao (Thai)
U+0E33   ำ   Thai character sara am Lo L
U+0E34   ิ   Thai character sara i Mn NSM
U+0E35   ี   Thai character sara ii Mn NSM
U+0E36   ึ   Thai character sara ue Mn NSM
U+0E37   ื   Thai character sara uee Mn NSM
aka sara uue
U+0E38   ุ   Thai character sara u Mn NSM
U+0E39   ู   Thai character sara uu Mn NSM
U+0E3A   ฺ   Thai character phinthu Mn NSM
* Pali virama

     Currency symbol

U+0E3F   ฿   Thai currency symbol baht Sc ET

     Vowels

U+0E40   เ   Thai character sara e Lo L
U+0E41   แ   Thai character sara ae Lo L
U+0E42   โ   Thai character sara o Lo L
U+0E43   ใ   Thai character sara ai maimuan Lo L
aka sara ai mai muan
U+0E44   ไ   Thai character sara ai maimalai Lo L
aka sara ai mai malai
U+0E45   ๅ   Thai character lakkhangyao Lo L
aka lakkhang yao
* special vowel length indication used with 0E24 or 0E26
ref U+0E32   า   Thai character sara aa (Thai)

     Sign

U+0E46   ๆ   Thai character maiyamok Lm L
aka mai yamok
* repetition

     Vowel

U+0E47   ็   Thai character maitaikhu Mn NSM
aka mai taikhu

     Tone marks

U+0E48   ่   Thai character mai ek Mn NSM
U+0E49   ้   Thai character mai tho Mn NSM
U+0E4A   ๊   Thai character mai tri Mn NSM
U+0E4B   ๋   Thai character mai chattawa Mn NSM

     Signs

U+0E4C   ์   Thai character thanthakhat Mn NSM
* cancellation mark
U+0E4D   ํ   Thai character nikhahit Mn NSM
aka nikkhahit
* final nasal
U+0E4E   ๎   Thai character yamakkan Mn NSM
U+0E4F   ๏   Thai character fongman Po L
* used as a bullet
ref U+17D9   ៙   Khmer sign phnaek muan (Khmer)

     Digits

U+0E50   ๐   Thai digit zero Nd L
U+0E51   ๑   Thai digit one Nd L
U+0E52   ๒   Thai digit two Nd L
U+0E53   ๓   Thai digit three Nd L
U+0E54   ๔   Thai digit four Nd L
U+0E55   ๕   Thai digit five Nd L
U+0E56   ๖   Thai digit six Nd L
U+0E57   ๗   Thai digit seven Nd L
U+0E58   ๘   Thai digit eight Nd L
U+0E59   ๙   Thai digit nine Nd L

     Signs

U+0E5A   ๚   Thai character angkhankhu Po L
* used to mark end of long sections
* used in combination with 0E30 to mark end of a verse
U+0E5B   ๛   Thai character khomut Po L
* used to mark end of chapter or document
ref U+17DA   ៚   Khmer sign koomuut (Khmer)

http://unicode.org
Some prose may have been lifted verbatim from unicode.org,
as is permitted by their terms of use at http://www.unicode.org/copyright.html
Thai devloped from a loose collection of similar writing systems in South India labeled under the Grantha type, which themselves developed from Brahmi. The orthodox explaination for the Thai script's development is that a Grantha writing system was adapted by King Ramkhamhaeng in 1283 CE. His main contribution was the introduction of tonal markers, which were relatively unimportant to the Indic and Dravidic languages previously represented by Brahmi derivatives, but absolutely vital to Thai. As a (nominally) Sino-Tibetan language, the five tones distinguishing homophones had to be made clear. It is thought that Thai was the first writing system in common use to indicate phonemic tone.

While the script began as a directly phonetic representation of Thai, sound changes have caused the script to become somewhat more complicated. Several qualities of Thai consonants, such as pre-aspiration and pre-glottalization have disappeared. Others, such as aspirated/unaspirated distinction and voiced/unvoiced distinction, became more limited. An example of this in English would be if the sounds represented by 'k' and hard 'g' merged to just 'k', yet both letters were still used. Concurrently, tonal distinctions became more pronounced. The result was that there soon grew to be an abundance of unneeded consonantal signs and not enough tonal signs. Thus, consonants representing the same sounds were divided into three groups, with each group corresponding to a certain class of tones. These groups are called kla:ng, sû:ng, and tàm (mid, high, and low, respectively).

