Thai is spoken by approximately 63 million people in Thailand and another 20 million in the countries neighboring Thailand, where Thai functions as a lingua franca. There are also about 1.2 million expatriate Thais. Thai is both the official and standard language for Thailand. 

Historically, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country to escape Western colonization. At present, Thailand has the largest economy in continental Southeast Asia. There is a long history of trade as well as military and cultural contacts with the U.S., and a tourist industry that brings hundreds of thousands of Americans to Thailand each year. 

The University of Michigan was the first American university to offer regular instruction in Thai, and groundbreaking linguistic research on Thai was done at the University. The University of Michigan library collections of Thai materials are extensive.