Lao or Laotian is the official language of Laos. It is the primary language of the Lao people, and is also popular in the northeast of Thailand, where people refer it to Isan language. Lao Language is Tonal language of Tai-Kadai language family.
As most ethnic groups in Laos have their own dialects, Lao is an important second language for them as a central language to communicate with outsiders. There are variations in vocabulary, pronunciation and accent throughout the country.
Lao belongs to Tai-Kadai language family which is spoken by 15 millions people including Laos and Thailand. Its written form was derived from Tham script which evolved from Pali language that initiated in India. The script came to the region with Theravada Buddhists at the time that Buddhism was growing in popularity around two thousand years ago.
The Buddhist monks used the Tham script to write the Dhamma (the Buddha’s teaching). It was exclusive lesson for novices and monks in temples. Therefore, in the past only men (ex-monks) knew how to read and write. Today the Tham still exists in Laos and northeastern Thailand.
Lao has influenced Khmer language and Thai language and vice versa. The majority of Lao understand spoken Thai and Lao literate people can read Thai because two languages have close similarities. However, we are not able to comprehend Khmer as the language is different from Lao.
After the unification of the Lao principalities (meuang) in the 14th century, the Lan Xang monarchs commissioned their scholars to create a new script to write the Lao language. The Lao alphabet is phonetic. Words spellings accord to phonetic principles as opposed to etymological principles. In addition to consonants having tone classes, tone marks facilitate marking tones where needed.