Lao is a Tai-Kadai language spoken mainly in Laos, and also in Cambodia and Vietnam. In 2015 there were about 3.4 million native speakers of Lao in Laos, and another 800,000 people spoke it as a second language. In 2009 there were about 18,500 Lao speakers in northwest Cambodia, and there were 14,900 speakers in Vietnam.
Lao 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.
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.
The transcription system used here is one used by the British Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (BGN/PCGN).
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.
The consonants in the final row are compounds and conjuncts used as alternatives to the basic consonants.
How to write and pronounce Lao letters
How to write and pronounce Lao numbers
|Open syllables||Closed syllables *|
|unmarked||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
Manut thuk khôn kœ̄t māmīkẏat sâk sī, sitthi, sēlī phôp læ khwôm smœ̄ phôp thàw thẏam kân. Thuk thuk khôn mīhēt phôn læ khwômkhit khwôm hian swàn tôw khɔ̄̄ṅ phai khɔ̄ṅ mân, tǣ̀vồ manut thuk thuk khôn khwan paphʉt tàṁ kân khʉ̄ kân kâp pianốy nɔ̄́ṅ kân.
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)
Information about Laos and the Laotian language
Online Lao lessons
Online Lao news and radio
Ahom, Aima, Badagu, Badlit, Balinese, Balti-A, Balti-B, Batak, Baybayin, Bengali, Bhaiksuki, Bhujimol, Bilang-bilang, Bima, Blackfoot, Brahmi, Buhid, Burmese, Carrier, Chakma, Cham, Cree, Dehong Dai, Devanagari, Dham Lipi, Dhankari / Sirmauri, Ditema, Dives Akuru, Dogra, Ethiopic, Evēla Akuru, Fraser, Gond, Goykanadi, Grantha, Gujarati, Gunjala Gondi, Gupta, Gurmukhi, Halbi Lipi, Hanifi, Hanuno'o, Ibalnan, Inuktitut, Jaunsari Takri, Javanese, Kaithi, Kadamba, Kamarupi, Kannada, Kawi, Kerinci, Kharosthi, Khema, Khe Prih, Khmer, Khojki, Khudabadi, Kirat Rai, Kōchi, Kulitan, Kurukh Banna, Lampung, Lanna, Lao, Lepcha, Limbu, Lontara/Makasar, Lota Ende, Magar Akkha, Mahajani, Malayalam, Manpuri, Meroïtic, Masarm Gondi, Modi, Mon, Mongolian Horizontal Square Script, Multani, Nandinagari, Newa, Ojibwe, Odia, Pahawh Hmong, Pallava, Phags-pa, Purva Licchavi, Qiang / Rma, Ranjana, Rejang (Kaganga), Sasak, Savara, Satera Jontal, Shan, Sharda, Siddham, Sinhala, Sorang Sompeng, Sourashtra, Soyombo, Sukhothai, Sundanese, Syloti Nagri, Tagbanwa, Takri, Tamil, Tanchangya (Ka-Pat), Tani, Thaana, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Tigalari, Tikamuli, Tocharian, Tolong Siki, Vatteluttu, Warang Citi
Page last modified: 10.08.21
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