Lao script

Updated Sun 21 Oct 2014 • tags lao, scriptnotes

This page provides basic information about the Lao script. It is not authoritative, peer-reviewed information – these are just notes I have gathered or copied from various places as i learned. For similar information related to other scripts, see the Script comparison table.

Click on the orange text in the features list (right column) to jump to notes and examples. Click on red text examples or highlight part of the sample text to see a list of characters. Click on the vertical blue bar (bottom right) to change font settings for the sample text.

For more details see: Character notes Script links

Sample (Lao)

ມາດຕາ 1: ມະນຸດເກີດມາມີສິດເສລີພາບ ແລະ ສະເໝີໜ້າກັນໃນທາງກຽດຕິສັກ ແລະ ທາງສິດດ້ວຍມະນຸດມີສະຕິສຳປັດຊັນຍະ(ຮູ້ດີຮູ້ຊົ່ວ)ແລະມີມະໂນທຳຈື່ງຕ້ອງປະພຶດຕົນຕໍ່ກັນໃນທາງພີ່ນ້ອງ.

ມາດຕາ 2: ຂໍ້ 1.ຄົນຜູ້ໃດກໍ່ອ້າງຕົນໄດ້ວ່າ:ມີສິດ ແລະ ເສລີພາບທຸກຢ່າງທີ່ໄດ້ປ່າວຮ້ອງຢູ່ໃນປະກາດສະບັບນີ້ໂດຍບໍ່ເລືອກໜ້າ ບໍ່ຈຳກັດເຊື້ອຊາດ,ຜິວເນື້ອ,ເພດ,ສາສະໜາ ຄວາມຄິດເຫັນໃນດ້ານການເມືອງ ຫຼື ອື່ນໆ ກຳເນີດແຫ່ງຊາດຫຼື ສັງຄົມຖານະການມີຊັບສົມບັດມາກ ຫຼື ນ້ອຍ,ມີຕະກຸນ ຫຼື ຖານະອື່ນໆ. ຂໍ້ 2.ອີກປະການໜື່ງ ຈະບໍ່ຈຳກັດຢ່າງໃດໃນການແຕກຕ່າງກັນອັນເນື່ອງມາຈາກລະບຽບການເມືອງການປົກຄອງ ຫຼື ລະຫວ່າງຊາດຂອງປະເທດ ຫຼື ດິນແດນ ຊື່ງບຸກຄົນຜູ້ໃດຜູ້ໜື່ງສັງກັດຢູ່;ດິນແດນນັ້ນຈຳເປັນເອກະລາດຢູ່ໃນຄວາມອາລັກຂາຂອງມະຫາອຳນາດ ຫຼື ບໍ່ມີອິດສະຫຼະ ຫຼື ຖືກລົດອະທິປະໄຕລົງໂດຍຈຳກັດກໍ່ຕາມ.

Key features

Lao is an alphabet. This means that it is phonetic in nature, where each letter represents a basic sound.

The script was originally an abugida, but since the script reforms leading up to 1960 it has been alphabetic. The syllable is the unit for various aspects of the behaviour of the script. Lao is a tonal language, and the script is designed to reflect tonal information.

The alphabet is split into vowels and consonants. The consonants are grouped into classes that affect the default tonal behaviour of a syllable. There are no independent vowels. Where there is no consonant to support a vowel sign, the character [U+0EAD LAO LETTER O] is used as a support. Vowel signs are typically used in combinations to form the vowel sounds of a syllable.

Words are not separated by spaces. Text runs horizontally, left to right.

For more information see ScriptSource, Wikipedia, Omniglot, and the Unicode Standard.


Tone values

The tone depends on the class of the initial consonant in a syllable, the structure of the syllable, and whether or not a tone mark is applied to override the default. Tone values vary depending on location in Laos. There is some disagreement whether there are 5 or 6 tones in Vientiane, and you will see in the tables below that different sources disagree on the tones produced.

The following tables present different descriptions of tone values in Lao for the Vientiane dialect. The first and third tables basically agree on the tone value, although the names of tones vary. The middle table shows some different tone values altogether. See a list of studies for Vientiane tones.

This diagram shows 5 tones with names corresponding to a mixture of the first two tables below.

Diagrams of tone vectors.

Tone marks are normally used only on open syllables, and modify the default tone value. Two of the four tone marks are only used with Class 1 consonants. Tone marks tend to be placed directly over the consonant (or superscript vowel), unlike Thai which tends to place them slightly to the right.

Open or live syllables are those that end with a long vowel or sonorant (eg. ງນມຍວ). Closed or dead syllables end with a stop consonant (eg. ກດບ) or short vowel.

