Readers of New Mandala may have seen my previous posts on the uses and meanings of English in Thai politics which dealt with English as an alternative space, an arena for contested translations, and an arena of coded language in response to censorship. Some of these areas merge in the phenomenon of signs in English at Thai political demonstrations. Why and how is English used here? An interesting New Mandala analysis and photo essay compares the use of signs in general at demonstrations in Taiwan and at the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) demonstrations here. Another photo essay here looks at a range of PAD signs and specifically addresses the question of English signs.

I wondered what the Reds were doing with English so I wandered down to Rajdamnoern with my camera on Friday, 19 March 2010, to take some pictures of the English language signs at the Red shirt demonstration. The first thing to say is that there were a lot of them, at a rough guess, maybe 10-20 percent had at least a few words of English and another observation was that some of the English only signs occupied very large and prominent positions.

So we’re in Thailand and the battle is between Thais, is it not? Why English? Here are a few hypotheses, some fairly obvious and widely supported, others maybe more tenuous:

  1. To appeal to an international audience and seek their support
  2. To affirm and seek international links
  3. To appeal to an increasingly polyglot constituency, comprising local foreigners and overseas Thais as well as resident Thais.
  4. To dispel the idea that the reds are a bunch of uneducated yokels. For other evidence of this proposition see the story “PM Fuera” on Bangkok Pundit.
  5. To exercise a skill and to use all the linguistic resources at one’s disposal
  6. To indulge a sense of play and art

The three banners above surprised me. Written in English only, they were among the biggest and occupied very prominent positions in the middle of the traffic island. I guess these are directed at international coverage or to foreign passersby. A mis-spelling in the second photo but the picture clarifies it.

Again, these two smaller posters are exclusively in English. I guess Thais are familiar enough with these two characters.

The grammar is not quite there but the messages are clear.

But this spelling caused some problems. Against coup?

The blood on the walls made it into poster form quite quickly.

Many banners, like these three, had parallel translations appealing to both international and local audiences.

But the wording is not quite right on this one.

Lots of banners proclaimed local identity.

And some proclaimed multiple identities.

But I wasn’t aware of an enclave of Jewish red shirts in Bangkok Noi: the star of David and the menorah, the seven branched candelabra.

Chinese reds. Can someone translate? But I didn’t find any Burmese, Lao or Khmer signs. I guess Deputy Prime Minister Suthep’s threats to any rebellious slaves put paid to that possibility.

You can get hats in English or Thai.

And finally my favorite sign, a small piece of art and the only sign I saw that compounded the Thai and English languages.