Lao: ດີໃຈທີ່ຮູ້ກັບເຈົ້າ

Note: To view this page, you will need to install Lao fonts. Visit the Lao Script Web site to download.

Well hello there, Lao. To what do we owe this pleasure, on Valentine’s Day, nonetheless?

Lao is a member of the Kradai language family and is closely related to Thai, spoken by over 15 million speakers. Lao, like Thai, is also a tonal language. The is the penultimate language on the blog:

1. Romanian
2. Macedonian
3. Spanish
4. Vietnamese
5. Norwegian
6. Bulgarian
7. Slovenian
8. Malagasy
9. Japanese
10. Moldavian
11. Hindi
12. Finnish
13. Azeri
14. Arabic
15. Czech
16. Albanian
17. Cambodian
18. Serbian
19. Chinese
20. Xhosa
21. Portuguese
22. Armenian
23. Korean
24. Croatian
25. Afrikaans
26. Greek
27. Swedish
28. French
29. Thai
30. Turkish
31. Dutch
32. Hebrew
33. Danish
34. Filipino
35. Polish

36. Lao

37. Catalan

REGIONAL HISTORY:
The 14th century seems to be recognized as the period when the Lao kingdom was established, beginning with the rule of Fa Ngum in 1353. Ngum expanded the kingdom, known as Lan Xang, which covered Laos and parts of modern-day Thailand. During this time, the Lao script was also developed, which was based of Khmer’s.  In 1560, King Setthathirath erected the That Luang Stupa, the famous landmark known as the symbol of Laos. Buddhism also became the primary religion and in the following century the country saw a golden age.

Like Cambodia, Laos was caught in the middle of power struggles between Siam (Thailand) and Vietnam. In 1713, the kingdom was split up due to internal struggles of feudal lords and ruling powers. Eventually the Siamese went to war with the Lao kingdom and won, gaining control of the area. This lasted until the 1800s, when Laos became a protectorate of France.

France held control until WWII, when Japan invaded in 1945. However, Japanese occupation was brief and Laos declared independence in 1945, but it wasn’t recognized by the French until 1949. In the later half of the 20th century, the country went from being a monarchy to a socialist state. Since joining ASEAN in 1997, the Laotian economy has transcended into a free market, with the country’s tourism industry booming.

WRITING SYSTEM: Lao, like Thai, uses an abugida, or a writing system with only consonants and optional vowels. The consonants are divided into three classes, which determine the type of tones to use.

Sounds behind the slash are how the consonant sounds if it’s the final one in a word:

CLASS 1
ກ – k as in kite
ຈ – ch as in chip / t as in tea
ດ – d as in dog / t as in tea
ຕ – t as in tea
ບ – b  as in boy / p as in pick
ປ – p as in pick
ອ – silent (indicates a vowel); also used for vowels

CLASS 2
ຂ – k as in kite, but aspirated
ສ – s as in see
ຖ – t as in tea, but aspirated / t as in tea
ຜ – p as in pick, but aspirated / p as in pick
ຢ – y as in yellow
ຫ – h as in hi

CLASS 3
ຄ –  as in kite, but aspirated / k as in kite
ງ – ng as in sing
ຊ – s as in see
ຍ – ni as in onion / y as in yellow
ທ – t as in tea, but aspirated / t as in teas
ນ – n as in new
ຝ – f as in fee
ພ – p as in pick, but aspirated / p as in pick
ຟ – f as in fee
ມ – m as in mom
ຣ – r sound (not in standard alphabet, replaced with ລ) / n as in new
ລ – l as in lay / n as in new
ວ – w as in way
ຮ – h as in hi / n as in new

Vowels are added as diacritics. Here are some examples, using the  letter ກ (k). The vowel sound is in brackets and how it sounds comes after the slash. Please refer to Omniglot for a complete example.

ກະ – k[a] / a as in father
ກາ – k[a] (long)
ກິ – k[i] / e as in see
ກີ – k[i] (long)
ກຶ – k[u] / uh as in huh
ກື – k[u] (long)
ກຸ – k[u]  / oo as in moo
ກູ – k[u] (long)
ເກະ – k[e] / e as in bet
ເກ – k[e] (long)
ແກະ – k[ae]
ແກ – k[ae] (long) / a as in ash
ໂກະ – k[o] / o as in gp
ໂກ – k[o] (long)
ເກາະ – k[o] / o as in pot
ກໍ – k[o] (long)
ເກິະ – k[o] / a rough o sound (no similarities in English)
ເກີະ – k[o] (long)
ເກົາ – k[aw] / aw as in thaw
ກໍາ – k[am] / am as in Siam

Now to tones. Lao has low rising, high, low falling, high falling and mid tones. There are several ways to determine how a word gets a tone.

1) By consonant class, as noted above.

2) If the final syllable is an open one (ending with m, n, ng) or a closed one (ending in p, t, k). If the syllable is closed, the tone depends on if it’s a short or long vowel.

3) If the final syllable is unmarked or has  a   ່ (marker 1) or    ້ (marker 2) above it. The   ່ makes a mid tone, while the   ້  makes a high falling tone with classes 1 and 3 and low falling with class 2.

Here’s a breakdown:

CLASS ONE:
unmarked, open syllable: low
marker 1, open syllable: mid
marker 2, open syllable: high falling
closed syllable, short vowel: high
closed syllable, long vowel: low falling

CLASS TWO:
unmarked, open syllable: low rising
marker 1, open syllable: mid
marker 2, open syllable: low falling
closed syllable, short vowel: high
closed syllable, long vowel: low falling

CLASS THREE:
unmarked, open syllable: high
marker 1, open syllable: mid
marker 2, open syllable: high falling
closed syllable, short vowel: mid
closed syllable, long vowel: high falling

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Lao looks and sounds almost exactly like Thai, so we have the same issues: it sounds monosyllabic, there are a lot of tones to memorize and the writing system is hard as hell. Despite this, Lao orthography is considered easier because words are written more concisely and the system is more phonetic. The writing system seems to be the toughest thing to tackle.

I leave you with this song — I really like it!

SOURCES USED IN THIS POST:
Ishida: Lao Script Notes
Omniglot
Thai Language / Lao Language
Visit Mekong – A Brief History of Laos
Wikipedia (Laos, Lao Alphabet)
World 66: History in Laos

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