Thii tam thii soong   
 it may also be phonetically spelt tii or tee tum tii or tee soorng
which literally means "high place and low place."
Everybody has a distinct social status in this society. 
  • A Buddhist monk is treated respectfully, even by the king.
  • Older people are honored and respected.
  • People of the same age and social status also show respect for one another with the use of the title "khun", literally translated as "Most honored one".
  • Among good friends the title becomes optional.
The Wai, used as a greeting is actioned according to the hierarchial system.
Almost everything in the Thais' perception is situated in a hierarchical system. People can be "high" or "low" according to their age, family background, occupation or professional rank and whether they are Buddhist monks or clergymen in other religions.
This hierarchical concept is most apparent in the Thai pronominal system, which is very complex among languages.
  • The choice of pronoun reveals the sex of the speaker, where the speaker places himself and his addressee in the hierarchical social system, his opinion about the degree of distance or intimacy in their relationship, and his evaluation of the speech situation.
  • The choice of pronoun can also be manipulated to reflect the dynamism in interpersonal communication exchange. When a fifteen years old young lady meets a sixty years old man for the first time, she may use "dichan" as first person pronoun and "than" as second person pronoun.
    • After an initial conversation in which both will try to establish a satisfactory relationship. She may switch to "noo" (lit. mouse) for herself and "khun lung" (lit. uncle) for her conversation partner. If the relationship should take an unwanted turn, she may switch to "dichan" or even "chan" for "I" to indicate her desire to keep a distance. If she is angry, the choice can be "chan" for her and "kae" for him. If she decides that she needs to be rude to discontinue the relationship, she may even go further as to use "koo" and "myng", at which time the rift is almost irreparable.  
This "thii tam thii soong" concept
also demonstrates itself in the honorific system of the language.
Vocabulary used in relation to the royalty requires an extra effort and is learned only by those who have to work with the king and queen and the royal family. Since not all princes and princesses enjoy the same status, different sets of pronouns as well as nouns and verbs are used according to their royal ranks and titles.
This is also true, though to a lesser extent, for those with ecclesiastic, civil and military ranks and titles. Common people have a pseudo honorific system also. Speech style is reflected in the lexical choice of a speaker. Speech situation varies and each requires different lexical variants of the same word.
Speech situations range on a parameter of formality. A highly formal speech style requires vocabulary which is "penthaangkaan" (lit., official) and "phairoh" (lit. pleasant) and the absence of final particles for expressing politeness and courtesy on the part of the speaker. The following is a list of lexical variants for the question "Will you eat ?"

ryy mai

Not only humans are placed in hierarchy. Body parts are also assigned "thii tam" (lit., low place) and "thii soong" (lit., high place).
Head and face are considered higher than other parts of the body. A study of metaphor in Thai reveals that there are more terms and more metaphorical expressions for head and face than for other body parts. This may explain why Thais DO NOT  care to have their head touched and they feel offended when a person points at something to them with his foot. 

This concept of hierarchy is also expressed in nonverbal language. If one has to walk past somebody older or higher in rank, one needs to lower one's head and bow slightly, especially when that person is sitting or standing in a lower place. This is a gestural expression of one's respect for others.


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Related Topics:  Thai Culture - A to Z