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An Introduction to the Lao Language

August 31, 2023 - 3930 views

Lao is the main language of Laos. Lao (or Laotian) belongs to the Tai language family which also includes Thai, Shan, and languages spoken by smaller, related ethnic groups in Laos, Thailand, Burma, southern China, and northern Vietnam. 

Lao is the main language of Laos. Lao (or Laotian) belongs to the Tai language family which also includes Thai, Shan, and languages spoken by smaller, related ethnic groups in Laos, Thailand, Burma, southern China, and northern Vietnam. The languages in the Tai family all share a common grammar and tone structure.

Lao is the primary language of the Lao people and is also spoken in the northeast of Thailand, where it is referred to as the Isan language.

As most ethnic groups in Laos have their own dialects, Lao is an important second language for them as a central language to communicate with outsiders. There are variations in vocabulary, pronunciation, and accent throughout the country.

Some common sentence in Laos language

Some common sentence in the Laos language

The Lao language has many regional dialects in both Laos and Northeastern Thailand. Laos hasn't named one dialect of Lao as the official language of the country; however, the Vientiane dialect is becoming the unofficial national language.

Lao is a tonal language with six tones in the Vientiane dialect: low, mid, high, rising, high falling, and low falling. The tone of a syllable is determined by a combination of the class of consonants, the type of syllable, the tone marker, and the length of the vowel. Meanings are dependent on the tone, so try not to inflect your sentences.

Lao is a concise language. Prefixes and combinations of basic words are used to make more complex meanings. The sentence structure is also quite simple and "grammar" refers mostly to word order.

The script used to write Lao has the same Brahmic base as Thai and Khmer, and Thai readers will be able to figure out most of it. The Lao writing system evolved from Sanskrit. It was first taken by the Khmers during the time of the Angkor Empire then adapted by the Laotians, Northern Thais, and Central Thais into individual though similar alphabets. These alphabets are composed of letters with their own sounds and are read from left to right like English. There are 30 consonants, 15 vowel symbols plus 4 tone marks to learn, and the Lao also share the Thai aversion to spaces between words.

Lao Alphabet

Lao Alphabet

Most of the basic words of Lao have only one syllable. Multi-syllable words are generally higher level and used in religion, academics, and government. They were taken mainly from Sanskrit, the classical language of India, and are often the same as or similar to high-level vocabulary in Thai.

There are no spaces between words; instead spaces in a Lao text indicate the end of a clause or sentence.

There is no official Latin transliteration system for Lao. In Laos, French-based systems are used and there is considerable variation in spelling, particularly of vowels.

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