|ພາສາລາວ, Phasa Lao|
|Native to||Laos, Isan|
|Lao script in Laos|
Thai script in Thailand
Thai and Lao Braille
Official language in
Lao, sometimes referred to as Laotian (ລາວ, [láːw] 'Lao' or ພາສາລາວ, [pʰáːsǎːláːw] 'Lao language'), is a Kra–Dai language of the Lao people. It is spoken in Laos, where it is the official language, as well as northeast Thailand, where it is usually referred to as Isan. Lao serves as a lingua franca among the citizens of Laos, who also speak approximately 90 other languages, many of which are unrelated to Lao.
It is a tonal and analytic language, similar to other Kra-Dai languages, along with Chinese and Vietnamese. Spoken Lao is mutually intelligible with Thai and Isan, fellow Southwestern Tai languages, to such a degree that their speakers are able to effectively communicate with one another speaking their respective languages. These languages are written with slightly different scripts but are linguistically similar and effectively form a dialect continuum.
Tai migration (8th—12th century)
The ancestors of the Lao people were speakers of Southwestern Tai dialects that migrated from what is now southeastern China, specifically what is now Guangxi and northern Vietnam where a diversity of various Tai languages suggests an Urheimat. The Southwestern Tai languages began to diverge from the Northern and Central branches of the Tai languages, covered mainly by various Zhuang languages, sometime around 112 AD, but likely completed by the sixth century. Due to the influx of Han Chinese soldiers and settlers, the end of the Chinese occupation of Vietnam, the fall of Jiaozhi and turbulence associated with the decline and fall of the Tang Dynasty led some of the Tai peoples speaking Southwestern Tai to flee into Southeast Asia, with the small-scale migration mainly taking place between the eighth and twelfth centuries. The Tais split and followed the major river courses, with the ancestral Lao originating in the Tai migrants that followed the Mekong River.
The Tai migrants assimilated and intermarried with the indigenous Austroasiatic peoples or pushing them off to marginal areas, but their full expansion was halted by the Indian-influenced kingdoms of the Mon, Khmer and Cham, although the Khmer were the primary power in Southeast Asia by the time of the Tai migrations. The Tai formed small city-states known as mueang (เมือง, ເມືອງ muang, /mɨ́ːaŋ/) under Khmer suzerainty on the outskirts of the Khmer Empire, building the irrigation infrastructure and paddy fields for the wet-rice cultivation methods of the Tai people. Isan legends of Khun Burom (ขุนบูรม, ຂຸນບູຣົມ Khoun Bourôm, /kʰǔn bǔːlóm), shared with various Southwestern Tai peoples of Southeast Asia, Greater Assam and Yunnan, concerns the first ruler of Meuang Thaen (เมืองแถน, ເມືອງແຖນ Muang Thèn, /mɨ́ːaŋ tʰɛ̆ːn/) whose progeny go on to find the Tai dynasties that ruled over the various Tai mueang.
Divergance and convergence
As the Southwestern Tai-speaking peoples diverged, following paths down waterways, their dialects began to diverge into the various languages today, such as the Lao-Phuthai languages that developed along the Mekong River and includes Lao and its Isan sub-variety and the Chiang Saen languages which includes the Central Thai dialect that is the basis of Standard Thai. Despite their close relationship, there were several phonological divergences that drifted the languages apart with time such as the following examples:
PSWT *ml > Lao /m/, > Thai /l/
- *mlɯn, 'slippery' > muen (มื่น, ມື່ນ mun, /mɨ̄ːn/), > luen (ลื่น, /lɯ̂ːn/)
PSWT *r (initial) > Laoː /m/, > Thai /r/
- *raːk, 'to vomit' > hak (ฮาก, ຮາກ, /hȃːk/), > rak (ราก, /râːk/)
PSWT *ɲ > Lao /ɲ/, > Thai /j/
- *ɲuŋ, 'mosquito' > yung (ยูง, ຍູງ gnoung, /ɲúːŋ/), > yung (ยุง, /juŋ/)
Similar influences and proximity allowed for both languages to converge in many aspects as well. Thai and Lao, although separated, passively influenced each other through centuries of proximity. For instance, the Proto-Southwestern Tai *mlɛːŋ has produced the expected Lao /m/ outcome maeng (แมง, ແມງ mèng, /mɛ́ːŋ/) and the expected Thai /l/ outcome laeng (แลง /lɛːŋ/), although this is only used in Royal Thai or restricted academic usage, with the common form malaeng (แมลง /maʔ lɛːŋ/), actually an archaic variant. In slang and relaxed speech, Thai also has maeng (แมง /mɛːŋ/), likely due to influence of Lao.
