Regional Dialects of Thai, part 2 of 2 Posted by on Sep 6, 2010 in Beginner

The last major region is the north east, otherwise known as Isaan (อีสาน). This region is mostly arid farm land with the largest population in Thailand. It’s also the poorest and least respected among Thais of other regions. The Isaan region borders the country of Laos, so language and culture has been heavily influenced by that region. The Isaan dialect itself is literally a 50:50 mix of Laos and central Thai. If you ever wanted to seriously learn to speak Isaan, I recommend learning to speak Laoatian (ภาษาลาว) at the same time. I usually identify someone speaking Isaan by how little I understand what he says, how smoothly one word transitions to the next, and the typically darker skin of the speaker.

But be careful, any attempt at you speaking Isaan dialect while in central Thailand will label you as uneducated (or married to someone as such). I once asked a Thai language teacher to teach me Isaan (ภาษาอีสาน), and instead she lectured me for 20 minutes on how ‘only uneducated people speak Isaan.’ This is one reason for the red/yellow shirt conflict in Thailand, but that’s another story I won’t go into . . .

There is one other language you’ll see occasionally – the Thai version of sign language. I’ve seen it spoken in both remote villages and also within the cities. It’s not too common, however, as Thailand isn’t exactly handicap-friendly. Try using a wheel-chair on a side-walk in Bangkok and you’ll know what I mean! Anyway, I don’t speak sign-language, but I’ve been told that the Thai version is very similar to the western version. I’d guess the vocabulary would be the same, but grammar different. Sign-language is called ภาษามือ because, well, it’s spoken by the hand. Now don’t get me wrong, you never say ‘I speak sign-language’ in Thai. Why? Because your hands don’t speak! At least not mine . . . instead, you say ‘I do sign-language’: ทำภาษามือ versus พูดภาษาไทย.

Anyway, time for our printable vocabulary . . .

vocabulary (คำศัพท์):

ภาษาถิ่น                regional dialect

ภาษาไทย              Thai language

ภาษาเหนือ             North: springy-ness in the language, use of เจ้า

ภาษาไต้                South: spoken very fast, words shortened

ภาษากลาง             Central: clear and crisp, easy to understand

ภาษาอีสาน            North-East: words meld into each other, difficult to understand

ภาษาลาว               Laoatian: similar to Isaan

ภาษามือ                sign-language

ทำภาษามือ            speak sign-language

พูดภาษาไทย          speak Thai

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  1. Anny:

    Overall, I quite agree with your article but the case of North-eastern dialect is wasn’t like that. Even though, I’m a Bangkok citizen but I’ve never looked down on any dialects. Actually, dialect spoken is really not the main factor that will lead people considered one as an uneducated person but the gesture, manner, appearance as well as how they use the language which mean appropriate to time, place and situation. So even though they speaks in dialect but the meaning and wording is used in the right time and place… there is no reason to tread them as uneducated person. That’s what I want to say.

  2. JeJe:

    I hope other thai would stop being mean with isan people and language