Northern Thai ( th|ภาษาไทยถิ่นเหนือ, ภาษาถิ่นพายัพ), Lanna ( th|ภาษาล้านนา), or Kam Mueang ( nod| (), , ; th|คำเมือง, ), is the language of the Northern Thai people of Lanna, Thailand. It is a Southwestern Tai language that is closely related to Lao. Northern Thai has approximately six million speakers, most of whom live in the native Northern Thailand, with a smaller community of Lanna speakers in northwestern Laos. Speakers of this language generally consider the name "Tai Yuan" to be pejorative. They refer to themselves as ' (คนเมือง, - literally "Mueang people"), Lanna, or Northern Thai. The language is also sometimes referred to as ' (พายัพ, ), "Northwestern (speech)". The term Yuan is still sometimes used for Northern Thai's distinctive Tai Tham alphabet, which is closely related to the old Tai Lue alphabet and the Lao religious alphabets. The use of the ', as the traditional alphabet is known, is now largely limited to Buddhist temples, where many old sermon manuscripts are still in active use. There is no active production of literature in the traditional alphabet. The modern spoken form is called . There is a resurgence of interest in writing it in the traditional way, but the modern pronunciation differs from that prescribed in spelling rules.Natnapang 2004, Section 3.5.6 ''The changing pronunciation of the Lanna script and Kammuang'' As with all languages, the pronunciation of the written and spoken forms changes over time. This is another problem that Kam Muang speakers may have when they learn to write the Lanna script. These changes occur in only some words, and there are no readily apparent rules to explain the changes.... From a purely genealogical standpoint, most linguists consider Northern Thai to be more closely related to Central Thai than to Lao or Isan, but the language has been heavily influenced by both Lao and Central Thai throughout history. All Southwestern Tai languages form a coherent dialect continuum of more or less mutually intelligible varieties, with few sharp dividing lines. Nevertheless, Northern Thai has today become closer to the Central Thai language.

Varieties and related languages

The Northern Thai language has various names in Northern Thai, Thai, and other Tai languages. * In Northern Thai, it is commonly called ' (, , literally "city language"; cf. Standard Thai: คำเมือง ), or ' (, ภาษาล้านนา , literally "the language of Lan Na"). * In Central Thai and Southern Thai, Northern Thai is known as ''phasa thin phayap'' (ภาษาถิ่นพายัพ , literally "the language of the northwestern region"), or ''phasa thai thin nuea'' (ภาษาไทยถิ่นเหนือ , literally "the Thai language of the northern region", or colloquially it is known as ''phasa nuea'' (ภาษาเหนือ , literally "the northern language"). * In Lao, it is known as ' or ' ( or respectively, or respectively, literally "the Tai Yuan language"). * In Tai Lü, it is known as ''kam yon'' ( , literally "the Tai Yuan language"). * In Shan it is known as ''kwam yon'' ( , literally "the Tai Yuan language"). Thanajirawat (2018) classifies Tai Yuan into five major dialect groups based on tonal split and merger patterns. (''See also Proto-Tai language#Tones'') #most Tai Yuan varieties in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar #Bokeo Province, Laos (A12-34 and BCD123-4 (B4=DL4=DS4)) #Mae Chaem District, Chiang Mai Province and Laplae District, Uttaradit Province, Thailand (A12-34 and BCD123-4 (A34=B123=DL123)) #Tha Pla District, Uttaradit Province and Xayaburi Province, Laos (A12-34, BDL1234, and CDS123-4) #Ratchaburi Province, Thailand (A12-34 and BCD123-4 (A34=B123=DL123, B4=C4=DL4))