Thai and Lao also share similar sources of loan words. Aside from many of the deeply embedded Sinitic loan words adopted at various points in the evolution of Southwestern Tai at the periphery of Chinese influence, the Tais in Southeast Asia encountered the Khmer. Khmer loan words dominate all areas and registers of both languages and many are shared between them. Khmer loan words include body parts, urban living, tools, administration and local plants. The Thai, and likely the Lao, were able to make Khmer-style coinages that were later exported back to Khmer. The heavy imprint of Khmer is shown in the genetics of Tai speakers, with samples from Thai and Isan people of Lao descent showing proof of both the Tai migration but also intermarriage and assimilation of local populations. Scholars such as Khanittanan propose that the deep genetic and linguistic impact of the autochthonous Khmer and their language indicates that the earliest days of Ayutthaya had a largely bilingual population. Although evidence and research in Lao is lacking, major Lao cities were known to have been built atop existing Khmer settlements, suggesting assimilation of the locals. Isan and Lao commonly use a Khmer loan not found in Thai, khanong (ขนง, ຂະໜົງ/ຂນົງ khanông, /kʰáʔ nŏŋ/), 'doorframe', from Khmer khnâng (ខ្នង, /knɑːŋ/), which means 'building', 'foundation' or 'dorsal ridge'.
Indic languages also pushed Thai and Lao closer together, particularly Sanskrit and Pali loan words that they share. Many Sanskrit words were adopted via the Khmer language, particularly concerning Indian concepts of astrology, astronomy, ritual, science, kingship, art, music, dance and mythology. New words were historically coined from Sanskrit roots just as European languages, including English, share Greek and Latin roots used for these purposes, such as 'telephone' from Greek roots τῆλε tēle, 'distant' and φωνή phōnē which was introduced in Thai as thorasap (โทรศัพท์, /tʰoː raʔ sàp/) and spread to Isan as thorasap (โทรศัพท์, ໂທຣະສັບ/ໂທລະສັບ thôrasap, /tʰóː lāʔ sáp/) from Sanskrit dura (दूर, /d̪ura/), 'distant', and śabda (शब्द, /ʃabd̪a/), 'sound'. Indic influences also came via Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism.
The effects of Khmer and Indic vocabulary did not effect all the Tai languages of Southeast Asia equally. The Tai Dam of northern Vietnam were shielded from the influence of the Khmer language and the Indic cultural influences that came with them and remain traditionally a non-Buddhist people. Although the Tai Dam language is a Chiang Saen language, albeit with a lexicon and phonology closer to Lao, the lack of Khmer, Sanskrit and Pali loan words makes the language unintelligible to Thai and Lao speakers.
Lan Xang (1354—1707)
Taking advantage of rapid decline in the Khmer Empire, Phra Chao Fa Ngoum (Northeastern Thai: ฟ้างุ้ม /fȁː ŋum/ RTGS Fa Ngum, cf. Lao: ຟ້າງູ່ມ) defeated the Khmer and united the Tai mueang of what is now Laos and Isan into the mandala kingdom of Lan Xang in 1354. Fa Ngoum was a grandson of the ruler of Muang Xoua (RTGS Mueang Sawa), modern-day Louang Phrabang. Lan Xang was powerful enough to thwart Siamese designs from their base at Sukhothai and later Ayutthaya.
