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The Thai Writing System

Text by: Nantana Ronnakiat
Department of Linguistics
Thammasat University

The Thai migrated into the Indo-Chinese peninsula from their home in China sometime around 400 B.C. After migrating into Indo-China, the Thai were within the empire of the Mon, which was the governing race in the area, roughly from the 5th century A.D. onward. In the 10th century A.D., the Khmer (Cambodians) began to migrate into the Thai area and eventually succeeded the Mon so that the Thai came to be ruled by the Khmer empire .

It is stated in Thai history that King Si Intharathit of Sukhothai freed Thailand from the Khmer and established Sukhothai as the capital of Thailand in 1257 A.D. From that time on the Thai became the dominant force in central Thailand. King Ramkhamhaeng, the second son of King Si Intharathit, was a very independent lord. He had a strong national feeling and wanted to form a official Thai script which he wished to have as something purely Thai, free from Mon or Khmer influence. He therefore invented a Thai script called "The Sukhothai Script" in 1283 A.D. It is well known as the earliest Thai writing. The ultimate source of the Sukhothati script was a form of the ancient Brahmi script of South India called "Grantha". The Grantha form of the Brahmi script is the source of the Khmer script. the Grantha came to be used in Indo-China through the spread of the Buddhist religion and trade contacts. In 300 B.C., Ceylon became the first country in Southeast Asia to begin using the Grantha script. the earliest inscription in the Khmer language is dated from 611 A.D.. The script on this inscription is similar to the Grantha script.

The Sukhothai script of King Ramkhamhaeng was used untill 1357. In 1357, in the reign of King Li Thai, the grandson of King Ramkhamhaeng, a new script called "King Li Thai script" came to be used. It is evident that the shapes of the letters in the King Li Thai script are based on the Sukhothai ones, although some of them were modified.

Ayutthaya was established as the capital of Thailand replacing of Sukhothai in 1378. During the early periods of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, the King Li Thai script had been used, though certain changes had been introduced through the process of time. In 1680, during the reign of King Narai, the script called "King Narai script" was brought into use. The King Narai script has been developed and preserved as our national Thai script up to now.


  • Chaichana, C. 1963. History of Thailand. Kasembanakit, Bangkok.
  • Danvivathana, N. 1987. The Thai Writing System.Helmut Buske verlag. Hamburg.
  • Pattamadilok, K. 1977. The History of the Thai Language. Chiangmai Book Center, Bangkok.
  • The National Library. 1977. The First Inscription in Sukhothai Period: Khun Ramkhamhaeng Inscription. Krung Sayam Kanphim. Bangkok.

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