Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Thai – Introduction

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · *Introductions, Thai

by Chintana Sandilands and Nicholas Farrelly

Thailand’s language of security has been formalised in conjunction with the reinforcement of the country’s national ideology.  That ideology is tied to the development of a national language, culture and mentality.  It is important, therefore, that an analysis of security terms and concepts in Thai draws on their cultural foundations.

Thai is the official language of a country of 65 million people in mainland Southeast Asia.  The central Thai dialect which is examined in this lexicon is the mother tongue of a fraction of those people.  It is spoken as a first language in Bangkok, and surrounding provinces in the central basin.  The other regions of Thailand have their own dialects.  Some of the most prominent of those are kam muang in northern Thailand and isan in the northeast.  Both of these dialects are quite similar to languages spoken across the borders in the Shan State of Burma and in Laos.

Since the formation of modern Thailand, central Thai has expanded its reach to every corner of the country.  It is the language of the bureaucracy and also the medium for the transmission of ideas about security, government and politics.  The Thai media almost uniformly relies on central Thai for its reach and influence.  This reach stretches beyond Thailand’s borders and some of the security vocabulary that is now commonly used, for example, in Shan has been acquired through the Thai media and through interactions with Thai officials.

Security concepts in Thai are generally connected to government efforts to maintain national integrity and control.  Their major fears are communism, territorial fragmentation and terrorism.  Each serves as a concurrent threat to the national ideology of nation, religion and monarchy.  The Thai royal family is considered integral to national security and threats against it are often dealt with in the harshest possible terms.  Recent uses of the lese majeste statue, for which some Thais have been sentenced to 6-10 years imprisonment, are illustrative of this pattern.

The other major influences on the evolution of Thai security vocabulary are the security forces themselves.  Cold War-era investments in military, paramilitary and police units has left the country with a baffling array of formal security organisations.  Each organisation has specific duties but, at their core, they all pledge to defend the nation, preserve the religion (which often means Buddhism alone), and, most important of all, protect the king.  Held up as the supreme symbol of Thai society, the safety of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family is often described as the most fundamental responsibility of all Thai security arrangements. This limits the space for dissenting voices in Thailand because it is easy to classify moderate criticism as threats to “national security” and to the “unity” of the kingdom.

It is important to bear in mind that politics in Thailand is tied, at all levels, to the priorities set out by the official security concepts described here.  From villages, to provinces, and all the way to the central government in Bangkok, these terms are crucial to understanding how governance in Thailand is consistently structured by security concerns.


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