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Thai and Lao Languages – The Same, Yet Different

Thai and Lao Languages – The Same, Yet Different
Thai and Lao Languages

The differences between people exist due to various reasons. But nations and communities also get influenced by each other often, which is why we all have similarities too. Another reason behind the similarities we share is common ancestry. The world did not have a lot of people at one point, which is why many of us today are related in a way that we are not aware of. But this common ancestry is more relevant in our cultural values and the languages we speak. A lot of different languages share a common ancestor, which is why they have some similarities. Thai and Lao are two such languages.

The Thai Language:

It is the de facto official language of Thailand and is spoken by the majority of the country’s population. It has nearly 40 million native speakers and belongs to the Tai group. It is also spoken by more than 45 million people as their second language. It is similar in its features to Chinese and Vietnamese. But the tongues with which it shares the most features are the other Tai languages. Most of the Thai vocabulary was taken from old languages like Sanskrit, Old Khmer, and Pali. Interestingly, the tongue is mutually intelligible to a particular degree with other members of the Tai group.

The Lao Language:

This is another member of the Tai group that is spoken by almost all the population of Laos. It is not only officially recognized in Laos but also in northeast Thailand. It has 30 million native speakers, and the majority of them live in Laos. It is a Tonal tongue like other members of the Tai group. It also has taken many loanwords from Sanskrit and Pali. It has different dialects, but the one that is used by the majority is known as Vientiane. It was in the second half of the 20th century that Vientiane became the de facto standard variety of Lao. Today, it is used by both the state and the population of Laos.

The Thai Language

Thai and Lao Languages:

Many tongues that belong to the same group share a few similarities with each other. But when it comes to Thai and Lao, the similarities are too many. These two, along with Isan, another member of the Tai group, form a dialect continuum. They are mutually intelligible to such an extent that their native speakers can communicate with each other without any difficulty. The vocabulary of the vernaculars is pretty much the same because both Thai and Lao have taken loanwords from Sanskrit and Pali. Another reason behind their similarity is the importance of politeness in their respective cultures. Politeness has also made its way to both vernaculars.

Due to their many similarities, some people think that Thai and Lao are the same languages, but that isn’t true. Although the two have many similarities and are mutually intelligible, they do have a few differences too.

Differences:

Here are the differences between Thai and Lao that prove that the two are different languages:

  1. Vocabulary:

It is true that the two share a lot of common words. But there are also many words that are different in both vernaculars. There are also words that are the same but mean different things in either language. The context of similar words might not be the same in the two vernaculars. Another difference can be seen in the use of pronouns and negatives.

  1. Grammar:

The pronouns aren’t the only big difference between the two vernaculars. The number of consonants is another thing that can prove that both Thai and Lao are different from each other. Thai is known for its number of consonants. There are four letters in the alphabet with the sound ‘s’. Lao, on the other hand, has only two letters with the same sound.

  1. Pronunciation:

It is important to remember that even the same language will be pronounced differently by different people. This is why Spanish sounds different in Mexico than the Spanish of Spain. English is another example of this. But Thai and Lao, the two vernaculars with similar features, also have differences of pronunciation. Their tones vary throughout, which can be a clear difference for outsiders. The ‘ny’ sound is very important in Lao and is used often. But this sound does not exist in Thai.

  1. Politeness:

Although politeness is important in the culture of Thailand and Laos both, it may not be visible in both languages. In Thai, a great deal of importance is placed on using the right term to address someone older than you. But the Laotians, despite being polite, prefer to use pronouns in their everyday conversations. This not only proves that the two countries have differences in cultures but also goes to show that the languages have developed differently because of the values of their speakers.

  1. Alphabet:

The writing form of the two vernaculars is similar in many aspects. Even the alphabets are the same. But the Laotians use the cursive version of the Thai alphabet. They have removed consonants to make the alphabet simpler. The Thai alphabet, on the other hand, is longer and might look more complex to a speaker of Lao.

The Lao Language

It is important for both businesses and individuals to understand the differences between cultures and languages. It is the best way to respect people. If you don’t pay attention to their culture and language, you will end up unintentionally disrespecting them. This is why people should learn about a country before they decide to visit it.

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