thumb|Northern Thai in its own alphabet, the Tai Tham alphabet Currently, different scripts are used to write Northern Thai. Northern Thai is traditionally written with the Tai Tham script, which in Northern Thai is called ' ( ตั๋วเมือง ) or ' ( ตั๋วธัมม์ ). However, native speakers are presently illiterate in the traditional script; therefore, they instead use the Thai script to write the language. In Laos, the Lao script is commonly used to write Northern Thai. Some problems arise when the Thai script is used to write Northern Thai. In particular, Standard Thai script cannot transcribe all Northern Thai tones. The two falling tones in Northern Thai correspond to a single falling tone in Thai. Specifically, Northern Thai has two types of falling tones: high-falling tone () and falling tone (). However, Thai lacks the distinction between the two falling tones, not having a high-falling tone (). When using Thai script to write Northern Thai tones, the distinction of the two falling tones is lost because Thai script can only indicate a low falling tone (). As an example, the tonal distinction between (ก้า ( กล้า) "to be brave") and (ก้า ( ค่า) "value") is lost when written in Thai since as only (ก้า) is permitted. Consequently, the meaning of ก้า is ambiguous as it can mean both "to be brave" and "value". Similarly, (ป้าย ( ป้าย) "sign") and (ป้าย ( พ่าย) "to lose") have the same problem and only (ป้าย) is permitted. As a result, the spelling ป้าย is ambiguous because it can mean both "sign" or "to lose". Such tonal mergence ambiguity is avoided when the language is written with the Northern Thai script. Image:Lanna Thai Alphabet 1.jpg|Northern Thai script page 1 Image:Lanna Thai Alphabet 2.jpg|Northern Thai script page 2 Image:Lanna Thai Alphabet 3.jpg|Northern Thai script page 3 Image:Lanna Thai Alphabet 4.jpg|Northern Thai script page 4



Initial consonants

Northern Thai consonant inventory is similar to that of Lao; both languages have the sound and lack . :* Implied before any vowel without an initial and after a short vowel without a final. :** /kʰ/ and /t͡ɕʰ/ occur in loanwords from Standard Thai.

Initial consonant clusters

There are two relatively common consonant clusters: */kw/ */xw/ There are also several other, less frequent clusters recorded, though apparently in the process of being lost:Natnapang 2004, Section 3.5.2 ''Initial consonant clusters in the Lanna script'' */ŋw/ */tɕw/ */sw/ */tw/ */tʰw/ */nw/ */ɲw/ */jw/ */lw/ */ʔw/

Final consonants

All plosive sounds are unreleased. Hence, final , , and sounds are pronounced as , , and respectively. :* A glottal stop occurs after a short vowel when no final consonant is written in the Thai script.


The basic vowels of the Northern Thai language are similar to those of Standard Thai. They, from front to back and close to open, are given in the following table. The top entry in every cell is the symbol from the International Phonetic Alphabet, the second entry gives the spelling in the Thai alphabet, where a dash (–) indicates the position of the initial consonant after which the vowel is pronounced. A second dash indicates that a final consonant must follow. The vowels each exist in long-short pairs: these are distinct phonemes forming unrelated words in Northern Thai, but usually transliterated the same: เขา (''khao'') means "they/them", while ขาว (''khao'') means "white". The long-short pairs are as follows: The basic vowels can be combined into diphthongs. For purposes of determining tone, those marked with an asterisk are sometimes classified as long: Additionally, there are three triphthongs, all of which are long:


The following section largely concerns the Nan dialect of Northern Thai.


There are six phonemic tones in the Chiangmai dialect of Northern Thai: low-rising, mid-low, high-falling, mid-high, falling, and high rising-falling.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.

Contrastive tones in unchecked syllables

The table below presents six phonemic tones in unchecked syllables, i.e. closed syllables ending in sonorant sounds such as and and open syllables.

Contrastive tones in checked syllables

The table below presents four phonemic tones in checked syllables, i.e. closed syllables ending in a glottal stop and obstruent sounds such as and


The grammar of Northern Thai is similar to those of other Tai languages. The word order is subject–verb–object, although the subject is often omitted. Just as Standard Thai, Northern Thai pronouns are selected according to the gender and relative status of speaker and audience.

