consonantsvowelstone chart • reading sentences

Here you can see another major difference in reading Lao compared to western languages: all of the words in sentences are run together with no spaces between them. To read Lao sentences you have to be able to pick out the individual words. This is easier in Lao than it would be in English because most Lao words have only two or three letters grouped around the beginning consonant. Because vowels are put in different places (before, under, etc) the groupings are easier to pick out because you know, for example, that a sa-la ay or sa-la ae will signal the beginning of a word.

Following are three Lao sentences taken apart word-by-word, with the spelling of each word explained.


SENTENCE 1:


I come from Pakse.

I - The first symbol and beginning consonant of the word is kaw kai which has a "k" sound. The second two letters, aw o and nyaw nyoong together form the dipthong oi (pronounced aw + ee), number 36 on the vowel chart. Kaw kai is a high class consonant and the word has a mai tho, the second tone marker, so it has a low falling tone.
come - This word is easy to read. It's maw ma (an "m" sound) followed by sa-la ah (long vowel length, number 3 on the vowel chart). Together they spell ma. Maw ma is a low class consonant. The word has no tone marker and an unstopped final sound so it has a high tone.
from - Here the first two marks are the vowel sa-la ae (long vowel length, number 25 on the vowel chart). The last symbol is taw ta which is actually the beginning consonant of the word, as sa-la ae is put before the consonant. Taw ta is a mid class consonant and the word has mai ayk, the first tone marker, so it has a mid tone. Tae also means "but".
Pak (first syllable) - The first syllable of Pakse begins with paw pa which is followed by sa-la ah (long vowel length). The word ends with gaw gai which has a stopped "k" sound when it's a final consonant. Paw pa is a mid class consonant. The word has no tone marker, a long vowel length and a stopped final consonant so it has a low falling tone.
say (second syllable) - The first symbol is sa-la ay (long vowel length, number 22 on the vowel chart). The second symbol is saw sang which is the beginning consonant of the word, as sa-la ay is always put before the consonant. Saw sang is a low class consonant. The word has no tone marker and an unstopped final sound so it has a high tone.

 

SENTENCE 2:

Is Lao food delicious?

food (first syllable) - The first syllable of a-han begins with aw o which "holds" the vowel sa-la ah. Aw o is used whenever a word or syllable begins with a vowel sound and has no sound itself, so this syllable is pronounced ah from sa-la ah only. It follows the tone rules for aw o, however, so it's low mid class with an unstopped final sound and has a rising tone (or low in some books).
food (second syllable) - This syllable is three letters arranged in the order they're pronounced - haw han, sa-la ah, and naw nok which together spell han. Haw han is a high class consonant and the word has a nasal (unstopped) final sound so it has a rising tone.
Lao - The first letter is law leeng which has an "l" sound. The second two symbols, sa-la ah and waw wee together make the dipthong ao (number 6 on the vowel chart - long vowel length). Law leeng is a low class consonant and the word has an unstopped final sound so it has a high tone.
delicious - The first two marks are sa-la ae, explained under "come" in the first sentence. This is followed by saw sang, the beginning consonant of the word, then baw bae, the final consonant of the word, which has an unstopped "p" sound when it's a final consonant. Together these spell saep. Saw sang is a low class consonant. The word has no tone marker, a long vowel length and stopped final sound, so it has a high falling tone.
interrogative word - The beginning consonant is baw bae. The circle above it is a vowel which has an aw sound (number 34 on the tone chart - long vowel length). The word has a mai ayk so it has a mid tone, although in questions it's sometimes pronounced higher.



SENTENCE 3 :

I have two children.

I - This is explained under sentence 1.
have - The consonant is maw ma. Above it is sa-la ee (long vowel length, number 9 on the vowel chart). These spell mee. Maw ma is a low class consonant, and the word has an unstopped final vowel sound, so it has a high tone.
children - The initial consonant is law leeng. Below it is sa-la oo (number 18 on the vowel chart, long vowel length). The final consonant is gaw gai which has an unstopped "k" sound as a final consonant. Law leeng is a low class consonant. The word has no tone marker, a long vowel length, and stopped final consonant so it has a high falling tone.
two - The spelling here is straightforward - saw seua followed by aw o followed by ngaw ngua. Put together they spell sawng. Saw seua is a high class consonant. The word has no tone marker and a nasal (unstopped) final sound so it has a rising tone.
people/classifier for people - The initial consonant is kaw kwai. Above it is sa-la oh (short vowel length, number 28 on the vowel chart). The final consonant is naw nok. Together they spell kon (with "o" having a short "oh" sound). Kaw kwai is a low class consonant. The word has no tone marker and an unstopped final sound so it has a high tone.

 

the Lao alphabet: consonants
the Lao alphabet: vowels
tone chart
• reading sentences