Lahu language

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Native to Yunnan, China; Thailand; Laos; Myanmar
Ethnicity Lahu
Native speakers
600,000 (2007–2012)[1]
Latin script
Official status
Official language in
Lancang Lahu Autonomous County, Yunnan
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
lhu – Lahu
lkc – Lahu Shi
Glottolog laho1234[2]

Lahu (autonym: Ladhof [lɑ˥˧xo˩]) is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by the Lahu people of China, Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. It is widely used in China, both by Lahu people, and by other ethnic minorities in Yunnan, who use it as a lingua franca.[3] However, the language is not widely used nor taught in any schools in Thailand, where many Lahu are in fact refugees and illegal immigrants, having crossed into Thailand from Myanmar.[4]


A few dialects are noted, which are each known by a variety of names:[5]

  • Lahu Na (Black Lahu, Musser Dam, Northern Lahu, Loheirn)
  • Lahu Shi (Yellow Lahu, Kutsung); the divergent la53 xu31 sɯ33 dialect is spoken in Nanduan 南段村 (Lahu: na31 tɔ35) Village, Nuofu Township 糯福乡, Lancang County, China[6][7]
  • Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu, Southern Lahu, Musseh Daeng, Luhishi, Luhushi), Shehleh
  • Lahu Shehleh

Phạm Huy (2013:13) lists the following 3 branches.

  • La Hủ Phu (White Lahu): only found in Lüchun County, Yunnan, China
  • La Hủ Năk (Black Lahu)
  • La Hủ Nê Thu

Traditionally Lahu folk taxonomy splits the Lahu people into the two groups of Black Lahu and Yellow Lahu; Red Lahu and White Lahu are new dialect clusters originating in messianic movements within the past few centuries.[8] Black Lahu is the standard dialect in China,[3] as well as the lingua franca among different groups of Lahu in Thailand.[4] However, it is intelligible to speakers of Yellow Lahu only with some difficulty.[3]

Based on the numbers of shared lexical items, Bradley (1979) classifies the Lahu dialects as follows:[9]

Common Lahu
  • Black Lahu
    • Shehleh
    • (Core)
      • Black Lahu proper
      • Red Lahu
  • Yellow Lahu
    • Bakeo
    • Banlan

Lama (2012) gives the following tentative classification for what he calls Lahoid.

  • Lahu-Xi (Yellow Lahu)
  • (Black Lahu cluster)
    • Lahu-Na (Black Lahu)
    • Lahu-Ni (Red Lahu)
    • Lahu-Pu (White Lahu)
    • Lahu-Shehleh

Lama (2012) lists the following sound changes from Proto-Loloish as Lahu innovations.

  • *s-l- > x-
  • *z- > ʣ-
  • *ŋ- > x-


  1. ^ Lahu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Lahu Shi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Lahoid". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b c Gordon 2005, Lahu
  4. ^ a b Reh 2005
  5. ^ Matisoff 2006, p. xiii
  6. ^ Lahuyu Jianzhi 拉祜语简志 (1986)
  7. ^
  8. ^ Bradley 1979, p. 41
  9. ^ Bradley 1979, p. 159


  • Bradley, David (1979). Lahu dialects. Oriental monograph series #23. Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University. OCLC 6303582. 
  • Matisoff, James A. (2006). English-Lahu Lexicon. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-09855-2. 
  • Phạm Huy (1997). Một phần chân dung: dân tộc La Hủ (nhật ký điền dã). Lai Châu: Sở văn hóa thông tin Lai Châu.
  • Reh, Louis (August 2005). "Silenced Minorities". The Irrawaddy. Archived from the original on 2006-01-27. Retrieved 2006-12-29. 

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