Khmer, and Sanskrit via Khmer, continued to influence the Lao language. Since Fa Ngoum was raised in the Khmer court, married to a Khmer princess and had numerous Khmer officials in his court, a now-extinct speech register known as rasasap (Northeastern Thai: ราซาศัพท์ /láː sáː sáp/, cf. Lao: ຣາຊາສັບ BGN/PCGN raxasap) was developed to address or discuss the king and high-ranking clergy. Khmer and Sanskrit also contributed many belles-lettres as well as numerous technical, academic and cultural vocabulary, thus differentiating the Lao language from the tribal Tai peoples, but pushing the language closer to Thai, which underwent a similar process. The end of the Lao monarchy in 1975 made the Lao raxasap obsolete, but as Thailand retains its monarchy, Thai rachasap is still active.
The 16th century would see the establishment of many of the hallmarks of the contemporary Lao language. Scribes abandoned the use of written Khmer or Lao written in the Khmer alphabet, adopting a simplified, cursive form of the script known as Tai Noi that with a few modifications survives as the Lao script. Lao literature was also given a major boost with the brief union of Lan Xang with Lan Na during the reign of Xay Xétthathirat (Northeastern Thai: ไซยเซษฐาธิราช /sáj sȅːt tʰăː tʰī lȃːt/, cf. Lao: ໄຊເສດຖາທິຣາດ) (1546–1551). The libraries of Chiang Mai were copied, introducing the tua tham (BGN/PCGN toua tham) or 'dharma letters' which was essentially the Mon-influenced script of Lan Na but was used in Lao specifically for religious literature. The influence of the related Tai Lan Na language was strengthened after the capitulation of Lan Na to the Burmese, leading many courtiers and people to flee to safety to Lan Xang.
Lan Xang was religiously diverse, with most of the people practising Tai folk religion albeit somewhat influenced by local Austroasiatic animism, as well as the Brahmanism and Mahayana Buddhism introduced via the Khmer and Theravada Buddhism which had been adopted and spread by the Mon people. Although Lao belief is that the era of Lan Xang began the period of Theravada Buddhism for the Lao people, it was not until the mid-sixteenth century that the religion had become the dominant religion.
The earliest and continuously used Theravada temple, Vat Vixoun was built in 1513 by King Vixounnarat (Northeastern Thai: วิชุลราช, Lao: ວິຊຸນນະຣາດ) (1500-1521). His successor, Phôthisarat (Northeastern Thai: โพธิสาลราช/โพธิสราช, Lao: ໂພທິສະຣາດ) (1520-1550), banned Tai folk religion and destroyed important animist shrines, diminished the role of the royal Brahmins and promoted Theravada Buddhism. Phôthisarat married a princess of Lan Na, increasing contact with the kingdom that had long adopted the religion via contacts with the Mon people, a process that would continue when Phôthisarat's son assumed the thrones of Lan Xang and Lan Na.
With Theravada Buddhism came its liturgical language, Pali, an Indic language derived from the Prakrit. Many Pali terms existed alongside earlier Sanskrit borrowings or were Sanskritised, leading to doublets such as Sanskrit maitri (Northeastern Thai: ไมตรี /máj tiː/, cf. Lao: ໄມຕີ/ໄມຕຣີ) and Pali metta (Northeastern Thai: เมตตา /mȇːt taː/, cf. Lao: ເມດຕາ/ເມຕຕາ), both of which signify 'loving kindness' although the Sanskrit term is more generally used for 'friendship'. The spread of Theravada Buddhism spread literacy, as monks served as teachers, teaching reading and writing as well other basic skills to village boys, and the Tai Noi script was used for personal letters, record-keeping and signage, as well as to record short stories and the klon (Northeastern Thai: กลอน /kɔːn/, cf. Lao: ກອນ BGN/PCGN kon) poetry that were often incorporated into traditional folksongs.