Adjectives and adverbs

There is no morphological distinction between adverbs and adjectives. Many words can be used in either function. They succeed the word which they modify, which may be a noun, verb, or another adjective or adverb. *แม่ญิงเฒ่า (', ) ''an old woman'' *แม่ญิงตี้เฒ่าโวย (', ) ''a woman who became old quickly'' Because adjectives can be used as complete predicates, many words used to indicate tense in verbs (see Verbs:Aspect below) may be used to describe adjectives. *ข้าหิว (', ) ''I am hungry.'' *ข้าจะหิว (', ) ''I will be hungry.'' *ข้ากะลังหิว (', ) ''I am hungry right now.'' *ข้าหิวแล้ว (', ) ''I am already hungry.''


Verbs do not inflect. They do not change with person, tense, voice, mood, or number; nor are there any participles. * ข้าตี๋เปิ้น (', ), ''I hit him''. * เปิ้นตี๋ข้า (', ), ''He hit me''. The passive voice is indicated by the insertion of โดน (', ) before the verb. For example: * เปิ้นโดนตี๋ (', ), ''He is hit'' or ''He got hit''. This describes an action that is out of the receiver's control and, thus, conveys suffering. To convey the opposite sense, a sense of having an opportunity arrive, ได้ (''dai'', , can) is used. For example: * เปิ้นจะได้ไปแอ่วเมืองลาว (', ), ''He gets to visit Laos.'' * เปิ้นตี๋ได้ (', ), ''He is/was allowed to hit'' or ''He is/was able to hit'' Negation is indicated by placing บ่ (''bor'', or not) before the verb. * เปิ้นบ่ตี๋, (', ) ''He is not hitting.'' or ''He not hit.'' Aspect is conveyed by aspect markers before or after the verb. :Present can be indicated by กะลัง (', , currently) or กะลังหะ (', , currently) before the verb for ongoing action (like English -ing form), by อยู่ (', ) after the verb, or by both. For example: :* เปิ้นกะลังหะล่น (', ), or :* เปิ้นล่นอยู่ (', ), or :* เปิ้นกะลังหะล่นอยู่ (', ), ''He is running.'' :Future can be indicated by จะ (''cha'', , will) before the verb or by a time expression indicating the future. For example: :* เปิ้นจะล่น (', ), ''He will run'' or ''He is going to run.'' :Past can be indicated by ได้ (''dai'', ) before the verb or by a time expression indicating the past. However, แล้ว (''laew'', :, already) is often used to indicate the past aspect by being placed behind the verb. Or, both ได้ and แล้ว are put together to form the past aspect expression. For example: :* เปิ้นได้กิ๋น (', ), ''He ate.'' :* เปิ้นกิ๋นแล้ว (', , ''He has eaten.'' :* เปิ้นได้กิ๋นแล้ว (', ), ''He's already eaten.'' Aspect markers are not required. :* ข้ากิ๋นตี้หั้น (', ), ''I eat there.'' :* ข้ากิ๋นตี้หั้นตะวา (', ), ''I ate there yesterday.'' :* ข้ากิ๋นตี้หั้นวันพูก (', ), ''I'll eat there tomorrow.'' Words that indicate obligation include ''at cha'' (อาจจะ), ''na cha'' (น่าจะ), ''khuan cha'' (ควรจะ), and ''tong'' (ต้อง). *' (อาจจะ, ) ''Might'' :* เปิ้นอาจจะมา (', ) ''He might come.'' *' (น่าจะ, ) ''Likely to'' :* เปิ้นน่าจะมา (', ) ''He is likely to come.'' *' (ควรจะ, ) ''Should'' :* เปิ้นควรจะมา (', ) ''He should come.'' *' (ต้อง, ) ''Must'' :* เปิ้นต้องมา (', ) ''He must come.'' Actions that wherein one is busily engaged can be indicated by มัวก่า (''mua ka'', ). :* ก่อมัวก่ากิ๋นหั้นเนาะ (''kor mua ka kin han nor'', ) ''(It's that you/he/she) just keeps on eating it like that, you know?'' Words that express one's desire to do something can by indicated by ''khai'' (ใค่) and ''kan'' (กั๊น). *' (ใค่, , ''to want, to desire'') :* ข้าเจ้าใค่กิ๋น (', ) ''I want to eat.'' *' (กั๊น, , ''to try'') :* ข้าเจ้ากั๊นกิ๋น (', ) ''I try to eat.'' ' (ผ่อท่าว่า, ) is used to give the impression or sensation of being something or having a particular quality. :* ผ่อท่าว่าเปิ้นปิ๊กมาแล้ว (', ) ''It seems that he has returned.''

