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Diglossia and identity in Northeast Thailand: Linguistic, social, and political hierarchy

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Abstract

The paper explores diglossic relations between Central Thai and phasa isan, a variety officially known as a dialect of Thai, but linguistically close to Lao. Phasa isan is spoken by almost one-third of Thailand's population but its speakers in the Northeast are often stigmatized as uneducated and backward. We conducted field research mainly among university students in Ubon Ratchathani, a northeastern border province, by drawing upon data from survey questionnaires, reflective essays, interviews, and field observations. The findings suggest a transitional diglossic relationship in which Central Thai is the High and phasa isan the Low variety. These relationships are discussed in terms of nationalism, social hierarchy, and language maintenance and shift.

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... In this study, it is important to determine if young Kui speakers freely choose to use a language, if they are forced to use a language for political/social reasons (e.g. schooling in standard Thai) (Bos and Sidwell 2014) or if they are stigmatised as a minority language group (Alexander and McCargo 2014;Suraratdecha 2014). Since language prestige is expected to be significant in Kui speakers' language choice decisions, the first hypothesis is as follows: H1: Due to language prestige, young Kui speakers have a higher tendency of shifting to or assimilating the higher-rated Thai, compared to other languages in northeastern Thailand, such as Khmer or Lao. ...
... In Thailand, stigmatisation of minority groups and their respective languages is still a significant problem (Alexander and McCargo 2014;Suraratdecha 2014). For example, one speaker did not mention his Kui background at his workplace in Bangkok, fearing negative consequences. ...
... Kui, Lao (as spoken in Laos) and Lao NET were rated as low prestige languages (LPL) in terms social status, while Thai and Chinese were ranked as high prestige languages (HPL) (Woykos 1989;Alexander and McCargo 2014;Tomioka 2016) (Figure 18). Even though Lao NET is used by 'almost one-third of Thailand's population', its speakers are often stigmatised as uneducated and backward (Alexander and McCargo 2014, 62). ...
Article
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... 106-145). The TL suffer discrimination due to their accent, language, and appearance, especially that of TL women (Alexander & McCargo, 2014;Chaipraditkul, 2013, p. 31;Draper, 2010;Hesse-Swain, 2006McCargo & Hongladarom, 2004). ...
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... 27 Cited in McCargo (2011, 289). 28 Those interested to interacting with more material on the role of Lao in Northeastern identity should consult Alexander and McCargo (2014). 29 See Ferrara (2015, 46-47, 72-73, 221-222) ...
Preprint
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... -Medium of instruction -May replace Lao Isan as a tool for wider communication among Khmer speakers in areas of no heavy interpenetration with Lao speaking people • Smalley (1994) -"serves as a lingua franca for Isan people living in multilingual communities" (reported by university students from Surin) • Alexander and McCargo (2014) The status of languages in Surin ...
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... In terms of the tension between the overlapping Thai (national), Isan (regional), and Lao (minority) identity, Hesse-Swain's (2011) dissertation in the field of psychology and linguistics, focusing on identity presentation in Thai television programmes, builds on previous analysis by McCargo and Hongladarom (2004) and notes that a strong Isan identity exists and is perpetuated by Isan youth, who view stereotypical characteristics of the Isan (such as rural lifestyles) as innate and are not generally aware that the Isan is an external construct promoted by the Thai state from the late 1890s and especially since the 1970s. Similarly, Alexander and McCargo (2014), in a study on linguistic, social, and political hierarchy and identity in Northeast Thailand note a strong language shift depending on classical diglossic contexts such as nationalist policies and socially conditioned hierarchies based in Theravadan Buddhism as well as in discourses of modernity, urbanity, and upwards mobility, where Central Thai is the High and Isan the Low variety. ...