  Open Closed
short vowel
long vowel
mai eːk
mai toː
mai tiː
mai cat-ta-waː
Class 1 low ˊ high ˆ low falling ˉ mid ˋ high falling ˋ high falling ˇ low rising
Class 2 ˇ low rising ˊ high ˆ low falling ˉ mid ˆ low falling - -
Class3 ˊ high ˉ mid ˋ high falling ˉ mid ˋ high falling - -

Refs: Daniels

  Live Dead
short vowel
long vowel
mai eːk
mai toː
mai tiː
mai cat-ta-waː
Class 1 ˋ low ˇ rising ˇ rising mid ˆ falling ˊ high ˇ rising
Class 2 ˇ rising ˇ rising ˋ low mid ˋ low - -
Class3 ˊ high mid ˆ falling mid ˆ falling - -

Refs: Simmala

  Live Dead
short vowel
long vowel
mai eːk
mai toː
mai tiː
mai cat-ta-waː
Class 1 low rising high rising low falling high-mid high falling    
Class 2 low rising high rising low falling high-mid low falling    
Class3 high rising high-mid high falling high-mid high falling    

Refs: SEAlang

The Simmala chart seems suspect to me, since they say in the text that the rising tone doesn't occur in dead syllables, and the book has examples of dead syllables with long vowels with a low tone.


The character [U+0EAB LAO LETTER HO SUNG] can be added before the following characters to make their default tonal behaviour Class 2: ງນມລວຍຽ. This constitutes a syllable initial compound.

There are alternate forms for some of these compounds. Two can be represented as ligatures, for which there are separate characters in Unicode: [U+0EDC LAO HO NO] and [U+0EDD LAO HO MO]. Another can be represented by converting the second consonant to a subscript (ຫຼ), also available as a separate character in Unicode.

In a consonant cluster any tone marks or superscript vowels appear over the second consonant.

Refs: Daniels 462; Unicode 378


Vowels can be grouped into short and long alternatives, diphthongs, and 'complex vowels' that end in j, w or in one case m .

The number of vowel sounds is greater than the number of vowel signs. Many vowel sounds are represented by a combination of 2 to 4 symbols, often surrounding the initial consonant or consonant cluster on three sides. Some of these components are also used as consonants. These symbols are encoded separately, and only those symbols that appear over a consonant are encoded as combining characters. For example, ເກັຍະ or ເກົາ.

The basic vowel repertoire can be summarised as follows. For the corresponding script representation, see the Lao picker.

Short Long Complex
a aj aw aaj aaw am
e eew
ə əː əəj
ɛ ɛː ɛɛw
i iw
o ooj
ɔ ɔː ɔɔj
u uj
ɯ ɯː  
ia   iaw
ua   uaj
ɯa   ɯaj

Although the diphthongs at the end don't have long and short sounds, they do have long and short orthographic forms.

Some vowels are represented by different combinations of symbols when they appear in a closed syllable.

Text layout

Punctuation and word separation

Words are not separated by spaces. Spaces are used between sentences, but Western punctuation is also used.


Since spaces aren't used to separate words, Lao has to use alternative strategies for justification of text.

Use the control below to see how your browser justifies the text sample here.

ບຸກຄົນສະເໝີກັນຕໍ່ໜ້າກົດໝາຍ ແລະ ມີສິດທີ່ຈະໄດ້ຮັບຄວາມຄຸ້ມຄອງຂອງກົດໝາຍເທົ່າທຽມກັນໂດຍບໍ່ມີການແຕກຕ່າງທຸກຄົນມີສິດທີ່ຈະໄດ້ຮັບຄວາມຄຸ້ມຄອງເທົ່າທຽມກັນຕໍ່ການກະທຳໃດໆທີ່ຖືກບຸກຄົນແຕກຕ່າງກັນອັນອາດເປັນການລະເມີດໃບປະກາດສະບັບນີ້ ແລະ ຕໍ່ການທ້າທາຍໃດໆທີ່ຈະຖືໃຫ້ແຕກຕ່າງກັນດັ່ງນີ້:

List of basic symbols


This is a list of main characters or character combinations needed for Lao. Clicking on these characters will open a page in another window. If the character is underlined, the new page will display additional information about that character.


Class 1 (middle) consonants
Class 2 (high) consonants
Class 3 (low) consonants
Other consonants   ຼ
Vowels   ິ   ີ   ຶ   ື   ຸ   ູ   ຳ   ັ   ົ   ໍ
Tone marks & cancellation mark   ່   ້   ໊   ໋   ໌

Further reading

  1. [Simmala] Buasawan Simmala & Benjawan Poomsan Becker, Lao for Beginners , ISBN 1-887521-28-3
  2. [Daniels] Peter T. Daniels & William Bright, The World's Writing Systems, ISBN 0-19-507993-0.
  3. [Unicode] The Unicode Standard v5.0, esp the South Asian scripts chapter.
First published 10 Feb 2008. This version 2017-07-23 21:38 GMT.  •  Copyright Licence CC-By.