|/ʔáʔ nū móː tʰā náː/||อนุโมทนา
|/ʔàʔ nú moː tʰá naː/||ອະນຸໂມທະນາ
|/ʔáʔ nū móːtʰā náː/||'to share rejoicing'|
|/tɕák káʔ ɲáːn/||จักรยาน
|/tɕàk kraʔ yaːn/||ຈັກກະຍານ
|/tɕák káʔ ɲáːn/||'bicycle'|
Lan Xang literature
Lao literature was widely developed. Religious treatises and commentaries written on palm-leaf manuscripts (Northeastern Thai: ใบลาน (/baj láːn/), cf. Lao: ໃບລານ) were copied over and over, as the documents were hard to preserve in the hot and humid climate. In addition to religious treaties, many Lao folktales that were passed through song and stories were written down, many of which remain embedded in Isan culture today such as the following:
- Nithan Khoun Bourôm (นิทานขุนบูรม /nī tʰáːn bǔː lóm]/ RTGS Nithan Khun Burom, cf. Lao: ຂຸນບູຣົມ)
- Sang Sinxay (Northeastern Thai: สังข์ศิลป์ไซย) /săŋ sĭn sáj/ RTGS Sang Sinsai, cf. Lao: ສັງສິນໄຊ)
- Phra Lak Phra Ram (Northeastern Thai: พระลักษมณ์พระราม) /pʰāʔ lāk pʰāʔ láːm/, cf. Lao: ພຣະລັກພຣະຣາມ)
- Thao Houng Thao Chuang (Northeastern Thai: ท้าวฮุ่งท้าวเจือง /tʰȃːo hūŋ tʰȃːo tɕɨaːŋ/, RTGS Thao Hung Thao Chueang, cf. Lao: ທ້າວຮຸ່ງທ້າວເຈືອງ)
- Phadaeng Nang Ai (Northeastern Thai: ผาแดงนางไอ่ /pʰăː dɛ̀ːŋ náːŋ āj/, cf. Lao: ຜາແດງນາງໄອ່ BGN/PCGN Phadèng Nang Ai)
- Phagna Khankhak (พญาคันคาก /pʰā ɲáː kʰán kʰȃːk/ RTGS Phaya Khankhak, cf. Lao: ພະຍາຄັນຄາກ)
- Vétsandon Xadôk (Northeastern Thai: เวสสันดรชาดก /ʋȇːt săn dɔːn sáː dók/ RTGS Wetsandon Sadok, cf. Lao: ເວດສັນດອນຊາດົກ)
Lao Three Kingdoms period (1713—1893)
Despite the long presence of Lan Xang and Lao settlements along the riverbanks, the Khorat Plateau remained depopulated since the Post-Angkor Period and a long series of droughts during 13th—15th centuries. The Lao settlements were found only along the banks of the Mekong River and in the wetter northern areas such as Nong Bua Lamphu, Loei, Nong Khai, with most of the population inhabiting the wetter left banks. This began to change when the golden age of Lao prosperity and cultural achievements under King Sourignavôngsa (สุริยวงศา Suriyawongsa, ສຸຣິຍະວົງສາ /sú lī ɲā ʋóŋ sǎː/) (1637-1694) ended with a successional dispute, with his grandsons, with Siamese intervention, carving out their separate kingdoms in 1707. From its ashes arose the kingdoms of Louang Phrabang, Vientiane and later in 1713, the Champasak. The arid hinterlands, deforested and depopulated after a series of droughts likely led to the collapse of the Khmer Empire, was only occupied by small groups of Austroasiatic peoples and scattered outposts of Lao mueang in the far north. In 1718, Mueang Suwannaphum (สุวรรณภูมิ, ສຸວັນນະພູມ Muang Suovannaphoum, /sú ʋán nāʔ pʰúːm) in 1718 in what is now Roi Et Province, was founded as an outpost of Champasak, establishing the first major Lao presence and the beginning of expansion of Lao settlement along the Si (ซิ, ຊີ /síː/) and Mun (มูล, ມູນ) rivers.