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What kinds of bilingualism should be developed through education in different social contexts? What kinds of bilingualism can be developed in and through education? What languages should be promoted within the foreign language curriculum and why? What medium of instruction policy should be adopted in multilingual settings? Should regional vernaculars be used in teaching and learning in postcolonial settings along with national and official languages? Should minority languages be included in the curriculum within a national education system? Should some form of bilingual education be adopted? If so, how should it be organized and in what sectors of education: at pre-school, primary and secondary levels? At college or university level? In adult basic education or literacy programmes? What are the consequences of such educational interventions in multilingual settings? For well over half a century, questions such as these have surfaced over and over again in public debates about language in education in bilingual and multilingual settings. They have been posed by researchers, educational practitioners, parents, journalists and language activists in relation to very different forms of language education provision, in very different historical conditions.
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Thailand represents a complex situation of language diversity. There are more than 70 languages belonging to five language families: Tai-Kadai, Austroasiatic, Sino-Tibetan, Hmong-Mien, and Austronesian. While Standard Thai is the only official and national language, the four regional languages, Northern, Northeastern, Central, and Southern Thai are spoken as local languages as well as the lingua franca of the ethnic minorities. The local or minority languages are classified as either displaced, town, marginal, or enclave. Most of the speakers are bilingual or multilingual. Because of globalization and the national language policy, the use of indigenous languages has been decreasing. At least 14 languages are now endangered. There is, however, a movement to fight for the preservation of these languages.
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The language we use forms an important part of our sense of who we are - of our identity. This book outlines the relationship between our identity as members of groups - ethnic, national, religious and gender - and the language varieties important to each group. What is a language? What is a dialect? Are there such things as language ‘rights’? Must every national group have its own unique language? How have languages, large and small, been used to spread religious ideas? Why have particular religious and linguistic ‘markers’ been so central, singly or in combination, to the ways in which we think about ourselves and others? Using a rich variety of examples, the book highlights the linkages among languages, dialects and identities, with special attention given to religious, ethnic and national allegiances.
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Just about everyone seems to have views about language. Language attitudes and language ideologies permeate our daily lives. Our competence, intelligence, friendliness, trustworthiness, social status, group memberships, and so on, are often judged from the way we communicate. Even the speed at which we speak can evoke reactions. And we often try to anticipate such judgements as we communicate. In this lively introduction, Peter Garrett draws upon research carried out over recent decades in order to discuss such attitudes and the implications they have for our use of language, for social advantage or discrimination, and for social identity. Using a range of examples that includes punctuation, words, grammar, pronunciation, accents, dialects and languages, this book explores the intricate and fascinating ways in which language influences our everyday thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
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This article argues that a more nuanced understanding is needed of the social composition of the redshirt protests in Bangkok from March-May 2010. Based on extensive interviews and survey research, the paper argues that many redshirts were “urbanized villagers” with lower middle class income levels and aspirations.
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This paper examines the links between Bangkok's smoking skyline and the political and economic aspirations of North Eastern Thais. The author proposes that much of what was at stake during the 2009 and 2010 political upheaval was closely tied to a constricted sense of citizenship apparent in the frustrated political and economic aspirations expressed by North East Thailand's urban poor. Through an ethnographic analysis of the experiences of residents of Khon Kaen's railway communities as they participate in a new housing project, the paper explores the obstacles that poor citizens encounter when they try to 'become right with the law' and 'unite' in the name of 'developing' themselves, their communities, their cities and their nation. In reflecting on the politics of belonging that arise during this project, the author's analysis reveals how hard these citizens work to comply with laws and to take part in national development projects, even when many of those same laws and processes frequently work against them. The author argues that, although coups and mass mobilizations form the most public faces of the current political moment, they simply reflect more pernicious, complex forms of the everyday politics facing poor citizens. Indeed, these frustrated aspirations expose the links between Bangkok's burning shopping malls and the charred provincial government buildings of the North East (Isan). The analysis suggests that the events of 2009 and 2010 were not an uprising against the state, but rather a movement demanding recognition and the opening of the political and economic order to the poor as full citizens.
