Mahidol University’s interest in linguistics and cultural anthropology began with the establishment of the Graduate Study Project in Applied Linguistics at the Graduate School following the National Economic and Social Development Plan No.4. The project leader was Dr. Suriya Ratanakul who transferred from Thammasat University. Later, a meeting between Professor Dr. George Condominas from National Research Center, France, and Professor Dr. Nat Pamornprawat, the deputy rector of Policy and Planning Division, extended the scope to include cultural anthropology. As a result, the Center of Language and Culture for Southeast Asian Studies at the Graduate School, was established in 1974. This center aimed to study and research linguistics and the cultural anthropology of ethnic groups in Thailand and elsewhere in the Southeast Asian region for the benefits of national development. In 1976, the Graduate Study Project in Linguistics of Southeast Asian Languages was set up which was developed from the previous Graduate Study Project in Applied Linguistics. The purpose of this project was to organize knowledge from research and study to be applied in teaching and in the studies of graduate students so as produce academics with an expertise in the research methodology of linguistics and cultural anthropology of ethnic groups.
In 1981, the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia (RILCA) was established, with a status equivalent to a Mahidol University faculty and Associate Professor Dr. Khunying Suriya Ratanakul as director. Its office was located in the former OPD Building, Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, and was later moved to the 4th Floor of the Microbiology Building in 1982, and a year after to Mahidol University, Salaya Campus. Initially, the office was located in the Sociology and Humanities Building and the Project of Southeast Asian Cultural Research Center was later moved to the Museum Building. The Japanese government funded renovations to the Training Center and Asian Public Health Development Building in order for this building to be used as an exhibition hall for the cultural anthropology museum. After the construction of Thai house (Rabieb Kunakasem Building) was completed in 1987, the Southeast Asian Cultural Research Center was opened there. In 1992, the offices for the museum and sociology sections were moved to the basement of the Graduate School Building. In 1999, they again moved this time to the HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Language and Culture Building where they are currently located.
The institutional structure can be divided into 2 parts: linguistics studies and research, and culture studies and research. The first part has been operating since the beginning, while the second part was started when the Southeast Asian Cultural Research Center was established in 1985. Its office, which was in Thai house, (Rabieb Kunakasem Building) opened in 1987. The curriculum for cultural studies in the Master’s Degree program commenced in 1989 and has been continuously developed up to the present.
Since RILCA was established in 1981, the following have served as directors:
- 1981 — 1988 Assoc. Prof. Dr. Khunying Suriya Ratanakul
- 1988 — 1993 Assoc. Prof. Dr. Poonpit Amatyakul
- 1993 — 2001 Prof. Dr. Khunying Suriya Ratanakul
- 2001 — 2005 Prof. Dr. Suwilai Premsrirat
- 2005 — 2009 Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sophana Srichampa
- 2009 — present Assoc.Prof. Duangporn Kamnoonwatana
Language and Culture are key elements in solving problems and developing society.
The Institute promotes excellence in Asian ethnic group, language and culture research and development.
- Researching and developing language and culture for ethnic minority groups
- Providing language, culture and ethnic studies
- Providing academic services for the support of language and culture of ethnic minority groups in Thailand and beyond
- Developing and preserving the language and culture of ethnic minority groups in Thailand and beyond
- Administration leading to excellence