‘Little Arabia’ on Buddhist land: Exploring the linguistic landscape of Bangkok’s ‘Soi Arab’ enclave

Chonglong Gu (Corresponding Author), Ibrar Bhatt

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Never formally colonised by Western powers, Thailand is a rapidly developing nation in Southeast Asia. To outsiders, the assumption might be that Thailand is a homogenous Thai-speaking Buddhist country. However, such over-simplistic views ignore diversity and the existence of de facto multilingualism and multiculturalism on the ground. This linguistic landscape (LL) study explores a unique and sociolinguistically compelling area called ‘Little Arabia’ (Soi Arab) in the heart of Bangkok, where elements of both Islamic and Buddhist civilisations meet. The existence of this Middle Eastern enclave creates a sense of contrasts on linguistic, religious, and cultural levels. Because of globalisation and spurred by (medical and sex) tourism, this area boasts a number of halal restaurants, hotels, travel agencies, stores, pharmacies, and clinics. This gives rise to an interesting sociolinguistic ecology, featuring an ‘ethnic’ economy which caters to the needs of tourists and businessmen hailing from the Arab world. Drawing on authentic photographic data, this study explores how various linguistic practices give the area a unique identity. More specifically, we reveal how various languages (including Arabic, Thai, and English) are mobilised and combined in ways that illustrate translation practices evidenced within the enclave for particularised marketing, commercial, and communication purposes. Theoretically and conceptually, the term ‘machine-translated multilingualism’ is coined to capture the growing trend for businesses to resort to translation software for multilingual communication, which may result in non-standard translations and orthographic forms. This study contributes to a growing body of sociolinguistic research examining LLs in global cities and commercial hubs in the Global South, particularly those arising from ‘South-South’ population flows.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20240018
JournalOpen Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2024


  • Little Arabia
  • linguistic landscape
  • ethnic enclave
  • translation practices
  • machine-translated multilingualism
  • low-end globalisation


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