Article published in:Diaspora and Asian Spaces in a Transnational World
Edited by Thom Huebner
[Linguistic Landscape 7:2] 2021
► pp. 151–174
Regime changes and the impact of informal labor
The case of Thai workers in Southern Israel
In Israel, approximately 25,000 Thai laborers are contracted for agricultural work in all parts of the country, following a series of bilateral agreements between the governments of Israel and Thailand. Various NGOs and agencies have documented numerous violations of labor laws in many Israeli farms, including the lack of safety measures, poor working and living conditions, and extremely low salaries. Israeli discourse on the topic vacillates between the interests of farmers, workers, consumers, and the government (Or & Shohamy, 2020), and the occasional appearance of reports about the abuse of workers reignites the debate and tensions surrounding these issues. This longitudinal qualitative study, spanning from 2013 to 2019, focuses on the linguistic landscape (LL) of the Central Arava region – an arid, sparsely populated subdistrict in Southern Israel. What makes this region unique is that the number of Thai migrant workers there equals or slightly exceeds that of Hebrew-speaking Jews. Using an LL approach (Jaworski & Thurlow, 2010; Shohamy & Gorter, 2009; Shohamy, 2012), the 2013 study sought to explore the visibility and vitality of the Thai language as well as its interactions with other languages. The roles that Thai, Hebrew, English, Arabic, and other languages played in the public space clearly revealed the power relations between the speakers of these languages. The 2018–19 follow-up to the original 2013 findings seeks to track the impact on the public space of recent developments such as population changes, the advent of speakers of other languages to the region, the economic crisis, and the public controversy about the exploitation of workers. The study shows that the number of Thai signs has been significantly reduced in recent years, not only pointing to changes in the multilingual reality of the region, but also raising a series of questions about labor conditions, regulation, informal labor markets, and cases of potential mismatch between reality and perceptions.
Keywords: migrant workers, informal labor economy, communicative language functions, longitudinal LL research, Israel, Thai language
Published online: 19 February 2021
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