The bulk of the Lao, however, settled after 1778 when King Taksin, Siamese king during the Thonburi Period (1767—1782) conquered Champasak and Vientiane and raided Phuan areas for slaves, seizing the Emerald Buddha and Phra Bang (although the latter was eventually returned) and forcing some of the Lao across the river to settle in Isan. Louang Phrabang was spared most of the destruction by submitting to Siamese overlordship. Although the kingdoms remained nominally autonomous, the Siamese demanded tribute and taxes, kept members of the respective royal houses as hostages to ensure loyalty and required the three Lao kings to come to the capital several times a year to hold audience with the Siamese king. When the kingdoms revolted, the Siamese armies retaliated by rounding up entire villages, tattooing them to mark them as slaves and forced to settle what is now Isan, forced to serve as soldiers or manpower in corvée projects to build roads, to grow food, build canals or serve as domestics. The greatest population transfer occurred after the Laotian Rebellion by Chao Anouvông (อนุวงศ์ Anuwong, Lao: ອານຸວົງ/ອານຸວົງສ໌, /ʔàː nū ʋóŋ/) in 1828 which led to the death of Anouvông and most of his family. The Siamese abducted nearly the entire population of Vientiane and its surrounding area and forced them to the right bank. Continued raids of people continued until the end of the nineteenth century.
In addition to forced transfers, many Lao were encouraged, with some disillusioned princes granted lofty titles in exchange for loyalty and taxation, robbing the Lao kings of taxation and wealth as well as what little nominal authority they had left. This greatly expanded the Lao population of Isan and caused assimilation of the local peoples into the mix, a process which is occurring on a smaller scale even now. Siamese intervention paradoxically strengthened the Lao character of the region as the Siamese left the Lao areas alone as long as they continued to produce rice and continued to pay tribute. Direct Siamese rule did not extend past Nakhon Ratchasima, and the Lao mueang, whether paying their tribute directly to Bangkok or the remaining Lao kings and princes, were still nominally part of the separate kingdoms. Temples built in what is now Isan still featured the Tai Noi script on its murals and although Siam would intervene in some matters, daily administration was still left to the remaining kings and various Lao princes that served as governors of the larger mueang. The end result of the population movements re-centred the Lao world to the right bank, as today, if Isan and Lao speakers are counted together, Isan speakers form 80 per cent of the Lao-speaking population.
|Dialect||Lao provinces||Thai provinces|
|Vientiane Lao||Vientiane, Vientiane Capital Prefecture, Bolikhamsai|
|Northern Lao||Luang Prabang, Sainyabuli, Oudomxay.||Loei and parts of Udon Thani and Khon Kaen.|
|Northeastern Lao/Tai Phuan||Xiangkhouang and Houaphanh.||Parts of Sakon Nakhon, Udon Thani.|
|Central Lao||Savannakhet and Khammouane.||Nong Bua Lamphu, Chaiyaphum, and parts of Nong Khai, Yasothon, Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Mukdahan and parts of Sakon Nakhon and Nong Khai.|
|Southern Lao||Champasak, Salavan, Sekong, and Attapeu.||Ubon Ratchathani, Amnat Charoen, and parts of Yasothon, Buriram, Sisaket, Surin and Nakhon Ratchasima|
|Western Lao||||Kalasin, Maha Sarakham, and Roi Et.|
In addition to the dialects of Lao, numerous closely related languages (or dialects, depending on the classification) are spoken throughout the Lao-speaking areas of Laos and Thailand, such as the Nyaw people, Phu Thai, Saek, Lao Wiang, Tai Dam, and Tai Daeng. These Tai peoples are classified by the Lao government as Lao Loum (ລາວລຸ່ມ, láo lūm) or lowland Lao. Lao and Thai are also very similar and share most of their basic vocabulary, but differences in many basic words limit mutual intelligibility.
