Lao is the language of the country, Laos, a neighbour to Thailand. There are about 25 million native speakers of Lao language, mainly living in Laos and Isan. It is also recognised as a minority language in Thailand and Cambodia.
Lao and Thai languages are very similar to each other. In fact, the two languages are linguistically similar, though their writing script varies a bit. Thai is the native language of Thailand and is spoken in minority in Cambodia.
The two languages, Lao and Thai depict many similarities mainly because both belong to the Tai-Kadai language family. Thailand and Laos share border, and because of international trade between the two nations, there has been a lot of language exchange since ages. Another notable factor for similarities between Lao and Thai language is that the Lao media is not well developed and is mostly influenced by the Thai media. Hence, the people in Laos are very familiar with the Thai language.
What is Tai Language
The Tai language, also known as Zhuang-Tai is a branch of Tai-kadai language family. The Tai languages include languages like Thai or Siamese(Thailand), Lao (Laos), Shan (Myanmar), and Zhuang (Guangxi). The Tai language is mainly spoken in Southern China and Southeast Asia.
The Zhuang and Thai people are originally the Vietnamese. The two regions and even their languages splitted after the foundation of Jiaozhi in Vietnam in 112 BCE. Further, the Southwestern Thai splitted into Lao and other regional languages, and that is why we see so many similarities between the Thai and Laos language.
A brief history of Isan
If you see, there is yet another language similar to Thai and Lao- the Isan language. It is spoken in the Isan region of the Thailand, which comprises of 20 Thai provinces. The language spoken in this region of Thailand is Isan, which is basically a dialect of the Lao language but written using Thai alphabets.
The Isan region is influenced by the Lao and Thai languages because during 17th to 19th century, Thailand forced transferred the population from the banks of the Mekong river in this area. This later resulted in Lao rebel and hence the formation of independent Laos nation.
How are Lao and Thai different?
Lao and Thai languages, although look similar, have certain differences.
Difference between Lao and Thai in terms of vocabulary
About 70 percent of the vocabulary is common in Lao and Thai. One of the reason for this similarity is that many words in these languages are taken from Sanskrit and Pali. However, the pronouns, negatives, and wh- question words are different in these two languages. In fact, some words in Lao may be same as Thai, but are used for different purposes.
For example, heuan in Lao means house. It means ‘house’ in Thai as well, but this word is not used in Thai language.
Difference between Lao and Thai in terms of grammar
The grammar of the two languages are mostly identical. They have same comparatives, tenses, cases, and conjugations. But, as mentioned above, the pronouns might slightly differ.
Thai has more consonants than Lao. For example, there are four letters sounding ‘s’ in Thai and only 2 in Lao.
Difference between Lao and Thai in terms of sentence structure
The sentence structure in Thai and Lao language are almost same, except for the formation of negative sentences.
For example, In Thai, the question “You’re not going?” is Mai pai reuh?. In Lao, it is Baw pai baw?. Baw in Lao is the equivalent of mai in Thai.
An observed difference between the two languages is that Thai people convey the sentences with politeness by using politeness markers, while Laos don’t.
For example, in Thailand, men use ครับ [Khrạb] at the end, while women use ค่ะ [kh̀a] in narrative sentences and คะ [kha] in interrogative sentences.
Difference between Lao and Thai in terms of pronunciation
The tones of the two languages vary throughout, but follow the same system. The “ny” sound in Lao is not present in Thai. For example, the word- “not yet” is pronounced as nyang in Lao and yang in Thai. Similarly, the word “woman” is pronounced as phoon ying in Lao and phoo ying in Thai.
Difference between Lao and Thai in terms of writing
The two languages have similar alphabets and you can even find most of the letters same.
Their writing style is writing from left to right with no spaces between words. The Thai writing style is closer to Sanskrit. Lao was revised to write phonetically so that even non Lao-ethnic people could read and understand it easily. Many extra consonants are eliminated in Lao and spelling rules are made simpler.
In short, a person who knows Thai language can learn Lao only in a few hours. But, a Laos native will need to learn 20 more odd consonants and some complicated spelling rules of Thai language.
Lao Language Take Aways
Thailand being more culturally developed and successful nation than Laos, people predicted that Lao language will disappear and taken over by Thai. But this isn’t true. In fact, China has more economic influence on Laos than Thailand. Lao language still has a strong hold over its people and will remain because-
- The Lao government forbids the use of Thai language in media and education.
- Administration distributes newspapers, books, television, and radio programs in Lao throughout the country.
- Lao language has been revised and made easy for people to pick up the language fast.
Hence, we can say that although Lao and Thai languages share many similarities, they have their own distinct features.
Check out these articles to up your language learning game: