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The official language of Laos is Lao, which belongs to the Thai subgroup of the Sino-Tibetan language family.

Lao is divided into five major dialects, Northern Lao, Northeastern Lao, Central Lao and Southern Lao.

High Lao is the language of the ethnic Lao and, as a result, many minority people are not fluent in Lao and only speak and understand their own dialect. The Lao education system is currently unable to overcome this situation and teaches a mixture of the five major dialects.

Lao originated from Thai. It was only during the Lane Xang dynasty, from 1353 onwards, that a written language was introduced, based on a Thai alphabet and with clear Khmer and Indian influences.

English and French are still widely used, especially as a trade language. However, many older people still speak and understand French, and it is therefore the second official language. Many Laotians were trained in Russia or by Russians and therefore still speak Russian.

After the Communist Pathet Lao took over power in 1975, the spelling of Lao was normalised and greatly simplified. Words from foreign languages were also removed.

Important for understanding Lao is the sound and pitch with which a certain word is pronounced. As a typical tonal language, Lao has six pitches.

In addition, sound bending is important, i.e. the same sound going from low to high has a different meaning than a sound going from high to low.

Some Lao words and expressions


Boon, H. / Laos : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur, milieu
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen

Cummings, J. / Laos
Lonely Planet

Te gast in Laos & Cambodja
Informatie Verre Reizen

Waard, P. de / Laos

Zickgraf, R. / Laos
Chelsea House Publishers

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated March 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info