The Tai Anphabet was designed to write languages of the Tai family, which includes Thai, Lanna, Lao, etc. There is only one glyph per phoneme, and tone-marks sit upon the vowel. The aim was to have a writing system in a single channel, in a linear-alphabetic fashion. Originally the vowel and tone-mark were integrated into a single glyph so there were no floating diacritics at all, but this was found to be too awkward to write. The shapes are derived from or reminiscent of various Tai scripts, especially Thai and Lanna. [See also the more recent version 5.1].
These are shown in the traditional order. It may be noticed that the aspirates and sibilants are based on “high class” forms; this follows from the direct historical relationship uncovered by William Gedney etal. The form for /s/ has slight similarity to that of the Ariyaka alphabet, and comes about by rotating and extending the /l/ letter.
For the second consonant of a cluster, there is a special form:
Tai vowels are shown here with middle tone, ie. no tone mark:
Broadening diphthongs have their own letter; narrowing diphthongs and triphthongs are formed with a suffix:
There are no need for Tone Rules based on consonant class, as tone contours are directly encoded. Tone-marks are placed upon the vowel (or first of a double-letter vowel). Tone strokes are shown here with /i/.
It may be noted that while this system is similar to the International Phonetic Alphabet and quite simple, it only works for a particular language or dialect. The beauty of the traditional Tone Rule system is that dialects may be written without change, since each dialect’s Rules describe the same tone markings in a unique but consistent manner.
This is taken from a fairy tale in the Thai language:
A version of this page can also be found on Omniglot.
[for more experiments based on Tai and other Indic scripts, see the work of Mattias Persson]