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Laos Language

After the unification of the Lao principalities (meuang) in the 14th century, the Lan Xang monarchs commissioned their scholars to create a new script to write the Lao language. The scholars probably modelled the alphabet on the the Old Khmer script, which was itself based on Mon scripts.

Lao alphabet   Lao

Origin

After the unification of the Lao principalities (meuang) in the 14th century, the Lan Xang monarchs commissioned their scholars to create a new script to write the Lao language. The scholars probably modelled the alphabet on the the Old Khmer script, which was itself based on Mon scripts.

Notable features

  • Syllables are based around consonants. Vowels are indicated with diacritics which can appear above, below or around the consonant letters. When they occur on their own or at the beginning of a word, vowels are attached to the glottal stop symbol (the final letter in the third row of consonants).
  • Lao is a tonal language with 6 tones. The tone of a syllable is determined by a combination of the class of consonant, the type of syllable (open or closed), the tone marker and the length of the vowel.
  • For some consonants there are multiple letters. Originally they represented separate sounds, but over the years the distinction between those sounds was lost and the letters were used instead to indicate tones. Various offical reforms of the Lao script have reduced the number of duplicate consonants.
  • There are no spaces between words, instead spaces in a Lao text indicate the end of a clause or sentence.
  • Written Lao is based on the dialect of the Lao capital, Vientiene.
  • 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. In Thailand, the Royal Thai General Transcription is used.

Used to write

Lao, a Tai-Kadai language spoken by approximately 15 million people in Laos and Thailand. It is closely related to Thai and speakers of Lao are able to understand spoken Thai without too many difficulties. Thai speakers find it more difficult to understand Lao due to lack of exposure to the language.

The language family is also known as Kradai, Kra-Dai, Daic or Kadai.

Lao alphabet

Consonants

Consonants are divided into three classes which help to determine the tone of a syllable (indicated by the numbers below). The sounds represented by some consonants change when they are used at the end of a syllable (indicated by the letters on the right of the slash below). The consonants can all be used at the beginning of a syllable but only some can be used at the end of a syllable.

Lao Consonants

The consonants in the final row are compounds and conjuncts used as alternatives to the basic consonants.

Vowel diacritics (with k)

Lao vowel diacritics

Numerals

Lao Numerals

Tone indication

  Open syllables Closed syllables *
  unmarked tone marker tone marker short vowel long vowel
Class 1 low mid high falling high low falling
Class 2 low rising mid low falling high low falling
Class 3 high mid high falling mid high falling

* Closed syllables are those ending with p, t or k

Sample text

Sample text in Lao (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Transliteration
Manut thuk kh?n k??t m?m?k?at s?k s?, sitthi, s?l? ph?p l? khw?m sm?? ph?p tha?w th?am k?n. Thuk thuk kh?n m?h?t ph?n l? khw?mkhit khw?m hian swa?n t?w kh???? phai kh??? m?n, t???v?? manut thuk thuk kh?n khwan paph?t ta?? k?n kh?? k?n k?p pian??y n???? k?n.

Translation

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

 
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