Tai-dubbed Thai Soaps

Prachatai had another refreshingly non-political story the other day, centering on the popularity of Thai soap operas in the minority Shan community in Myanmar.

A study by Amporn Jirattikorn called ‘ละครไทยเปลี่ยนเสียงไต’ tells us that Thai dramas are recorded from the satellite broadcast and re-dubbed in the Shan language. These ‘Tai-dubbed Thai soaps’ are shown in makeshift cinemas and rented out as VCDs and have captured quite a following.

The Shan people (more familliarly known to Thais as Thai Yai) are surprisingly close in kinship to us Thais. Thais, Laotians and Shans are collectively called Tai people and have mother-tongues that are closely related.

I guess this shared heritage may explain why Thai ‘after the news’ soaps have become such a cultural phenonmemon for Shans community. Thai content is very much ‘localized’ to Shan tastes. In addition to dubbing, Thai stars now gained a following with new Shan nicknames:

เอกลักษณ์เฉพาะของละครไทยเปลี่ยนเสียงไตนั้นก็คือชื่อของดารานักแสดงทุกคนจะถูกเปลี่ยนเป็นชื่อภาษาไทยใหญ่ อาทิ กบ-สุวนันท์ คงยิ่ง ก็กลายเป็น ‘เขียวยุ้ม’, ปฏิภาณ ปฐวีกานต์ เป็น ‘จายจ๋อมเหลือน’ ขณะ วิลลี่ แมคอินทอช เป็น ‘ขุนฟ้าโหลง’ และ พัชราภา ไชยเชื้อ คือ ‘นางเหวเงิน’ ฯลฯ

Amporn says that the popularity of the ‘foreign’ soaps have, paradoxically, served to deepen the Shan’s own cultural identity. The fact that they are dubbed in the Shan language has made the mother-tongue more accepted. Parents have been reported to name their children with the Shan-nized name of the Thai soap stars (like ‘เคอแสน’ for ธีรเดช วงศ์พัวพันธุ์ ) instead of a Burmese name. The article goes on to describe the another effect of this cultural exchange – it seems the seeds of consumerism have also been incubated in the Shan imagination as well.

All this makes me think of how, as a Thai person, my world view tends to make me ignore what goes on nearer to home with our immediate neighbors or even in the fringes of our society. What goes on in far away America or Japan captures the imagination more than the muffled news we hear from Myanmar or Laos, or refugee camps on the borders. Aside from occasional fads for hill-tribe kids as singers I don’t think it would hurt to pay more attention.

Related Links

– The article reminds me of the one on ‘Greater Finland’ in The Economist Christmas issues a while back.
– For further reading: Openbooks’ “ไทรบพม่า” on the recent history of the Shan nation.
– An ex-school mate runs this travel site, called Painaima.com (ไปไหนมา ดอท คอม). The photography is gorgeous and they organize trips to regional destinations. Sounds fun!
– Recommended: I like this book, “Bamboo Palace” by Australian Christopher Kremmer. A mix of the history and a travelogue through Laos and investigative journalism into the fate of the country’s last king.

6 responses to “Tai-dubbed Thai Soaps

  1. An interesting post, thank you. I was surprised about the extent to which the Lao language, for example, is similar to Thai. According to one website
    on the net, they share up to 70 per cent of each other’s vocabulary.

    One of my ‘brothers’ here is a student from Laos who studies at Abac. Few of his friends know he is from Laos, as he has enough trouble as it is making friends at that place. He is able to pass himself off as Thai because the languages are so alike.

    He writes a blog in Thai, and we chat on Messenger regularly. Sometimes the Thai words he uses look a little strange. When I ask him what they are, he explains he is still thinking in terms of how he would spell the word if he was using his own language.

    Given the extent of those similarities – and the fact that some Thais living close to the border with neighbouring countries may know more of the neighbouring country’s language than they do their own – I sometimes wonder if Thais can really claim to have their own language at all.

    That’s not to be incendiary. I love learning Thai, and I don’t care how many countries share it, or how many words it has borrowed from somewhere else.

  2. Mr. Newshound – you’re welcomed.

    I think sometimes we forget that Thailand’s pretty diverse ethnically and lingusitically. I think when Newin Chidchob campaigns in Buriram, he uses a Khmer influence local dialect. You can be ‘Thai’ without having the Thai language as your mother-tongue, I think.

    … I sometimes wonder if Thais can really claim to have their own language at all

    I guess standard Thai is just another language in the Tai language family that got more widespread because our centralized schooling. I like to think Thais, Laotians and Shans share the same common roots linguistically.

  3. In Laos, I was simply surprised on how almost everyone understood Thai. I had no trouble getting around speaking only central Thai. I understand is was because of the prevalance of Thai TV and Thai soap operas as they can pick up the Thai TV feed signal.

    Even in Luang Prabang, using Thai was no problem.

    Thais soap operas are very popular in the Khmer community as well – it was the apparent mistranslation of a Thai soap operator actress Kob Suwinan which started the riots outside the Thai Embassy in 2003.

    I must say I was surprised to learn that Thai TV was alive and kicking abroad through videos. Every week new videos arrive with the latest soap operas and other assorted programs. Many Burmese, Laotians, and Cambodians just watch the Thai language versions and don’t require any dubbing.

    It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to hear on the affect that Thai TV culture and its depiction on Thai values is having on some of Thailand’s neighbours.

    I wonder if Katreeya McIntosh is called Norng Bello in Shan🙂

  4. JW – heh… Ms McIntosh is actually called ‘คำหลาว’ by the Shans:

    … รวมทั้งอยากรู้เกี่ยวกับเรื่องราวของ ‘คำหลาว’ (คัทลียา แมคอินทอช) ว่ากำลังทำอะไร เรื่องท้องก่อนแต่งก็ทำให้ชาวไทยใหญ่ผิดหวังเป็นอย่างมาก

  5. Naphat…I have another Thai friend from Buri Ram. When she came to Bangkok she could not speak central Thai…any Thai at all, in fact, as her family spoke Khmer.

    She picked it up quickly, which shows a dexterity in language acquisition and use which westerners from my part of the world can only envy.

  6. For the Thai it’s not easy to speak good english🙂
    But some of the thai like me I am from North East of thailand some of my thai central word not too good too but i try anyway🙂

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