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The extent to which a primate city in an underdeveloped country is parasitic should be discernible through an analysis of the effects of national dicision making at the centre (primate city) upon the country's outlying regions. A case study is made of the regional implications of national decision making in Thailand. Decision making in Bangkok was found to block regional growth, preventing the periphery from achieving its full potential. 1 or another form of parasitism - most recently, development as social control - persists, because primacy and elite ascendancy are still facts of their potential life. -C.Errock English
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Regional inequality is part of the development process. Thailand began experiencing modern economic growth in the 1960s. Although real per capita income has increased in all regions, regional inequality has also grown. In the Northeast, long a relatively deprived region in Thailand, while poverty has been reduced, the interregional economic gap has grown. Factors associated with poverty in the Northeast are explored. The case of the Northeast is found to be consistent with historical experience.
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Founded in 1979, the Thai popular monthly magazine Sinlapa watthanatham aimed to make history, art and culture into areas of contestation against long-established official interpretations, and thus encourage a broad-based readership to reassess their assumptions about Thai-ness. However, the question of magazine sales, the context of the economic boom, and the crisis that erupted in 1997 led the magazine to succumb to consumerism, as well as a conservative ideology.
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This is an ethnographic study of how Lao Isan youth living in the northeastern provincial capital Khon Kaen and nearby town Mahasarakham experience Thainess or khwampenthai in its most popular form – television. People who inhabit the northeast of Thailand interchangeably label themselves and are labelled by others as Isan, Thai Isan, Lao Isan, Thai or Lao, depending on the ethnic, political, social or familial nuances of any given situation. I use the term Lao Isan to refer specifically to Isan people of Lao origin or ethnicity. Lao Isan are subject to complex and often competing notions of Isanness, Laoness and Thainess by insiders and outsiders. Using data derived from a 2002 ethnographic study of the responses of Lao Isan youth (aged 17 to 25) to their favourite Thai television programs, this thesis explores contemporary and co-existing interpretations of Isan identity or khwampenisan among Lao Isan youth in relation to historical context and processes of identity formation. The people of northeast Thailand, or Khon Isan, are confronted daily with ambiguities gravitating around the perceived multiplicity of their identity, particularly Thai identity and Lao (Isan) identity. Political, social and cultural constructs of identity are continually contested. Collective themes and understandings of Lao Isan identity are represented and constituted by outsiders and insiders whose views melt into and across cultural borders. Some of these constructions highlight the exclusivity of Isan identity – a tight geographical space that is no longer Lao but Thai Isan within the larger Thai nation state. Others ignore geographical boundaries and explore Lao Isan identity within a more open cultural space that encompasses both northeast Thailand and Laos. Informing these constructions are overlapping and often conflicting views on Thai-Lao historiography, Lao Isan indigenous studies, and the influence of popular culture.
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L'auteur passe en revue les differents types de politiques culturelles et linguistiques appliquees dans des pays ou la situation est multiglossique. Il donne des exemples de reussite culturelle (Luxembourg) et d'echec (Inde).
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This paper describes several dimensions of linguistic politeness in Bangkok Thai. These involve elevation of listener and self-effacement of speaker. The role of formal linguistic usage and formulaic deferential expressions in indicating politeness is illustrated. Kinship terms, emphasizing relative age, have been an important traditional means of indicating politeness in the past. This seems to be undergoing a modification at present, linked to social change.
Article
Thailand has a long-standing, deeply-entrenched, country-wide hierarchy of multilingualism through which inter-language rivalry is channeled. Made possible by a semantic system in which languages are centered categories rather than bounded ones, this hierarchy contributes to the pattern of multiple ethnic identities and of ethnic mobility which has been noted for different peoples in the country. At the same time, it also masks the extensive linguistic diversity which is present. Government policies, which have often been conceived as replacing languages lower on the hierarchy with Standard Thai, in effect do not generally eliminate other languages, but do help to consolidate the place of Standard Thai at the top of the hierarchy, as the language of the nation.
