Southern Thai language

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Southern Thai
ภาษาไทยใต้ pʰaːsaː tʰajtaj
Native to Southern Thailand, Kedah, Kelantan and Tanintharyi Region
Ethnicity Thai (Southern), Peranakan, Thai Malaysian
Native speakers
4.5 million (2006)[1]
Thai alphabet (since 15th century)
Khmer alphabet (historically)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 sou
Glottolog sout2746[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Southern Thai (Thai: ภาษาไทยใต้  [pʰaːsǎː tʰajtâːj]), also known as Pak Tai (ภาษาปักษ์ใต้) or Dambro (Thai: ภาษาตามโพร  [pʰaːsǎː taːmpʰroː]), is a Southwestern Tai language spoken in the fourteen provinces of Southern Thailand as well as by small communities in the northernmost Malaysian states. It is spoken by roughly five million people, and as a second language by the 1.5 million speakers of Kelantan-Pattani Malay and other ethnic groups such as the local Thai Chinese communities, Negritos, and other tribal groups. Most speakers are also fluent or understand the Central Thai dialects.


In Thailand, speakers of Southern Thai can be found in a contiguous region beginning as far north as Prachuap Khiri Khan Province and extending southward to the border with Malaysia. Smaller numbers of speakers reside in the Malaysian border states, especially Kedah, Kelantan, Penang, Perlis, and Perak. In these areas, it is the primary language of ethnic Thais as well as of the ethnically Malay people on both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border in Satun and Songkhla provinces. Although numerous regional variations exist and there is no one standard, the language is most distinct near the Malaysian border. All varieties, however, remain mutually intelligible. For economic reasons, many speakers of Southern Thai have migrated to Bangkok and other Thai cities. Some have also emigrated to the Middle East, which offers not only economic opportunity but also a culture which shares the Islamic faith practiced by some speakers of Southern Thai.


Malay kingdoms ruled much of the Malay Peninsula, such as the Pattani Kingdom and Tambralinga, but most of the area, at one time or another, was under the rule of Srivijaya. The population of the Malay peninsula was heavily influenced by the culture of India transmitted through missionaries or indirectly through traders. Numerous Buddhist and Hindu shrines attest to the diffusion of Indian culture. The power vacuum left by the collapse of Srivijaya was filled by the growth of the kingdom of Nakhon Si Thammarat, which subsequently became a vassal of the Sukhothai Kingdom. The area has been a frontier between the northern Tai peoples and the southern ethnic Malays as well as between Buddhism and Islam.




There are five phonemic tones in the Nakhon Si Thammarat dialect: high, mid rising-falling, low-rising, mid-high, and low.[4]

Tone Standard Thai Phonemic Phonetic Example meaning in English
high ผ่า /pʰáː/ [pʰaː˥˥] to split
mid rising-falling ปลา /plâː/ [plaː˧˦˧] fish
low-rising ถ้า /tʰǎː/ [tʰaː˩˦] lf
mid-high ห้า /haː/ [haː˦˦] five
low ค้า /kʰàː/ [kʰaː˩˩] to trade


Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal [m] [n] [ŋ]
Plosive [p] [pʰ] [b] [t] [tʰ] [d] [k] [kʰ] [ʔ]
Fricative [f] [s] [h]
Affricate [tɕ] [tɕʰ]
Trill [r]
Approximant [j] [w]
* Implied before any vowel without an initial and after a short vowel without a final.

Differences from Standard Thai

Although of the major regional languages of Thailand, Southern Thai is most similar in lexicon and grammar to Central Thai, the varieties are sufficiently different that mutual intelligibility between the two can be problematic. Southern Thai presents a diglossic situation wherein registers range from the most formal (Standard Central Thai spoken with Southern Thai tones and accent) to the common vernacular (which utilises more local vocabulary and incorporates more words from Patani Malay). The Thai language was introduced with Siamese incursions into the Malay Peninsula possibly starting as early as the Sukhothai Kingdom. During this and successive kingdoms, the area in which Southern Thai is spoken was a frontier zone between Thai polities and the Malay Sultanates. Malay vocabulary is an integral part of the lexicon, as Malay was formerly spoken throughout the region and many speakers of the language still speak the Patani dialect of Malay.

