Monday, July 14, 2014

Language Profile: Lao

This week we're taking a look at Lao, the official language of Laos. Also known as Laotian, the language is a member of the Tai-Kadai language family. It is closely related to Thai, the official language of neighboring Thailand. Some dialects of Lao are also widely spoken in Thailand, where they are generally called the Isan language instead of Lao.

Buddha Park near Vientiane, the capital of Laos
Lao has several interesting linguistic characteristics. Like the Thai language, Lao is a tonal language. It is also an analytic language, meaning it doesn't use suffixes or prefixes to show verb tense or other grammatical information. It is written using the Lao script, an abugida created sometime in the 14th century.

The lexicon of Lao is primarily composed of words that originated in the language itself. However, due to the prominence of Buddhism in the region, it does contain several terms from Pali, a dead language that was used in many early Buddhist scriptures.

The language has also been influenced by other languages used in the region including Thai and Khmer, and naturally has also influenced them in return. Lao also uses different registers depending on the formality of situations. Formal Lao tends to use more loanwords from Pali and Sanskrit, and also uses special pronouns and ending statements in order to indicate the formal register.