Final particles

Northern Thai has a number of final particles, which have different functions.

Interrogative particles

Some of the most common interrogative particles are ' (ก่อ, ) and ' (กา, ) *' (ก่อ, , denoting yes/no question) :* ม่วนก่อ (', ) ''Is it fun?'' *' (กา (and its variants: ก๋า, กา), , denoting confirmative question) :* ม่วนกา (', ) ''It is fun, right?''

Imperative particles

Some imperative particles are แล่, จิ่ม, and เตอะ. ' (แล่, ) :* กิ๋นแล่ (', ) ''Eat! (Authoritative)''. ' (จิ่ม, ) :* ขอกิ๋นจิ่ม (', ) ''May I eat please?'' ' (เหีย, ) :* กิ๋นเหีย (', ) ''Eat! (because I know it will be beneficial to you)''. ' (เต๊อะ, ) :* กิ๋นเต๊อะ (', ) ''Eat, please.''

Polite particles

Polite particles include คับ and เจ้า. *' (คับ, , used by males) :* กิ๋นเข้าแล้วคับ (', ) ''I have eaten, sir/ma'am''. *' (เจ้า, , used by females) :* กิ๋นเข้าแล้วเจ้า (', ) ''I have eaten, sir/ma'am''.


Nouns are uninflected and have no gender; there are no articles. Nouns are neither singular nor plural. Some specific nouns are reduplicated to form collectives: ละอ่อน (', , child) is often repeated as ละอ่อนๆ (', ,) to refer to a group of children. The word หมู่(', ) may be used as a prefix of a noun or pronoun as a collective to pluralize or emphasise the following word. (หมู่ผม, ', , ''we'' (exclusive), masculine; หมู่เฮา ', , emphasised ''we''; หมู่หมา ', , ''(the) dogs''). Plurals are expressed by adding classifiers, used as measure words (ลักษณนาม), in the form of noun-number-classifier (คูห้าคน, "teacher five person" for "five teachers").


Pronouns may be omitted once they have already been established in the first sentence, unless the pronoun in the following sentences is different from the first sentence. The pronoun "you" may also be omitted if the speaker is speaking directly to a second person. Moreover, names may replace pronouns, and they can even replace the first person singular pronoun.


Northern Thai shares much vocabulary with Standard Thai, especially scientific terms, which draw many prefixes and suffixes from Sanskrit and Pali, and it also has its own distinctive words. Just like Thai and Lao, Northern Thai has borrowed many loanwords from Khmer, Sanskrit, and Pali.

Northern Thai and Standard Thai

The tables below present the differences between Northern Thai and Standard Thai.

Different sounds

Unlike Northern Thai, Standard Thai lacks palatal nasal sound (/ɲ/). Thus, the palatal nasal sound (/ɲ/) and the palatal approximant sound (/j/) in Northern Thai both correspond to the palatal approximant sound in Standard Thai: } /ɲâːk/ |- | /jūŋ/
ยุง || /ɲūŋ/
|| mosquito || cf. lo|ຍຸງ /ɲúŋ/ |- | /jāːw/
ยาว || /ɲāːw/
|| long || cf. lo|ຍາວ /ɲáːw/ |- | /jāː/
ยา || /jāː/

|| medicine || cf. lo|ຢາ /jàː/ |- | /jàːk/
อยาก || /jàːk/
|| desire || cf. lo|ຢາກ /ja᷅ːk/ |- | /jàːŋ/
อย่าง || /jàːŋ/
|| manner, way|| cf. lo|ຢ່າງ /jāːŋ/ Unlike Northern Thai, Standard Thai lacks a high-falling tone (˧. The high falling tone (˧ and falling tone (˩ in Northern Thai both correspond to the falling tone in Standard Thai (˩.