Southern Thai is mainly a spoken language, although the Thai alphabet is often used in the informal situations when it is written.

The words used that are etymologically Thai are often spoken in a reduced and rapid manner, making comprehension by speakers of other varieties difficult. Also, as Southern Thai uses up to seven tones in certain provinces, the tonal distribution is different from other regional varieties of Thai. Additionally, Southern Thai speakers almost always preserve ร as /r/ in contrast to Northern Thai, the Lao-based Isan language, and informal registers of Standard Thai where it is generally realized as /l/.

Differences between Southern Thai and Thai
Dambro Thai English Dambro Thai English
หร่อย, rɔːj อร่อย, aʔrɔ̀ːj delicious ม่าย, maːj ไหม, mǎj question particle
แหลง, lɛːŋ พูด, pʰûːt to speak จังหู้, tɕaŋhuː มาก, mâːk a lot
ดีปรี, _diːpriː พริก, pʰrík chilli หลุหละ, lulaʔ สกปรก, sòk.ka.pròk dirty
หยีบ, jip ยี่สิบ, jîːsìp twenty บาย, baːj สบาย, saʔbaːj to be well
ยานัด, jaːnát สับปะรด, sàp.paʔ.rót pineapple นากา, naːkaː นาฬิกา, naːlí.kaː clock
ขี้มัน, kʰiːman ขี้เหนียว, kʰîːnǐaw stingy พรือ, pʰrɯːa อะไร, aʔraj what?
ยัง, jaŋ มี, miː to have แค, kʰɛː ใกล้, klâj near
พี่บ่าว, pʰiːbaːw พี่ชาย, pʰîːtɕʰaːj older brother เกือก, kɯːak รองเท้า, rɔːŋtʰáːw shoe
ตอเช้า, tɔ.tɕʰaw พรุ่งนี้, pʰrûŋ.níː tomorrow พร้าว, pʰraːw มะพร้าว, máʔ.pʰráːw coconut
หลาด, laːt ตลาด, taʔ.làːt market ตู, tuː ประตู, praʔ.tuː door
แล, lɛː ดู, duː to see นายหัว, naːj.hua หัวหน้า, hǔa.nâː boss


  1. Southern Thai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nidhi Eoseewong (2012-11-12). "ภาษามลายูถิ่นในประเทศไทย [Malay dialects in Thailand]" (in Thai). Selected Messages & Good Article for People Ideas and Social Justice. Retrieved 2014-07-26. }
  3. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Southern Thai". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. Gedney, William J., and Thomas J. Hudak. William J. Gedney's Tai Dialect Studies: Glossaries, Texts, and Translations. Ann Arbor, MI: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, The University of Michigan, 1997. Print.
  • Bradley, David. (1992). "Southwestern Dai as a lingua franca." Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas. Vol. II.I:13, pp. 780–781.
  • Levinson, David. Ethnic Groups Worldwide: A Ready Reference Handbook. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISPN: 1573560197.
  • Miyaoka, Osahito. (2007). The Vanishing Languages of the Pacific Rim. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-926662-X.
  • Taher, Mohamed. (1998). Encylopaedic Survey of Islamic Culture. Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 81-261-0403-1.
  • Yegar, Moshe. Between Integration and Secession: The Muslim Communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/Myanmar. Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-0356-3.
  • Diller, A. Van Nostrand. (1976). Toward a Model of Southern Thai Diglossic Speech Variation. Cornell University Publishers.
  • Li, Fang Kuei. (1977). A Handbook of Comparative Tai. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-0540-2.

External links