Isan (อีสาน)

Isan is a member of the Lao-Phuthai branch of the Tai-Kadai language family. It is spoken by about 22 million people in the Isan region in the north east of Thailand, and also in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand. From the 14th to the 18th century, the area where Isan is mainly spoken was part of the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang. It became part of Siam in the early 18th century, and later part of Thailand.

Most Isan people are bilingual in Isan and Thai. They used Isan at home and informal situations, and Thai in school, work and formal situations.

Isan also known as Northeastern Thai, Esarn, Isaan, Issan, Thai Isaan, Thai Isan, Lao Isan or Lao. Native speakers call it ภาษาลาว (phasa lao) - 'Lao language', ภาษาไทลาว (phasa tai lao) - 'Lao language of Thailand', or อีสาน (isan). It is closely related to Lao and Thai and shares about 80% of their vocabulary. However, due to differences in pronunciation and common vocabulary, there is only some mutual intelligibilty between these languages.

The Thai government officially refers to Isan as ภาษาไทยตะวันออกเฉียงเหนือ (phasa thai tawan ok chiang neua) - 'Northeastern Thai Language' or ภาษาไทยถิ่นอีสาน (phasa thai thin isan) - 'Thai language of the Isan region'. The language is classified as a dialect of Thai.

Isan was written with the Tai Noi script between about 1500 and the 1930s. Royal, religious and sacred texts were written with the Tai Tham script, which was based on the Mon script. Since the 1930s the Thai script has been used. The Tai Noi script developed from the old Khmer script and was influenced by the Mon script. It developed into the modern Lao script in Laos.

Thai alphabet for Isan

Thai alphabet for Isan

Download an alphabet chart for Isan (Excel)

Details of the Archi alphabet provided by Wolfram Siegel

Sample videos in Isan

Information about Isan | Numbers


Information about Isan

Tai-Kaidai languages

Ahom, Aiton, Bouyei, Isan, Kam, Khamti, (Tai) Khün, Lao, Lue, Northern Thai (Kam Mueang), Nùng, Shan, Sui, Tai Dam, Tai Dón, Tai Hongjin, Tai Laing, Tai Nuea, Tai Phake, Tai Ya, Thai, Thai Song, Yang Zhuang, Zhuang

Page created: 05.09.22. Last modified: 14.04.24


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