Isan people (Thai: คนอีสาน, RTGS: Khon Isan, Thai pronunciation: [kʰon iːsǎːn]; Lao: ຄົນອີສານ, also known as Tai Isan or Lao Isan) are an ethnic group native to Northeastern Thailand ("Isan") with a population of 22 millions. Like Thai and Lao people, they belong to the family of Tai peoples.
Their language (Isan language) and culture have Lao roots and are therefore closer to those of Laos than to the Central Thai ones. The reasons to consider Isan a separate ethnicity, and not part of the Lao, are rather historical and social ones. Nevertheless, Isan people are normally Thai nationals and, due to the policy of Thaification, increasingly oriented toward Central Thailand and its dominant culture. Thailand does not recognize Isan as a distinct ethnicity, but considers all Tai peoples living in Thailand as one (Thai) people. Thai policy has successfully sought to downplay the Lao kinship of Isan people and instead led to the development of a distinct regional Isan identity. Still, 88% of Isan people always speak Isan language when at home, 11% speak both Isan and Central Thai and only 1% speak Central Thai exclusively.
Many Isan people have migrated to the Bangkok agglomeration for work. About 8,000 Isan people live in Laos, on the eastern bank of the Mekong river which forms the border to Thailand. Others have emigrated to Malaysia, Singapore and several western countries.
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