Population

The Thai population is diverse in ethnicity and race, comprising citizens of Thai, Chinese, Mon, Khmer, Lao, and Indian descent. Moreover, residents in each region of the country tend to have specific characteristics and appearance, due to differences in the environment and geographical features. It has been observed that Thais in the North, for instance, living in a cool climate, surrounded by mountains, tend to be calm, gentle, and soft-spoken, while their counterparts in the South are terse in their speech and quick in decision-making, as they live by the sea, with ever-changing weather, forcing them to face adventures at sea quite often.

The current Thai population is about 63.5 million, engaged primarily in agriculture, the occupation inherited over the centuries, followed by industry, commerce, and service industries.

Population – 63,525,062 (2009)
Male – 31,293,096
Female – 32,231,966

Religion

Although Thai people enjoy the right and have liberty to follow the faith of their choice, as the Thai monarch is the supreme patron of all religions, most Thais embrace Buddhism, thus making Theravada Buddhism the national religion, and Thailand is one of the countries with the most practicing Buddhists in the world. Other religions embraced by the Thai people are Islam and Christianity, respectively.

Religions followed by the people

Buddhism – 93.6%
Islam – 5.4%
Christianity – 0.9%
Others – 0.1%


Most Thais uphold Buddhist principles as their solace and as a guide to daily life, a faith that is evidenced in Buddhist temples, or wats, in every province and practically every city and village. The wat is not only the center of faith, but in the past, wats around Thailand used to serve as a place of accommodation, the local school, the hospital, and the community center on various occasions, especially festivals. Buddhism shapes the Thai character and serves as the source of inspiration for Thai art and culture. Buddhist elements are evident in literature, painting, sculpture, and the architecture of temples, pagodas, and stupas. Moreover, the numerous archeological sites and artifacts found in all parts of Thailand stand witness to the predominant role of Buddhism in Thai society.

Language

Thai is the national language, with its unique system of writing. There are five tones, 44 consonants, and 32 vowels. Both spoken and written Thai are quite different from many other languages and hence too complicated for non-native speakers to pick up quickly. However, as Thai society becomes more and more international, the use of English has taken on a major role in everyday life; for instance, road signs throughout Thailand are now in both Thai and English, and most places frequented by visitors, even restaurants and shops, have information in English.

The Thai language is neatly and pleasantly structured, reflecting the Thai identity in many ways. It is used only in Thailand, and communicates the gentle nature of the Thai people, for example, through the particles, such as khrap for men and kha for women. Such particles vary with the status of the speakers and the persons spoken to. These are further complicated in the royal language, not to mention a large vocabulary of royal words.

Various regions and localities, meanwhile, use different dialects. The charm of the dialect, apart from serving as an exclusive means of communication in the same locality, also binds the community through custom and tradition, particularly in folk performances such as mo lam of the Northeast and nora of the South, in which local dialects are the main components and provide much of the color. The dialect of each locality varies in tones and words in accordance with ethnicity, lifestyle, and geographical features. Yet the difference is not so great from locality to locality, but is noticeable only from region to region.

The central region, with different local dialects, communicates at ease with Bangkok and between communities, as the dialects are close to the standard Thai used as the official language and in teaching and learning. The only difference from standard Thai may be a simplified form of speech and words, with some tonal variations that can be identified with certain locales.

The northern region has a generic name for its several dialects, calling them kham mueang, or the language of khon mueang – the local people – which is melodious and gentle. The northern dialects evolved from the ancient Lanna Kingdom. The speech is divided into western Lanna dialects, spoken in Chiang Mai, Lamphun, and Mae Hong Son, and eastern Lanna dialects, spoken in Chiang Rai, Phayao, Lampang, Uttaradit, Phrae, and Nan.


People in the northeastern region have their unique dialect, known as Thai Isan or the Isan language, which bears a close similarity to the Lao language. The Isan language represents the people of the Northeast with its colorful style, wit, and straightforward expressions. It is classified as one of the six Lao dialects, namely Vientiane Lao, found in Chaiyaphum, Nong Bua Lamphu, Nong Khai, Khon Kaen, Yasothon, and Udon Thani; northern Lao, spoken in Loei, Uttaradit, Phetchabun, Khon Kaen, Chaiyaphum, Phitsanulok, Nong Khai, and Udon Thani; northeastern Lao, spoken in Udon Thani, Sakon Nakhon, and Nong Khai; central Lao, used mostly in Nakhon Phanom, Sakon Nakhon, Nong Khai, and Mukdahan; southern Lao, spoken in Ubon Ratchathani, Amnat Charoen, Si Sa Ket, and Yasothon; and western Lao, the dialect of Roi Et, Kalasin, and Maha Sarakham. Moreover, some Thais in southern Isan use Khmer, the Cambodian language, in their daily life.

Dialects in the South have more distinctive differences between them than dialects in other regions have, especially with their heavy intonation and the use of words, some from the official vocabulary, such as laeng, for speech, as in the term laeng tai (spoken southern language), which is the eroded form of thalaeng – to narrate or to inform. The southerners tend to be terse and quick in speech and maintain a strong accent. Southern Thai dialects are classified as the eastern dialect, spoken along the east coast, covering Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phatthalung, Songkhla, Pattani, Trang, and Satun; western dialect, used mostly in Krabi, Phang-nga, Phuket, Ranong, Surat Thani, and Chumphon; Songkhla accent dialect, spoken in Songkhla; and che hae accent dialect, found in Narathiwat, Pattani, and down to Kelantan in Malaysia, spoken in combination with an old Malay dialect.