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Thai and Laos: just curious

  Tags: Laotian | Thai
 Language Learning Forum : Philological Room Post Reply
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 Message 1 of 4
12 December 2012 at 10:29pm | IP Logged 
I am aware these languages are similar, but Im curious as to if they are in any way intelligible to one another ???

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 Message 2 of 4
13 December 2012 at 3:11pm | IP Logged 
I think that generally speaking Thai and Lao are mutually intelligible. My Thai is good enough to follow news reports on the radio, and I tested my Lao comprehension using the audio section of Radio Free Asia’s Lao service. I chose a random story (link below) and found I could get the gist very easily, although some of the details eluded me. Whole sentences seemed to be practically identical to Thai, for example the theme of the report, “the cutting and export of wood to Vietnam” is the same word-for-word in both languages (the Thai version would be การตัดไม้ สั่งออกไปเวียดนาม). The parts I didn’t get, for instance the name of the type of wood being exported, would likely be obvious to native speakers of Thai.

Probably the biggest hurdle for a Thai who wanted to read Lao would be learning to use Lao letters. There are books about Lao for Thais that give a summary of the alphabet, then introduce parallel Lao/Thai texts at an adult level, with a few notes to cover the discrepancies. So, Thai people can really hit the ground running if they want to learn Lao. Intelligibility is definitely much greater than for instance that between/among Mandarin, Cantonese, Teochew or other Chinese “dialects”.

The tones in Lao differ a bit from those in Thai – Lao has two falling tones, Thai only has one, and the level tones don’t always match up – what is a low tone in Lao may be a high tone in Thai or vice versa. But the systems are parallel, and this doesn’t seem to impede comprehension that much.

Other Tai languages are also generally pretty similar to these two, although intelligibility would be less. Shan (spoken in Myanmar) and Zhuang (from SW China) are examples, if you look at wordlists for these languages you will find many cognates with Thai. So variation is relatively narrow within the language family as a whole, I would say.

Another factor if you know Thai and visit Laos is that most lowland Lao people (or ethnic Lao, the country also has many national minorities) have access to Thai television and are used to hearing Thai through that medium. That means you won’t encounter many problems communicating.

RFA - Lao
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 Message 3 of 4
23 December 2012 at 11:58am | IP Logged
On a frame titled 'instant Lao' there is a list of the differences between the two.
I would add that 'r' can sometimes change not only to 'l' sound, but to 'h'
Thai 'rak' (to love) ▷ Lao 'hak'

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 Message 4 of 4
14 January 2013 at 12:51pm | IP Logged 
There is a video on this with Prof. Arguelles and a bilingual native speaker:

Lao and Thai Mutual Intelligibility

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