Wednesday, March 21, 2012


So, one of the most important things to realize about the people of the Isaan is that they are bilingual (Thai and Lao, preferring the later over the former).

(Our village is just to the left of "Nong Bua Lamphu" - area in brown is mostly Lao [Laos], extreme upper right corner is Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin)

Interestingly, the tendency for Northeastern Thais to speak Lao over Thai became somewhat of a classist issue that remains today. For instance, much in the same way that educated people in the United States refer to lower-educated country “hicks” – and look down on them – city Thais outside the Isaan consider “upcountry” people from the Isaan loso (low class), compared to themselves being supposedly hi-so (upper class). Country Thais usually buy into this inferred inferiority, considering the Lao language lower than the Thai language.

To some degree, this has been enforced. Thai is the official language of the country as a whole and all Thais are expected to be able to speak it and no one thinks twice about having to do so. Whenever Isaan people deal with the government, air-conditioned businesses, or the educational system, they always speak in Thai. Significantly, Lao is not even taught in the schools, although English is.

So, I would never go into a bank speaking Lao. But, then again, I wouldn’t go into a government building, bank or school speaking Thai either, because English is rated even higher than Thai in Thailand!

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