The Lao language consists primarily of native Lao words. Because of Buddhism, however, Pali has contributed numerous terms, especially relating to religion and in conversation with members of the sangha. Due to their proximity, Lao has influenced the Khmer and Thai languages and vice versa.
Formal writing has a larger number of loanwords, especially Pali and Sanskrit, much as Latin and Greek have influenced European languages. For politeness, pronouns (and more formal pronouns) are used, plus ending statements with ແດ່ (dǣ [dɛː]) or ເດີ້ (dœ̄ [dɤ̂ː]). Negative statements are made more polite by ending with ດອກ (dǭk [dɔ᷆ːk]). The following are formal register examples.
- ຂອບໃຈຫຼາຍໆເດີ້ (khǭp chai lāi lāi dœ̄, [kʰɔ᷆ːp t͡ɕàj lǎːj lǎːj dɤ̂ː]) Thank you very much.
- ຂ້ານ້ອຍເຮັດບໍ່ໄດ້ດອກ (khānǭi het bǭ dai dǭk, [kʰa᷆ːnɔ̂ːj hēt bɔ̄ː dâj dɔ᷆ːk]) I cannot.
- ໄຂປະຕູໃຫ້ແດ່ (khai pa tū hai dǣ, [kʰǎj pa.tùː ha᷆j dɛ̄ː ]) Open the door, please.
After the division of the Lao-speaking world in 1893, French would serve as the administrative language of the French Protectorate of Laos, carved from the Lao lands of the left bank, for sixty years until 1953 when Laos achieved full independence. The close relationship of the Lao monarchy with France continued the promotion and spread of French until the end of the Laotian Civil War when the monarchy was removed and the privileged position of French began its decline. Many of the initial borrowings for terms from Western culture were imported via French, as opposed to Isan which derived them from English via Thai. For instance, Isan speakers use sentimet (Northeastern Thai: เซนติเมตร /sén tìː mēːt/) in approximation of English 'centimetre' (/sɛn tɪ miː tə/) whereas Lao uses xangtimèt (Lao: ຊັງຕີແມດ /sáŋ tìː mɛ́ːt/) in approximation of French centimètre (/sɑ̃ ti mɛtʀ/). Lao people also tend to use French forms of geographic place names, thus the Republic of Guinea is kini (Northeastern Thai: /กินี/ /kí níː/) via Thai based on English 'Guinea' (/gi niː/) as opposed to kiné (Lao: /ກີເນ/ /kìː néː/) from French Guinée (/gi ne/).
Although English has mostly surpassed French as the preferred foreign language of international diplomacy and higher education since the country began opening up to foreign investment in the 1990s, the position of French is stronger in Laos than Cambodia and Vietnam. Since 1972, Laos has been associated with La Francophonie, achieving full-member status in 1992. Many of the royalists and high-ranking families of Laos left Laos in the wake of the end of the Laotian Civil War for France, but as of 2010, it was estimated that 173,800 people, or three per cent of the population, were fluent in French and French is studied by 35% of the population as a second language as a required subject and many courses in engineering, medicine, law, administration and other advanced studies are only available in French.
Laos maintains the French-language weekly Le Rénovateur, but French-language content is sometimes seen alongside English in publications in older issues of Khaosane Phathét Lao News and sporadically on television ad radio. French still appears on signage, is the language of major civil engineering projects and is the language of the élite, especially the older generations that received secondary and tertiary education in French-medium schools or studied in France. France maintains a large Lao diaspora and some of the very well-to-do still send their children to France for study. The result of this long-standing French influence is the use of hundreds of loan words of French origin in the Lao language of Laos—although many are old-fashioned and somewhat obsolete or co-exist alongside more predominate native usages.
