Spelling in Lao differs from western languages in that
vowel letters can be put after, below, before, or above the letter
that is the first consonant of the word (or syllable). For example,
in the word ma the a is a letter following the letter
for m as in English, but in mee the letter for ee
is placed above the m, in moo the letter for oo
(or "u") is placed below the m and in mae
the symbol for ae is placed before the m.
Every letter in Lao has an exact sound associated with
it - there are no irregular spellings as in English. Words may end
in a vowel sound or there may be another consonant which is the final
sound of the word. Words with final vowel sounds are usually spelled
with only two letters while words with final consonant sounds are
usually spelled with three.
There are also vowel combinations (dipthongs and tripthongs)
where two or three vowel sounds are combined into a single smooth
sound. Examples are ao, ia, uay, and euay.
The vowel combinations are spelled by combining two or three vowel
symbols except with number 44 below which is a separate symbol used
for ia. Two consonants are also used in the spellings of
vowel combinations - nyaw nyoong and waw wee. The
chart here follows the alphabetical order for vowels of a modern Lao
dictionary so the vowel combinations are mixed in with the single
Vowels are called sa-la in Lao and individual
vowel letters are named sa-la followed by the sound of the
letter. The sound includes the vowel length, so for example, the vowel
sa-la ee can refer to two different letters, number 7 on
the chart when ee is pronounced short with a glottal stop and number
9 when it's pronounced long without a glottal stop.
In the chart an "x" is used to show where
the consonant is placed in the spelling. The spelling in Lao is followed
by an example with the meaning in English. Once you learn to recognize
the letters and their placement it's quite easy to read the language.
AW-O FOR WORDS THAT BEGIN WITH VOWEL
When a word begins with a vowel sound the vowel letter is "held"
by the letter aw o and the word follows the tone rules for
aw o. Following are some examples:
||The vowel letter ee (long)
is placed above aw-o. The final consonant is maw-ma.
||The vowel letter oo (long) is below
aw-o. There is no final consonant.
||The vowel letter ay is before aw-o.
The final consonant is ngaw-ngua.
||The vowel letter ah (long) is placed
after aw-o. The final consonant is ngaw-ngua.
the Lao alphabet: consonants
• the Lao alphabet: vowels
• tone chart
• reading sentences