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This paper reports on the use of ethnolinguistic vitality as the framework for a sociolinguistic survey measuring attitudes to multilingualism and reporting on the experiences of a community of Northeast Thailand (Isan) that forms part of Thailand's largest minority. The aim of the study was to examine the experiences of participants in a multilingual setting and their attitudes towards past (not reported herein), present and future multiple literacies. The study found support for multilingualism in formal education and multilingual signage, but with signs of intergenerational shift from Lao (Isan) towards Central Thai.
Article
Why is it that some governments recognize only one language while others espouse multilingualism? Related, why are some governments able to shift language policies, and if there is a shift, what explains the direction? In this article, the authors argue that these choices are the product of coalitional constraints facing the government during critical junctures in history. During times of political change in the state-building process, the effective threat of an alternate linguistic group determines the emergent language policy. If the threat is low, the government moves toward monolingual policies. As the threat increases, however, the government is forced to co-opt the alternate linguistic group by shifting the policy toward a greater degree of multilingualism. The authors test this argument by examining the language policies for government services and the education system in three Southeast Asian countries (Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand).
Article
The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.
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This paper discusses the idea of Isan (Northeastern Thai) ethnoregional identity, and its relationship with two major alternative ideas: Thai identity and Lao identity. Drawing on ethnolinguistic research, the paper argues that Isan identity is a problematic political construct, reflecting ambiguous self‐understandings and self‐representations on the part of Northeasterners. Northeasterners are engaged in a negotiation process about their relationships with Thai and Lao identities, relationships fraught with cultural, social and political ramifications. The study suggests a more nuanced appreciation of the ambiguities of Isan identity than has yet been proposed.
Article
The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.
Chapter
IntroductionLanguage and Social Inequality in Bureaucratic SettingsGender, Inequality, and LanguageLanguage and Political EconomyThe Colonial Transformation of Language and Social InequalityConclusion
Article
Urban social movements are often associated with what are considered 'progressive' causes and most activists involved in such movements are inclined to describe themselves in such terms. The Thai coup of September 2006 poses problems for any such easy identification. Although executed by the military, on behalf of royalist interests, the coup was supported by an array of primarily Bangkok-based and middle-class groups, many of them associated with organisations such as NGOs and state enterprise unions. Although some of these groups claimed anti-neo-liberal political orientations, their support for the coup effectively placed them on the side of forces opposed to quasi-Keynesian policies and in favour of specific forms of neo-liberalism-at least for Thai villagers. This paper explores this development by focusing on the Bangkok/up-country and urban/rural divisions in Thai politics, which, although socially constructed, have taken on political substance, in part because of their grounding in regionally differentiated class structures.
Article
The impossibility of stating precisely how many “languages” or “dialects” are spoken in the world is due to the ambiguities of meaning present in these terms, which is shown to stem from the original use of “dialect” to refer to the literary dialects of ancient Greece. In most usages the term “language” is superordinate to “dialed,” but the nature of this relationship may be either linguistic or social, the latter problem falling in the province of sociolinguistics. It is shown how the development of a vernacular, popularly called a dialect, into a language is intimately related to the development of writing and the growth of nationalism. This process is shown to involve the selection, codification, acceptance, and elaboration of a linguistic norm.
Article
Unlike other multi-ethnic nations, such as Myanmar and India, where official language policy has sparked bloody clashes, Thailand has maintained relative stability despite its eighty languages. In this study of the relations among politics, geography, and language, William A. Smalley shows how Thailand has maintained national unity through an elaborate social and linguistic hierarchy. Smalley contends that because the people of Thailand perceive their social hierarchy as the normal order, Standard Thai, spoken by members of the higher levels of society, prevails as the uncontested national language. By examining the hierarchy of Thailand's diverse languages and dialects in light of Thai history, education, culture, and religion, Smalley shows how Thailand has been able to keep its many ethnic groups at peace. Linguistic Diversity and National Unity explores the intricate relationship between language and power and the ways in which social and linguistic rank can be used to perpetuate order.
Phasa thai matrathan kap kanmuang [Standard Thai and politics]
  • Eoseewong
Prawattisat Isan [History of Isan]
  • Wiphakpochanakit
  • Toem
  • Wiphakpochanakit
  • Toem