Thai and Lao Languages – The Same, Yet Different

Thai and Lao Languages
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The differences between people exist for various reasons. But nations and communities also get influenced by each other often, so we all have similarities. 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. Many different languages share a common ancestor, which is why they have some similarities. Thai and Lao are two such languages. Central Thai is a Tai language of the Kra–Dai language family.

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. More than 45 million people also speak it as their second language. It is similar in its features to Chinese and Vietnamese. But the tongues with which it shares the most parts are the other Tai languages. Most Thai vocabularies 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:

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. Standard Thai, also known as Central Thai or Siamese, is the national language of Thailand and is spoken by more than 65 million people. Thailand was divided into two fairly distinct regions, a northern and a southern, the capital of the north at Chiang Mai.

The Lao language is the official language of Laos, also spoken in northeastern Thai. The major Lao dialects are Southern Lao, Vientiane Lao, Western Lao, Central Lao, Northeastern Lao, and Northern Lao.

The Thai Language

Thai and Lao Languages:

These two, along with Isan, another member of the Tai group, form a dialect continuum. They both are tonal languages. 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 language 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 that makes them two separate languages.


Here are the differences between Thai and Lao language 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.


Thai and Lao are closely related languages. They’re in a way mutually intelligible at least for a greater part. Thai people can understand most of spoken Lao, though perhaps with difficulties. If someone is from Northern Thai, then it’s easier for them, as the Isan dialect is very close to Lao. Lao people in turn can understand Thai better because there is a lot of Thai media, Thai soaps, Thai books, and magazines in Laos as well.

Thai and Lao are two separate languages but they are mutually intelligible, as they share over 80% cognate vocabulary. In Thailand, Lao is the minority language.

Same, yet different.

Thai and Laos are similar enough that the entertainment produced in the most prosperous of the two can easily be consumed in the other places without translation, but a person from one area wanting to do business or be persuasive in the other area wouldn’t fare as well unless they had training/education in the local language.

Yes. The two languages are different but they still are the same. They both are tonal languages.

In Chiang Mai, the Language spoken has some similarities with Northern Lao. But some words are different. They do speak two languages Lanna (Northern Thai) and Central Thai (The standard Thai) They can mix it, making them more and more understand both accents in the Lao language.

Some Interesting Facts

Luang Prabang literally meaning “Royal Buddha Image”, is a city in northern Lao. The center of the city consists of four main roads and is located on a peninsula at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong River. Luang Prabang is well known for its numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries.

Sticky rice, also known as “glutinous” or “sweet” rice, is a staple of northern and Northeastern Thai cuisine. Thailand is the largest rice exporter in the world besides India.

The French protectorate of Laos was a French protectorate in Southeast Asia of what is today Laos between 1893 and 1953—with a brief interregnum as a Japan puppet state in 1945, which constituted part of French Indochina. It was established over the Siamese vassal, the kingdom Luang Phrabang. The protectorate of Luang Phrabang was normally under the rule of its king.

The kingdom of Lan Xang (Laos) was founded in the mid-14th century and was ruled by Buddhist Thai at the northern capital, Luang Prabang.

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