Different words

Many words differ from Standard Thai greatly:

Similar words

There is not a straightforward correspondence between the tones of Northern and Standard Thai. It also depends on the initial consonant, as can be seen from the merged Gedney tone boxes for Standard Thai and the accent of Chiang Mai: Note that the commonalities between columns are features of the Chiang Mai accent. On the other hand, the relationships between rows are typical of Northern Thai, being found for at least for Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phayao, Nan and Prae, and extending at least to Tak and the old 6-tone accent of Tai Khuen, except that the checked syllables of Chiang Rai are more complicated. The primary function of a tone box is etymological. However, it also serves as a summary of the rules for tone indication when the writing system is essentially etymological in that regard, as is the case with the major Tai-language writing systems using the Thai, Lanna, New Tai Lue, Lao and Tai Dam scripts. Some words differ only as a result of the regular tone correspondences: Other tone differences are unpredictable, such as: Some words differ in a single sound and associated tone. In many words, the initial ร (/r/) in Standard Thai corresponds to ฮ (/h/) in Northern Thai:

Aspiration of initial consonants

Some aspirated consonants in the low-class consonant group (อักษรต่ำ /ʔàk.sɔ̌ːn.tàm/) in Standard Thai correspond to unaspirated sounds in Northern Thai. These sounds include ค, ช, ท, and พ (/kʰ/, /t͡ɕʰ/, /tʰ/, and /pʰ/ respectively), but sounds such as ฅ, คร, ฆ, ฒ, พร, ภ (/kʰ/, /kʰr/, /kʰ/, /tʰ/, /pʰr/, and /pʰ/ respectively) remain aspirated. Such aspirated consonants that are unaspirated in Northern Thai correspond to unaspirated voiced sounds in Proto-Tai which are *ɡ, *ɟ, *d, and *b (ค, ช, ท, and พ respectively).: But not: Though a number of aspirated consonants in Standard Thai often correspond to unaspirated sounds in Northern Thai, when an unaspirated consonant is followed by ร (/r/) the unaspirated consonant becomes aspirated:



* * *

Further reading

* Bilmes, J. (1996). ''Problems And Resources In Analyzing Northern Thai Conversation For English Language Readers.'' Journal of Pragmatics, 26(2), 171-188. * Davis, R. (1970). ''A Northern Thai reader.'' Bangkok: Siam Society. * Filbeck, D. (1973).
Pronouns in Northern Thai
'' Anthropological Linguistics, 15(8), 345-361. * Herington, Jennifer, Margaret Potter, Amy Ryan and Jennifer Simmons (2013)
Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Thai
SIL Electronic Survey Reports. * Howard, K. M. (2009). ''"When Meeting Khun Teacher, Each Time We Should Pay Respect": Standardizing Respect In A Northern Thai Classroom.'' Linguistics and Education, 20(3), 254-272. * Khankasikam, K. (2012). ''Printed Lanna character recognition by using conway's game of life. ''In ICDIM (pp. 104–109). * Pankhuenkhat, R. (1982). ''The Phonology of the Lanna Language:(a Northern Thai Dialect). ''Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, Mahidol University. * Strecker, D. (1979). "A preliminary typology of tone shapes and tonal sound changes in Tai: the La-n N-a A-tones", in ''Studies in Tai and Mon-Khmer Phonetics and Phonology In Honour of Eugénie J.A. Henderson'', ed. T.L. Thongkum et al., pp. 171–240. Chulalongkorn University Press. * Wangsai, Piyawat. (2007). A Comparative Study of Phonological Yong and Northern Thai Language (Kammuang). M.A. thesis. Kasetsart University.

External links

Northern Thai New Testament
The New Testament in hard copy form was written using two script
Amazon link

Khamuang (Chiang Mai variety)
(Intercontinental Dictionary Series) {{DEFAULTSORT:Northern Thai Language Category:Languages of Thailand Category:Languages of Laos Category:Tai languages