|/kàː lāʔ ʋāt/||cravate||/kʀa vat/||'necktie'|
|/hóːŋ pʰȃːp pʰāʔ ɲón/||โรงภาพยนตร์
|/roːŋ pʰȃːp pʰaʔ jon/||ໂຮງຊີເນມາ
|/hóːŋ sīʔ nɛ´ː máː/||cinéma||/si ne ma/||ໂຮງຫນັງ
|'cinema', 'movie theater' (US)|
|/pʰōt tɕáʔ náː nū kom/||พจนานุกรม
|/pʰót tɕàʔ naː nú krom/||ດີຊອນແນ/ດີຊອນແນຣ໌
|/diː sɔ́ːn nɛ́ː/||dictionnaire||/dik sjɔ˜ nɛʀ/||ພົດຈະນານຸກົມ
|/ʔɛ̏ːp fīʔ kaː/||แอฟริกา
|/ʔɛ`ː fríʔ kaː/||ອາຟິກ/ອາຟຣິກ
|/aː fīk/-/aː frīk/||Afrique||/a fʀik/||ອາຟິກາ/ອາຟຣິກາ
|/mȁːk ʔɛ̏ːp pɤˆːn/||ผลแอปเปิล
|/pʰŏn ʔɛ`ːp pɤːn/||ຫມາກປົ່ມ/ໝາກປົ່ມ
khon song praisani
|/kʰón sōŋ pàj sáʔ níː/||คนส่งไปรษณีย์
khon song praisani
|/kʰon sòŋ praj sàʔ niː/||ຟັກເຕີ/ຟັກເຕີຣ໌
|/fāk təː/||facteur||/fak tœʀ/||ຄົນສົ່ງໜັງສື
khôn song nangsue
|'postman', 'mailman' (US)|
|/paː baː lɛ́ːn/||baleine||/ba lɛn/||'whale'|
|/síː míː/||chimie||/ʃi mi/||ເຄມີ
|/bìː yàː/||billard||/bi jaʀ/||ບິລລຽດ
|/tʰāʔ náː nāt/||ธนานัติ
|/tʰaʔ naː nát/||ມັງດາ
|/máŋ daː/||mandat||/mɑ̃ dɑ/||ທະນານັດ
Because of the depopulation of the left bank to Siam prior to French colonisation, the French who were already active in Vietnam brought Vietnamese to boost the population of the cities and help administer the region. Many Lao that received a French-language education during the period of French Indochina were educated in French-language schools in Vietnam, exposing them to French and Vietnamese languages and cultures. As the Vietnamese communists supported the Pathét Lao forces, supplying Lao communist militia with weaponry and training during the two-decade long Laotian Civil War, large numbers of Vietnamese troops have been stationed at various times in Laos' post-independence history, although the Vietnamese military presence began to wane in the late 1980s as Laos pursued closer relations with its other neighbours and entered the market economy.
|'Chinese-style noodle soup'|
|'to abstain', 'to refrain'|
|/ʔìː kɛ̂ː/||ê-ke||/e kɛ/||ສາກ
|'carpenter's square', 'T-square'|
|'to work', 'to labour'|
- The glottal stop appears at the end when no final follows a short vowel.
Lao has six lexical tones.
There are six phonemic tones in unchecked syllables, that is, in syllables ending in a vowel or other sonorant sound ([m], [n], [ŋ], [w], and [j]).
|Name||Diacritic on ⟨e⟩||Tone letter||Example||Gloss|
|Rising||ě||˨˦ or ˨˩˦||/kʰǎː/
|galangal, value resp.|
Lao syllables are of the form (C)V(C), i.e., they consist of a vowel in the syllable nucleus, optionally preceded by a single consonant in the syllable onset and optionally followed by single consonant in the syllable coda. The only consonant clusters allowed are syllable initial clusters /kw/ or /kʰw/. Any consonant may appear in the onset, but the labialized consonants do not occur before rounded vowels.
One difference between Thai and Lao is that in Lao initial clusters are simplified. For example, the official name of Laos is Romanized as Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao, with the Thai analogue being Satharanarat Prachathipatai Prachachon Lao (สาธารณรัฐประชาธิปไตยประชาชนลาว), indicating the simplification of Thai pr to Lao p.
