Lao script summary

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.

Clicking on red text examples, or highlighting part of the sample text shows a list of characters, with links to more details. Click on the vertical blue bar (bottom right) to change font settings for the sample text.

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.

Usage & history

From Scriptsource:

The Lao script is used for writing the Lao language, and is also the official script of a number of minority languages in Laos. The Lao language is closely related to Thai; there is a considerable Lao-speaking population in Thailand who write their language with the Thai script. However, the Lao script underwent a number of reforms which caused significant divergence from the Thai script. When the communist Pathet Lao overthrew the Lao government in 1975, they implemented a final spelling reform which simplified and standardized the script.

From Wikipedia:

Lao script, or Akson Lao, (Lao: ອັກສອນລາວ [ʔáksɔ̌ːn láːw]) is the primary script used to write the Lao language and other minority languages in Laos. It was also used to write the Isan language, but was replaced by the Thai script.

The Lao alphabet was adapted from the Khmer script, which itself was derived from the Pallava script, a variant of the Grantha alphabet descended from the Brahmi script, which was used in southern India and South East Asia during the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Akson Lao is a sister system to the Thai script, with which it shares many similarities and roots. However, Lao has fewer characters and is formed in a more curvilinear fashion than Thai.

Key features

Lao is an alphabet. This means that it is phonetic in nature, where each letter represents a basic sound. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features, taken from the Script Comparison Table.

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.

Character lists

The Lao script characters in Unicode 10.0 are in the following block:

Follow these links for information about characters used by languages associated with this script. The numbers in parentheses are for non-ASCII characters.

For character-specific details see Lao character notes.

Consonants

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
Closed
long vowel
Tone
mai eːk
Tone
mai toː
Tone
mai tiː
Tone
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
Dead
long vowel
Tone
mai eːk
Tone
mai toː
Tone
mai tiː
Tone
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
Dead
long vowel
Tone
mai eːk
Tone
mai toː
Tone
mai tiː
Tone
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.

Conjuncts

The character [U+0EAB LAO LETTER HO SUNG] can be added before the following characters to make their default tonal behaviour Class 2:

list all

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

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.

Justification

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:

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.
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