Tai Studies

Ian James
© 2009-2011

/tai/ in Lanna script

The Tai language family

Languages in bold below are major languages, in terms of numbers of speakers, or by having national status. Those marked with an asterisk have their own distinctive writing system (which in some cases is used by others in the language family).

Subdivisions of the Tai language family:

  • Northern Tai
    • Northern Zhuang (China)
    • Bouyei, Buyi (China)
    • E (China)
    • Tai Mne (Laos)
    • Yoy, Yay (Thailand)
  • Central Tai
    • Southern Zhuang (China)
    • Ts’n-Lao (Vietnam)
    • Nung (Vietnam)
    • Tay (Vietnam)
    • Cao Lan (Vietnam)
  • Southwestern Tai
    • Pa Di (China)
    • Tai Ya (China)
    • Tai Hongjin (China)
    • Northwest Southwestern Tai
      • Phake (Assam)
      • Ahom (Assam - extinct)*
      • Aiton (Assam)
      • Khamyang (Assam)
      • Khamti (Assam, Myanmar)
      • Khn (Myanmar)*
      • Shan, Tai Yai (Myanmar)*
      • Dehong Dai, Tai Na, Tai Le (China, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos)*
      • Xishuangbanna Dai, Lu, Tai Lue (China, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar)*
    • Tai Thanh (Vietnam)
    • Ty Sa Pa (Vietnam)
    • Chiang Saeng (East Central Southwestern Tai)
      • Tai Hang Tong (Vietnam)
      • Thu Lao (Vietnam)
      • Tai Daeng (Vietnam)
      • Tai Dn (Vietnam)
      • Ty Tac (Vietnam)
      • Tai Dam (Vietnam)*
      • Thai Song (Thailand)*
      • Phuan (Thailand)
      • Northern Thai, Lanna, Thai Yuan (Thailand)*
      • Thai (Thailand)*
    • Tai Long (Laos)
    • Pu Ko (Laos)
    • Lao-Phutai
      • Lao (Laos)*
      • Isan (Thailand, Laos)*
      • Nyaw (Thailand)
      • Phu Thai (Thailand)
    • Southern Thai, Pak Thai (Thailand)
    • Yong (Thailand)
    • Turung (India)
  • Others
    • Tai Pao
    • Tai Do
    • Rien
    • Tay Khang
    • Kuan

Spread of the Tai language family:

Tai language map
Adapted from Wikipedia’s Kradai map.

Writing systems of the Tai family

In all cases, the languages which use neither Roman alphabet nor Chinese logograms use writing systems deriving from the Brahmi family of scripts. The parent in most cases is Pallava (a South Indian script), though there may have been various influences from North Indian (Ashokan) or Central Asian (Aramaic) scripts. Information about those with an asterisk can be found on Omniglot.

Dehong Dai
Khn (variation of Lanna)
Tai Lue
Tai Dam*
Tai Song (variation of Tai Dam)
Isan (variation of Lanna)
Thai (Sukhothai period)
Khom Thai

>>> See also my handy input method for Thai, for when you don’t have a Thai keyboard.

Preservation of Pali texts

With the spread of Buddhism to Southeast Asia from South India, came scriptures in the Pali language. Strictly speaking, Pali had no written form of its own, and was preserved in the local script wherever one was available. In SE Asia, a large number of Pali texts were preserved in Lanna, Lao, Thai and other southern Tai scripts. In most cases, special letters or spelling methods were needed for the correct representation of Pali (see Thai and Lao for Pali). In Thailand, an experimental script specifically for Pali was designed in 1833 by King Rama IV, the charming Ariyaka script.


All material on this page © Ian James, unless otherwise stated.
Last modified Nov.6,2011