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Thai and Lao Languages: The same yet different

Thai and Lao Languages
Thai and Lao Languages: The same yet different
on May, 01 2014
Thai and Lao Languages

Image credit: Sign for Sri Ubon Rattanaram Museum taken by Xiengyod under Public Domain.

Thai and Lao languages are basically the same. When Thais and Laotian talk to each other, they can make conversations without any problem at all. In fact, up to 70% of the words are the same. Both languages were derived from Sanskrit and Pali. Though there are slight differences in the use of certain pronouns and question words, the rest are the same, if not, related. Let us take a closer look at how these languages are somehow different.

Vocabulary Differences

Though there is no word count in regards to the similar terms in both languages, there are a few words that are totally different. However, there are words that are considered the same, but are used in different ways and contexts in each of the languages. For instance, in Lao, the term for house is “heuan.” In Thai, it is also understood as house, but they only use the word for very formal settings. “Baan” is the more appropriate term for Thais.

Construction of Sentences

In terms of grammar, both languages are identical. They make use of the same words for comparison, tenses and conjunctions. However, the differences lie on how the sentences are constructed or how questions are formed. For instance, in Thai, when you want to ask someone “Have you…yet?” you will say “reu yang?” However, in Lao, the more appropriate term is laeo baw?


The Thai and Laotian alphabets are the same and the sounds they produce are basically identical. However, the Laotian language has additional sounds that spell subtle differences with that of the Thai sounds. The sound –ny for instance is commonly used in Laotian, but not in Thai. For instance, in Thai, you say “yang” if you mean not yet. However, in Lao, it is “nyang”. The term for woman in Thai is “phoo ying,” while it is “phoo nying” for Laotian.

The More Polite Language

If there is one thing that you need to know about these languages, it is the fact that politeness is extremely important. Both languages emphasize on the use of polite words. There are also rules on how to address someone who is older than you. Therefore, in Thai, the use of the words “kha” for women and “krub” for men, are very important. However, Laotians are not really fund of using these terms. Instead, they are very particular in the use of pronouns. When you hear them speak, they always emphasize the use of “I” and “you.” Therefore, when you hear them speak, it is always in a complete sentence. This is their way of showing politeness. However, for Thais, pronouns can be omitted. They can just make short cuts or abbreviations. This does not mean they are being impolite though. They are just used to express themselves in shorter words.

The Other Differences

Although these two countries share the same language, in many other aspects, they are different. Lao is quite conservative in many ways. Lao media is also very strict and the government is sometimes considered oppressive. However, they take pride in the fact that they have a rich culture and heritage, and that they are different from Thais in many ways. On the other hand, Thais have already infused the influence of foreign cultures and have become more open.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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