With modern standardization, Thai has moved further away from phonemic correspondance with the spoken language. Like English (and this is the main reason why English spelling is so absurdly complicated), many Thai spellings contain etymological information that has nothing to do with the pronunciation of the word. Extra unpronounced characters are retained to indicate that a word originated from Sanskrit, much as the spelling of 'night' indicates that the word is of Germanic origin even though 'gh' is certainly not pronounced. The situation becomes especially complicated with final stop consonants. A native Thai word can only end in -p, -t, or -k for a stop, yet there are sixteen different individual letters for representing those three sounds, twenty-seven letters that can transform into one of those sounds in final position, and a proliferation of silent etymological letters.

Handwritten Thai sometimes makes use of small 'heads' which are written first similar to those present in other Brahmi writing systems like Devanagari, Kannada, and Oriya.


Daniels, Peter T., Bright, William. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Survival Thai

I'll start with a confession: I'm a language freak.

I speak English, Finnish, Japanese, French and Spanish with various degrees of fluency, and I'm working on adding Mandarin to this list. My Russian's getting a little rusty but I can still decipher Cyrillic. Without any formal lessons I've picked up survival-level German, Swedish and Malay. The Hebrew and Arabic alphabets I learned just for yucks, although I can't really speak either language. And I can recite a few poems in Slovene by heart, quote subway announcements in Czech, and puzzle out Malti orthography.

So what do I think is the most difficult language I've encountered so far? No doubt about it: Thai.

Phonetics

Pronouncing Thai correctly is very tricky for the average Westerner. First, you have the 5 tones (mid, low, falling, high, rising), which differentiate otherwise identical-sounding syllables and can mean the difference between "near" (klai, mid-tone) and "far" (klâi, falling).

Second, you have a slew of consonants to deal with. Every guide to the language proclaims that there are 44 of the little buggers, but it's not quite that bad: yes, there are 44 letters (more on that later), but only around 20 distinct sounds. Thai consonants have one distinction difficult for the English speaker, namely that between aspirated (with-a-puff-of-air) and unaspirated (without-a-puff) consonants. The aspirated ones match those normally used in English, and are usually transcribed as ph, kh, and th despite being pronounced "p", "k" and "t"; the unaspirated ones are found in English combinations like "spat" and "skip", and are usually transcribed p, k, t despite being pronounced something akin to "bp", "g" (hard), and "dt" respectively.

Still there? Then we have the vowels, and (if we count diphthongs) there are no less than 28 of them. Actually, English does feature most of them, but the average native speaker has never been taught to distinguish the front 'a' of man (ae in Thai) with the back 'a' of car (aa in Thai), and in Thai vowel length is also important. And then you have just weird sounds like the oei of kàthoei (transvestite), helpfully described as "as the u sound in hut, only more closed, plus i" by one of my guidebooks.

Writing Thai

The Thai writing system is basically alphabetic (an abugida, to be precise), so it doesn't quite match Chinese or Japanese in sheer complexity, but for an alphabet it's remarkably difficult to read and write.

First of all, there are 44 consonants, 32 vowel signs and 4 tone marks to learn. Vowel signs are scattered before, above and after consonants; often several are required for a single vowel sound. Conversely, if the sound is a long O, no sign at all is needed. Most consonant sounds have multiple letters, choosing the one to use depends on the etymology of the word and the tone of the syllable. For example, to write "tîo" (เตี่ยว) you write เ (E) + ต (T) + ย (EI) + ว (W), then slap a bar with notch on top ี of the T to indicate there's a long I sound too, and finish with a little dot ่ to note the tone. And don't forget to choose the right one from the 8 different letters all pronounced "T" (2 unaspirated, 6 aspirated).

But this was at least phonetic. Many Thai words, especially those imported from Pali, retain archaic spellings that no longer correspond to their pronunciation. And then the cruelest blow of all: Thai does not use spaces between words. A sentence or name will be an uninterrupted flow of Thai characters, figuring out where one word ends and the next begins is left to the reader.