Only /p t k ʔ m n ŋ w j/ may appear in the coda. If the vowel in the nucleus is short, it must be followed by a consonant in the coda; /ʔ/ in the coda can be preceded only by a short vowel. Open syllables (i.e., those with no coda consonant) and syllables ending in one of the sonorants /m n ŋ w j/ take one of the six tones, syllables ending in /p t k/ take one of four tones, and syllables ending in /ʔ/ take one of only two tones.
The majority of Lao words are monosyllabic, and are not inflected to reflect declension or verbal tense, making Lao an analytic language. Special particle words serve the purpose of prepositions and verb tenses in lieu of conjugations and declensions. Lao is a subject–verb–object (SVO) language, although the subject is often dropped. In contrast to Thai, Lao uses pronouns more frequently.
The Lao script, derived from the Khmer alphabet of the Khmer Empire in the 14th century, is ultimately rooted in the Pallava script of South India, one of the Brahmi scripts. Although the Lao script bears resemblance to Thai, the former contains fewer letters than Thai because by 1960 it was simplified to be fairly phonemic, whereas Thai maintains many etymological spellings that are pronounced the same.
The script is traditionally classified as an abugida, but Lao consonant letters are conceived of as simply representing the consonant sound, rather than a syllable with an inherent vowel. Vowels are written as diacritic marks and can be placed above, below, in front of, or behind consonants. The script also contains distinct symbols for numerals, although Arabic numerals are more commonly used.
Lao is traditionally not written with spaces between words, although signs of change are multiplying. Spaces are reserved for ends of clauses or sentences. Periods are not used, and questions can be determined by question words in a sentence. Traditional punctuation marks include ໌, an obsolete mark indicating silenced consonants; ໆ, used to indicate repetition of the preceding word; ຯ, the Lao ellipsis that is also used to indicate omission of words; ฯ, a more or less obsolete symbol indicating shortened form of a phrase (such as royal names); and ฯລฯ, used to indicate et cetera.
In more contemporary writing, punctuation marks are borrowed from French, such as exclamation point !, question mark ?, parentheses (), and «» for quotation marks, although "" is also common. Hyphens (-) and the ellipsis (...) are also commonly found in modern writing.
Indication of tones
Experts disagree on the number and nature of tones in the various dialects of Lao. According to some, most dialects of Lao and Isan have six tones, those of Luang Prabang have five. Tones are determined as follows:
|Tones||Long vowel, or vowel plus voiced consonant||Long vowel plus unvoiced consonant||Short vowel, or short vowel plus unvoiced consonant||Mai ek (ອ່)||Mai tho (ອ້)|
|High consonants||rising||low falling||high||mid||low falling|
|Mid consonants||low rising||low falling||high||mid||high falling|
|Low consonants||high||high falling||mid||mid||high falling|
A silent ຫ (/h/) placed before certain consonants will produce place the other proceeding consonant in the high class. This can occur before the letters ງ /ŋ/, ຍ /ɲ/, ຣ /r/, and ວ /w/ and combined in special ligatures (considered separate letters) such as ຫຼ /l/, ໜ /n/, and ໝ /m/. In addition to ອ່ (low tone) and ອ້ (falling tone), there also exists the rare ອ໊ (high) ອ໋ (rising) tone marks.
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- Southern Lao gives way to Northern Khmer in Sisaket, Surin, and Buriram, and to Khorat Thai and, to some extent, Northern Khmer in Nakhon Ratchasima.
- The Western Lao dialect is not spoken in Laos.
เรืองเดช ปันเขื่อนขัติย์. (2531)
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- Itself a loan word from French équerre
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|Lao edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
|Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Lao.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lao language.|
- Lao Language and Culture website
- Google Translate
- The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in Laotian
- Language Translators: English to Lao
- Lao Software
- Unicode: Lao
- Omniglot: Lao script
- AbcdLaos Lao Language in Spanish
- USA Foreign Service Institute Lao basic course
- Lao True Type Fonts
- Lao offline dictionaries