Did you know that Lao has not one, not two, not even three, but six different tones? That’s right, six tones, and if you’re anything like me, you’re already feeling overwhelmed. Learning Lao tones can be a daunting task, but fear not, dear reader!
In this article, we’ll explore the wonderful world of Lao tones and discover their secrets. From the high tone that makes your voice sound like a squeaky toy to the low tone that makes you sound like Darth Vader, we’ll break down each tone and give you the tools to master this unique and fascinating aspect of the Lao language. So, keep your Lao Kao aside for a while, and let’s get started!
Lao: An Overview
Lao is a tonal and analytic language spoken primarily in Laos, a Southeast Asian country. It is also spoken by minority communities in neighboring countries. For example, in the regions of northeast Thailand, where it is known as the Isan language. Lao is also spoken by Lao expatriates around the world.
The Lao language belongs to the Tai-Kadai language family and shares similarities with other Tai-Kadai languages spoken in Southeast Asia, such as Thai, Shan, Chinese, and Vietnamese. However, it has its own unique features, including a complex system of tones that distinguishes meaning between words. These tones are indicated by something called the tone marker in the Lao script.
Lao is the official language of Laos and is used in all official and educational settings, as well as in media and literature. There are five major Lao dialects spoken in different regions of Laos, with the Vientiane dialect being the most widely used. Moreover, the Vientiane Lao is considered the standard form of the language, for both spoken Lao and written Lao. Otherwise, depending on the dialect, the number of tones varies from five to seven.
The Lao writing system is based on the Khmer script, which is also used to write the Cambodian language. However, the language has its own set of characters and some unique writing conventions that result in a unique Lao alphabet. The Lao script is written from left to right and consists of 27 Lao consonants and 7 vowels, which can be combined to form a total of 23 vowel sounds.
The Lao Tones
Tones play a significant role in the Lao language, and mastering them is essential to communicating effectively in this language. Lao is a tonal language, which means that the meaning of a word can change depending on the tone used to pronounce it. The Lao language has six tones: Low, Mid, High, Rising, High Rising, and Low Falling.
#1 Low Tone
The low tone in Lao is denoted by a tilde (~) above a vowel. It is pronounced with a low pitch and is used to indicate a tone that falls. For example, the word mai (ໃຫມ່) with a low tone means ‘new.’ Another example is dai with a low tone, which means ‘to carry.’
#2 Mid Tone
The mid-tone in Lao does not have a specific diacritic mark. It is pronounced with a mid-pitch and is used to indicate a level tone. For example, the word khao (ເຂົ້າ) with a mid-tone means ‘rice.’ Another example is mai (ໄໝ) with a mid-tone, which means ‘silk.’
Fun fact: The Thai word for rice is also Khao (ເຂົ້າ).
#3 High Tone
The high tone in Lao is denoted by a caret (^) above a vowel. It is pronounced with a high pitch and is used to indicate a tone that rises. For example, the word maa (ມ້າ) with a high tone means ‘horse.’ Another example is kao (ເກົ້າ) with a high tone, which means ‘nine.’
#4 Rising Tone
The rising tone in Lao is denoted by a circumflex (^) above a vowel. It is pronounced with a mid-high pitch and is used to indicate a tone that rises and then falls. For example, the word dao (ດາວ) with a rising tone means ‘star.’
#5 High Rising Tone
The high-rising tone in Lao is denoted by a forward slash (/) above a vowel. It is pronounced with a rising pitch that ends with a high tone. For example, the word maa (ໝາ) with a high-rising tone means ‘dog,’ and khao (ຂ່າວ) with a high-rising tone means ‘news.’
#6 Low Falling Tone
The low falling tone in Lao is denoted by a checkmark (v) above a vowel. It is pronounced with a falling pitch that ends with a low tone. For example, the word maa (ມາ) with a low falling tone means ‘come,’ and khao (ແຂ້ວ) with a low falling tone means ‘tooth.’
As can be seen from the above examples, the meaning of a word in Lao can change depending on the tone used to pronounce it. Therefore, understanding and using the correct tones is essential to effectively communicate using Lao words. Moreover, Lao has a vast vocabulary, and using the wrong tone can lead to confusion and misunderstandings.
In addition, tones can also convey emotions and attitudes. For example, a high tone can convey surprise or disbelief, while a low tone can convey sadness or disappointment. Therefore, mastering the nuances of tones in Lao can help convey the appropriate tone marks, emotions, and attitudes in different situations.
Learn Lao With Ling
Tones play a crucial role in the Lao language. They are essential for conveying meaning, avoiding confusion and misunderstandings, and conveying emotions and attitudes. Therefore, mastering the tones is essential to effectively communicate in Lao. You can read more about how tone rules the Lao language along with Laos and Lao culture in specially curated articles available on the Ling platform.
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