Survival Thai: Phrases

Don't despair! While learning fluent Thai is a formidable task, learning enough to get by is quite achievable. In strictly limited contexts, you'll be understood even if you mangle your pronunciation and tones. Learn the following by heart and you're off to a good start.

Conventions

But first let's lay down the rules. I'm using Lonely Planet's transcription system, which is the same as the common Royal Thai General System of Transcription with the following changes:
  • 'o' as in 'bone', 'aw' as in 'saw'
  • 'ch' as in 'church', 'j' as the 't' of 'rapture'
Long vowels are doubled. Aspirated consonants are written with "h", so thai is "tai", not "thigh" and phom is "pom", not "fom". Tones are denoted as follows:
  1. a -- mid
  2. à -- low
  3. â -- falling
  4. á -- high
  5. ã -- rising
Of course, to get these down pat (or even approximate) you'll need to hear a native Thai pronounce them, but mâi pen rai.

Basic Civilities

sawàtdee
Good day.
kháwp khun
Thank you.
mâi pen rai
No problem.
You're welcome.
Too bad.
Not my problem.
laa kàwn
Goodbye.
All of the above can and should be postfixed with khráp if you're male and khâ if you're female. The gender of the person you're speaking to does not matter!

Taxi Essentials

Generally speaking, Bangkok cabbies don't speak a single word of English, so knowledge of the following three phrases will make your life much easier.

trong pai
Go straight.
liaw khwãa / sáai
Turn right / left.
jáwt thîi nîi
Stop here.

Shopping

Most any shop accustomed to dealing with farangs will have a calculator on hand for tapping out prices... but if you want the best price, you'll have to haggle in Thai.

kíi báat?
How much?
Most Thai numbers bear a marked resemblance to the Chinese numbers, especially Cantonese (marked in parentheses). They're also built up in the same logical way, so that "69" is "six-ten-nine" (hók-sìp-kâo). The only irregularities are that 11, 21, etc end in -ét and that 20 is yîi-sìp.

   1 nèung
   2 sãwng
   3 sãam (saam)
   4 sìi (say)
   5 hâa
   6 hók (lok)
   7 jét (chat)
   8 páet (bart)
   9 kâo (gow)
  10 sìp (sup)
  11 sìp-ét
  12 sìp-sãwng
  20 yîi-sìp
  21 yîi-sìp-ét
  30 sãam-sìp
 100 rawy
1000 phan
Note that Thai also has its own set of digits for writing, but (fortunately) these are very rarely used.

Survival Thai: Grammar

Enough rote memorization! Despite the formidable phonetics and writing system, Thai grammar is surprisingly simple, and with the following you can be grunting your very own phrases of Tarzan Thai in no time at all.

Sentence patterns

Thai is an SVO language. As in Japanese, the subject can often be omitted. Adjectives follow nouns: kaeng daeng is curry red, chaa yen is tea cold. Two basic particles that are very useful are mãi and mâi:

X mãi?
Do (you) X?
mâi X
(I) do not X
X na khrap/khâ
No real meaning, but makes you sound polite (always a good thing) and like you've been around the block a few times (reducing the risk of being ripped off).

Verbs

Thai verbs do not conjugate, just plunk them into a sentence. Tenses and modes can be indicated with particles, but other than the basics listed above we won't get into that here.

jai
"to yes"
First an oddball: the Thai word for yes (jai) acts like a verb. mâi jai ("not yes") means no, and jai mãi? ("yes?") means "isn't it?". Other Thai verbs are more like their English counterparts:

mii
to have
pai
to go
dâi
to be able to (can)
ao
to want
châwp
to like
Note that, again like Chinese, a question ending in a verb should be answered with the same verb. Alternatively, khráp and khâ alone are polite affirmatives, along the lines of the Japanese hai.

Putting It All Together

mâi ao
I don't want.
mâi ao na khráp
No thank you.
châwp lady thai mãi?
Do you like Thai women?
châwp mâak
I like very much.
pai Patpong, dai mãi?
Can you go to Patpong?
khun süay mâak-mâak! kii baat?
You're very beautiful! How much?
The management takes no responsibility for the results if you try to use these.

References

Lonely Planet Thai phrasebook
3 months in Bangkok

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