Identification. The T'in are hill horticulturalists of northern Laos and northern Thailand. Some, especially in Pua District, call themselves "Mai," as in phuam maí (Mai people) or ngang maí (Mai language), meaning "life force" or "life essence." Those to the north and east of the Mai call themselves "Prai" (in Thailand) or "P'ai" (in Laos), a Yuan (Northern Thai) or Lao word meaning "commoner, lawless, or vulgar person." The Yuan terms "Ka," "Kha," "Lawa," "Lua?," "Lwa?, "P'u," and various other combinations and transliterations are derogatory terms used indiscriminately for Mon-Khmer and Palaung-Wa groups. The Thai refer to them as "Htin," "Tin," "T'in," or "Thin" (all transliterations signifying an aspirated t), related to the Thai word for "place" or "locality," hence "the locals," "the native inhabitants of a place." Only those heavily influenced by the Thai, as in relocation centers, use this term as a self-designation. The T'in appear physically similar to Kmhmu, Lamet, and other Mon-Khmer hill peoples in Thailand and Laos: short and stocky with black hair and a darker complexion than their valley neighbors. Physical anthropologists classify them as Paleo-Mongoloids.
Location. The T'in live in Nan Province, Thailand, and Xagnabouri (Sayaboury) Province, Laos, to the southwest of Luang Prabang. Except where they have been resettled by lowland authorities, they prefer the mountain ranges between the Mekong and the Mae Nam Nan rivers.
Demography. William Dessaint estimated 14,548 T'in in Thailand in 1964 and George Tubbs estimated 5,000-6,000 in Laos in 1960. Assuming an annual population growth rate of 2 percent, the total number of T'in in Thailand and Laos in 1989 would be about 34,100.
Linguistic Affiliation. T'in is in the Mon-Khmer Family, closely related to Kmhmu. There has been extensive borrowing of vocabulary from Yuan (Northern Thai) and Lao. Filbeck differentiates two major branches in Thailand: Mal (three dialects spoken, mainly in Pua District) and Prai (at least five dialects). Most T'in (men more than women) are fluent in the Nan dialect of Yuan or in Lao. In some acculturated villages, Yuan has become the primary language. A small number of T'in, those who purchase opium or hire themselves out as laborers, speak Hmong. There is no written language.