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Tai noi alphabet from the north-east
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    ABC of the ancients Children in a remote Isaan village
    The Nation, Published on November 10, 2004

    Young children in Ban Hurb, a remote village in this northeastern province, spend their weekends at a local temple practising reading and writing in an alphabet that looks foreign to most Thais.

    The children are practising reading and writing in an ancient alphabet of the northeastern people known as the Tai Noi alphabet. Tai Noi is one of two ancient scripts (the other is the Northeast Dharma lettering) used in northeastern provinces to inscribe palm-leaf manuscripts with monks sermons, traditional medicine recipes as well as prayers.

    Normally, it requires the expertise of college-educated scholars to tutor in such obscure writings. Yet at the Pho Sri Temple in Ban Hurb, located in Renu Nakhon districts Tambon Nakham, its a 33-year-old monk who is versing his young pupils in the esoteric intricacies of Tai Noi.

    He is Phra Kiattisak Kowitho and he began teaching his students six months ago in response to a request to the monastery by local parents that resident monks initiate educational activities for local children so that the youngsters might learn to become morally upright Buddhists one day as adults.

    Initially it was a former abbot, Thin Julthong, 70, who volunteered to teach the Tai Noi alphabet, a script hed mastered while a member of the monkhood. Thin is an expert at inscribing the alphabet onto palm leaves. Phra Kiattisak decided to learn the Tai Noi alphabet from the old master. A quick study, he mastered it in a short time and soon replaced the elderly Thin as the local childrens tutor.

    Tai Noi has 28 consonants and 22 vowels. Some of the consonants look similar to characters used in the modern Thai alphabet. In olden times the Tai Noi alphabet was employed by locals so as to give a written representation to the idiosyncratic verbal pronunciations of their northeastern dialect.

    The monk said children in his class come to the temple to learn in their free time on weekends and during school breaks. Aspiring young scribes are taught not only how to read and write the alphabet but also how to inscribe it onto palm leaves handpicked from the trees with the best leaves.

    The temple has a large collection of ancient palm-leaf manuscripts, and Phra Kiattisak said that local children have been lending monks a helping hand in inscribing new leaves to replace old deteriorated documents.

    Pupils progress in their studies from being taught how to recognise simple consonants to learning the forms of vowels to finally writing complete words. Once fluent in reading the alphabet, they learn to write it on normal paper before graduating to inscribe palm leaves with characters.

    Inscribers, Phra Kiattisak explained, notch letters into leaves with sharp tools, then smear wet charcoal paint on incisions to make letters more permanent and easier to read.

    So far 18 children have learned under the monks supervision and about a dozen of them have become capable readers and inscribers of the ancient alphabet. We hope these children will soon start teaching other children too in the community, the monk said.

    Amornrat Thanamuang, 13, a seventh grader, has been studying the alphabet for three months. She has learnt to read and write most letters already, she said proudly. It takes a lot of effort to understand it properly. When you can recognise the consonants and vowels, then you can start forming words, the girl explained. Actually, its like writing our everyday language in a strange new alphabet.

    Charnyuth Khottham

    Nakhon Phanom

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    Re: Tai noi alphabet from the north-east

    Hi,

    Do you know where I can find a link to the Thai Noi alphabet?

    Many thanks

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    Re: Tai noi alphabet from the north-east

    Quote Originally Posted by pauldcmt View Post
    Hi,

    Do you know where I can find a link to the Thai Noi alphabet?

    Many thanks
    Here's a few links, unfortunately they're only in Thai.

    ѡ¹ Letters of the Thai Noi alphabet.

    ҧѡ¹ Examples of Thai Noi.

    ѡ¹ѭѡ¹ Writing Thai Noi consonants.

    ͹ѡ¹ Downloadable font for Thai Noi.

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    Re: Tai noi alphabet from the north-east

    the alphabets looks somehow quite similar to Lao.
    Life is short, cherish all you have and live everyday of your life the best you can. :)

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    Re: Tai noi alphabet from the north-east

    Quote Originally Posted by PJ_Quek View Post
    the alphabets looks somehow quite similar to Lao.
    It sure does. Here's a reason why, from the comments section of this nice blog by Rikker about the lettering on the Ramkhamhaeng inscription.

    Quote Originally Posted by from Rikker's blog
    Yeah, Lao is also based on (Old) Khmer script, which itself is based on Mon script, which is based on Brahmi script. (Burmese script was also comes from Mon.)

    As I understand it, the script today known as 'Lao' is descended from the script known in Thailand as Thai Noi (䷹ or ¹). (See chart of Thai Noi consonants and vowels.)

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    Re: Tai noi alphabet from the north-east

    Quote Originally Posted by 5tash View Post
    Here's a few links, unfortunately they're only in Thai.

    ѡ¹ Letters of the Thai Noi alphabet.

    ҧѡ¹ Examples of Thai Noi.

    ѡ¹ѭѡ¹ Writing Thai Noi consonants.

    ͹ѡ¹ Downloadable font for Thai Noi.

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    thumbs up Re: Tai noi alphabet from the north-east


    Hi 5tash,

    You are a star.
    My wife (who is Isaan) and I are putting together an Isaan cookbok - in English but translating names of dishes and ingredients into Isaan, so if you are interested, we'll send you a free copy when we are done.
    Also, who do I thank for the free font?

    Kop kun lai lai,

    Paul & Nathalia McLean-Thorne

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    Re: Tai noi alphabet from the north-east

    Hi 5tash

    Many thanks for your help.

    We have now completed the Isaan cookbook - Isaan Cuisine available on lulu.com.

    If you would like a free copy, please let us know where to send it.

    We wanted to thank the chap who produced the script. However, the link you provided to the Thai Noi font now seems to have broken - do you know another one or how to contact him?


    Many thanks,

    Nathalia & Paul McLean-Thorne

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    Re: Tai noi alphabet from the north-east

    What is called 'Thai Noi', (small Thai) is simply a somewhat insulting Thai term for an earlier version of the modern Lao script. The script is not exclusive to Northeast Thailand, but also found throughout Laos. In the past, there were two scripts used by the Lao, 'thai noi' (which the Lao themselves would simply call Lao), and Tham. The Lao (thai noi) script was used to record more worldly matters, and the Tham script (similar to the Tua Meuang script used in Chiang Mai) was used to record more religious matters.

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