Thai Language, formerly Siamese, member of the Tai or Thai subfamily of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. The official language of Thailand, Thai is spoken by approximately 50 million people in Thailand, Vietnam, and the Yunnan province of China. It has several dialects. Although most of the words are monosyllables, a number of them are polysyllabic. Because there is no inflection, word order is important for showing grammatical relationships. The Thai language is also tonal, and the tones serve to distinguish meanings of words otherwise pronounced alike. There are five tones: high, middle, low, rising, and falling. Over the centuries Thai has borrowed many words from Chinese, Khmer, Pali, Sanskrit, and, more recently, from European languages such as French and English. The Thai language has its own alphabet, which ultimately goes back to a script of S India and which was adopted in the 13th cent. A.D. Thai is written from left to right.
Thai visual art was traditionally primarily Buddhist. Thai Buddha images from different periods have a number of distinctive styles. Contemporary Thai art often combines traditional Thai elements with modern techniques.
Literature in Thailand is heavily influenced by Indian culture. The most notable works of Thai literature are a version of the Ramayana called the Ramakien, written in part by Kings Rama I and Rama II, and the poetry of Sunthorn Phu.
Thailand is nearly 95% Theravada Buddhist, with minorities of Muslims (4.6%), Christians (0.7%), Mahayana Buddhists, and other religions. Thai Theravada Buddhism is supported and overseen by the government, with monks receiving a number of government benefits, such as free use of the public transportation infrastructure. The Thai Sangha is divided into two main orders, the Thammayut Nikaya and the Maha Nikaya, and headed by the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, currently Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara Suvaddhana Mahathera. A recent reformist group, Santi Asoke, is forbidden to describe itself as Buddhist. Buddhism in Thailand is strongly influenced by traditional beliefs regarding ancestral and natural spirits, which have been incorporated into Buddhist cosmology. Most Thai people own spirit houses, miniature wooden houses in which they believe household spirits live. They present offerings of food and drink to these spirits to keep them happy. If these spirits aren't happy, it is believed that they will inhabit the larger household of the Thai, and cause chaos. These spirit houses can be found in public places and in the streets of Thailand, where the public make offerings.
Thai culture and customs
Important holidays in Thai culture include Thai New Year, or Songkran, which officially observed from April 13 to 15 each year. Falling at the end of the dry season and during the hot season in Thailand, the celebrations notoriously feature boisterous water throwing. The water throwing stemmed from washing Buddha images and lightly sprinkling scented water on the hands of elderly people. Small amounts of scented talcum powder were also used in the annual cleansing rite. But in recent decades the use of water has intensified with the use of hoses, barrels, squirt guns, high-pressure tubes and copious amounts of powder.
Informality and general friendliness in relationships of all age, economic and social groups characterize the Thai culture and people. Thai people are tolerant of almost all kinds of behaviour and never expect foreigners to understand the intricacies of Thai social customs. But by following a few simple rules for conduct, and adopting a few Thai ways, you can quickly and easily gain respect from the people in Thailand:
1. A Thai greeting
In Thailand people do not normally say 'good morning', 'good afternoon', 'good evening' or 'good night'. They greet each other with the word Sawadee, and instead of shaking hands, they put their palms together in a prayer-like gesture and bow slightly. It is customary for the younger or lower in status to begin the greeting. When taking leave, the same word and procedure is repeated. This gesture is called a Wai. If you are greeted with a Wai you should reply with the same gesture, though it is not necessary to return a Wai to a child. Think of a Wai as you would a handshake. Initiate a Wai because of sincere pleasure at an introduction. You will not cause offence if you Wai inappropriately in Thailand, but you may create confusion. Don't return a Wai from waiting staff, drivers or other help. You might hope to strike a blow for equality, but will in fact cause embarrassment. A Wai to your teacher (any kind of teacher) is definately appropriate; any smiles you receive in return are of appreciation.
2. Sanukmeans fun
One of the first things you will notice when you visit Thailand is the Thai people's inherent sense of playfulness and light heartedness. Sanuk is the Thai word for fun, and in Thailand anything worth doing, even work, should have some element of Sanuk. This doesn’t mean Thai people don’t want to work or strive. It is just that they live more in the moment, and do their best to enjoy it. The famous Thai smile stems partly from this desire to make Sanuk.
3. The concept of saving face
Thai people have a refined sense of public image and believe strongly in the concept of saving face. That is, they will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation and endeavour not to embarrass either themselves or other people (unless of course it is Sanuk to do so!). The ideal face saver does not bring up negative topics in conversation, or talk in an argumentative, judgemental or aggressive manner. Raising your voice or losing your temper will never be constructive in Thailand. It will result in loss of face for everyone involved, and you may be ignored as a result. You may notice Thai people smiling in the face of another’s misfortune. This is not a sign of callousness, but an attempt to save face for the person suffering misfortune. Saving face is the major source of the famous Thai smile. It is the best possible face to ease almost any situation.
4. Social status in Thailand
According to simple lines of social rank defined by age, wealth, and personal and political power all relationships in Thai society are governed by connections between Phu Yai (‘big’ people) and Phu Noi (‘little’ people). When meeting someone new a Thai person will automatically make an assessment regarding their Phu Yai or Phu Noi status. They may ask quite probing questions in order to place them. A set of mutual obligations requires Phu Noi to defer to Phu Yai through demonstrations of obedience and respect. In return Phu Yai are obligated to care for and offer assistance to Phu Noi they have regular contact with. Phu Noi may ask Phu Yai for favours such as financial help or assistance securing employment. It would cause Phu Yai some loss of face to refuse these favours. When eating out in restaurants, Phu Yai will normally settle the bill. Examples of automatic Phu Yai status include: adults over children, bosses over employees, elder classmates over younger classmates, elder siblings over younger siblings, teachers over students, military over civilian, Thai over non-Thai. As a visitor to Thailand you may be assigned Phu Yai status as a sign of courtesy, stemming somewhat from assumptions regarding your wealth and education. Do not be offended by these assumptions. If you are lucky enough that Thai people hold you in high regard, take it as a compliment.
5. Thai marriage customs
Following an engagement couples will often consult a monk for astrological advice to set an auspicious date for the wedding. On the day of the marriage couples usually dress themselves in attire similar to that for Western weddings. The marriage ceremony is presided over by Buddhist monks, but does not normally take place in a temple. There is also a non-Buddhist component to the wedding service. These folk traditions centre around the couple's family.
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