Lao is the official and the most widely spoken language of Laos.
Lao, also called Laotian, is the official as well as the dominant language in Laos. Migration and conflict have resulted in the present ethnic composition of Laos and to the geographical diffusion of its ethnic groups. 86 languages have so far been documented in the country as used by its various ethnic groups. French and English are identified as minority languages in Laos.
Lao: The Official Language Of Laos
Lao is among the tonal languages of Southeast Asia’s Tai-Kadai language family. The major Lao dialects are Southern Lao, Vientiane Lao, Western Lao, Central Lao, Northeastern Lao, and Northern Lao. Vientiane Lao is the dialect which is widely understood and upon which the Lao vocabulary is based. Several languages used in Laos and Thailand are closely related to Lao such as Tai Daeng, Phu Thai, Tai Dam, and Nyaw. Lao and Thai share a significant portion of its core vocabulary. Over time, Lao has been influenced by Pali, Thai, and Khmer languages due to their proximity. The Lao script was developed in the 14th century by the Khmer script which has its roots in the Indian Brahmic script. The script’s arrival in Laos is attributed to the Theravada Buddhists who were on a mission of popularizing Buddhism. Most of the Lao dialects possess six tones. A little over half of the population of Laos can use Lao and an estimated 3.3 million people can speak Lao in the world. Lao is also common in the northeastern region of Thailand and by small communities in Cambodia, France, Australia, the US, and Canada. The Lao language helps people from the many ethnic communities interact with one another and in doing so serve as the lingua franca of Laos.
Foreign Languages Spoken In Laos
Laos is home to Southeast Asia’s second largest Francophone population. The arrival of French explorers in Laos in the 19th century facilitated the spread of French. Laos officially became a French protectorate in the 1890s. French subsequently grew in importance in the territory and reached its climax between the 1910s and the 2nd World War. The position of French in the independent Laos was uncertain especially after periods of decline, but it has since regained a substantial minority position. Nearly 35% of the nation’s students are instructed in French, and it is the language preferred by elite classes, those in higher professions, diplomats, and elders. Some Lao words have been incorporated into French giving it a local flavor unique to Laos
English has been threatening the dominance of French as the preferred foreign language. English features in the system of many schools in Laos, and it is increasingly being regarded as the language of global commerce. The younger generation in Laos is particularly eager to adopt English.
Minority Languages Spoken In Laos
More than 80 languages are used by the different ethnicities of Laos. The largest of these ethnicities are the Khmu people who reside mainly in the North, ranging across 10 provinces. The Khmu form the largest ethnic group in five Northern provinces (Luang Prabang, Phongsaly, Oudomxay, Bokeo and Lungnamtha Provinces). Khmu is classified in the Austroasiatic language family, and its dialects fall into either the Western or Eastern Khmu categories. The Hmong language is used by the Hmong community inhabiting the mountains of Laos, Thailand, and Burma. The language is used in two groups namely White Hmong and green/blue Hmong. Other minority languages of Laos include Arem, Hung, Khmer, Maleng, Pacoh, Lamet, Phai, Akha, and Kim Mun.