Southern Thai language

Southern Thai or Dambro (Thai: ภาษาไทยใต้, IPA: pʰaːsaː tʰajɗaj; Thai: ภาษาตามโปร, IPA: pʰaːsaː ɗaːmbro) is a Tai language spoken in the 14 changwat of Southern Thailand as well as by small communities in the northernmost Malaysian states. It is spoken by roughly five million people, and as a second language by the 1.5 million speakers of Pattani Malay and other ethnic groups such as the local Thai Chinese communities, Negritos, and other tribal groups. Most speakers are also fluent or understand the standard Thai language.


In Thailand, speakers of Southern Thai can be found from as far north as Prachuap Khiri Khan Province all the way down to the border with Malaysia. Small numbers of speakers can be found in the Malaysian border states, especially Tumbat, Kelantan, Perlis, Kedah, and Perak. It is the primary language of Thai people as well as ethnically Malay people on both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border, who often use it as a second language. Although numerous regional variations exist and there is no one standard, the language is most distinct near the Malaysian border, but all varieties remain mutually intelligible to each other. For economic reasons, many speakers of Southern Thai have moved to Bangkok and other Thai cities or to the Middle East, where many speakers share Islam as a professed religion.


Malay kingdoms ruled much of the Malay Peninsula, such as the Pattani Kingdom and Tambralinga, but most of the area fell under the rule of Srivijaya. The area was heavily influenced by the culture of Indian traders, and numerous Buddhist and Hindu shrines attest to the diffusion of culture. The collapse of Srivijaya was filled by the growth of the Kingdom of Nakhon Sri Thammaraj, which subsequently became a vassal of Sukhothai. The area has been a frontier between the northern Tai peoples and the southern Malay peoples as well as between Buddhism and Islam. The tensions fuelled by brutal Thaification policies, suppression of local culture, and general poverty has lead to the current South Thailand insurgency.

Differences from Standard Thai

Although the most similar in lexicon and grammar of the major regional languages of Thailand, Southern Thai is different enough that mutual intelligibility between the two can be problematic. Southern Thai represents a diglossic situation from the formal Thai spoken with Southern Thai tones and accent to the common language, which utilises more local vocabulary and incorporates more words from Pattani Malay. The Thai language was introduced with Siamese incursions into the Malay Peninsula starting as early as Sukhothai, and the area in which Southern Thai is spoken was a frontier zone between the Malay Sultanates. Malay vocabulary is an integral part of the vocabulary as Malay was formerly spoken throughout the region and many speakers of the language still speak the Pattani dialect of Malay.

Southern Thai is mainly a spoken language, although the Thai alphabet is often used to write it in the informal situations when it is written. It is also sometimes written in a modified version of the Arabic script, known as Jawi, especially when written by religious Muslims and the Pattani.

The words that are used that are etymologically Thai are often spoken in a reduced and rapid manner, making comprehension difficult. Also, the tonal distribution is different, with Southern Thai using up to seven tones in certain provinces. In contrast to Northern Thai, Isan language, and informal registers of Standard Thai, Southern Thai speakers almost always preserve ร as /r/ and not as /l/.

Differences between Southern Thai and Thai
Dambro Thai English Dambro Thai English
หร่อย, rɔːj

อร่อย, aʔrɔːj


ม่าย, mɑːj

ไหม, mɑj

question particle
แหลง, lɛːŋ

พูด, pʰuːt

to speak

จังหู้, tɕaŋhuː

มาก, maːk

a lot
ลี้ปรี, liːpriː

พริก, pʰrik


หลุหละ, lulaʔ

สกปรก, sokprok

หย้บ, jop

ยี่สิบ, jiːsip


บาย, bɑːj

สบาย, saʔbɑːj

to be well
ยานัด, jɑːnat

สับปะรด, sappaʔrot


นากา, naːgaː

นาฬิกา, naːligaː

ขี้มัน, kʰiːman

ขี้เหนียว, kʰiːnio


พรือ, pʰrɯːa

อะไร, aʔrɑj

ยัง, jaŋ

มี, miː

to have

แค, kʰɛː

ใกล้, glɑj

พี่บ่าว, pʰiːbaːw

พี่ชาย, pʰiːtɕʰɑj

older brother

เกือก, gɯːak

รองเท้า, rɔːŋtʰaw

ตอเช้า, ɗɔtɕʰaw

พรุ่งนี้, nitnɔː


พร้าว, pʰraw

มะพร้าว, maʔpʰraw

หลาด, laːt

ตลาด, ɗaʔlaːt


ประตู, pʰraʔɗuː

ตู, ɗuː

แล, lɛː

ดู, duː

to see

หัวหน้า, huanɑː

นายหัว, nɑːjhua



  • Bradley, David. (1992). "Southwestern Dai as a lingua franca." Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas. Vol. II.I:13, pp. 780 - 781.
  • Levinson, David. Ethnic Groups Worldwide: A Ready Reference Handbook. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISPN: 1573560197.
  • Miyaoka, Osahito. (2007). The Vanishing Languages of the Pacific Rim. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 019926662X.
  • Taher, Mohamed. (1998). Encylopaedic Survey of Islamic Culture. Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd. ISBN: 8126104031.
  • Yegar, Moshe. Between Inegration and Secession: The Muslim Communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/Myanmar. Lexington Books. ISBN: 0739103563.
  • Diller, A. Van Nostrand. (1976). Toward a Model of Southern Thai Diglossic Speech Variation. Cornell Uniiversity Publishers.
  • Li, Fang Kuei. (1977). A Handbook of Comparative Tai. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN: 0824805402.

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