Lao Alphabet
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Lao Alphabet

Lao Script Sample.svg
Alphabet, abugida (historically)
LanguagesLao, Isan, Thai and others
Time period
c. 1350-present
Parent systems
Sister systems
ISO 15924Laoo, 356
Unicode alias

Lao script or Akson Lao (Lao: [?áks:n lá:w]) is the primary script used to write the Lao language and other minority languages in Laos. It was also used to write the Isan language, but was replaced by the Thai script. It has 27 consonants ( [páns?n?]), 7 consonantal ligatures ( [páns?n? pá s?m]), 33 vowels (/ [sálá]), and 4 tone marks ( [ván n? t]).

The Lao alphabet was adapted from the Khmer script, which itself was derived from the Pallava script, a variant of the Grantha script descended from the Br?hm? script, which was used in southern India and South East Asia during the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Akson Lao is a sister system to the Thai script, with which it shares many similarities and roots. However, Lao has fewer characters and is formed in a more curvilinear fashion than Thai.

Lao is written from left to right. Vowels can be written above, below, in front of, or behind consonants, with some vowel combinations written before, over, and after. Spaces for separating words and punctuation were traditionally not used, but space is used and functions in place of a comma or period. The letters have no majuscule or minuscule (upper- and lowercase) differentiation.


The Lao script derived locally from the Khmer script of Angkor[1] with additional influence from the Mon script. Both Khmer and Mon were ultimately derived from the Brahmi script of India. The Lao script was slowly standardized in the Mekong River valley after the various Tai principalities of the region was merged under Lan Xang in the 14th century. It has changed little since its inception and continued use in the Lao-speaking regions of modern-day Laos and Isan. Although the Thai script continued to evolve, both scripts still bear a resemblance.[2] However, this is less apparent today due to the communist party simplifying the spelling to be phonemic and omitting extra letters used to write words of Pali-Sanskrit origin.

In its earlier form, Lao would be considered an abugida, in which the inherent vowel is embedded in the consonant letters. With the spelling reforms by the communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party, all vowels are now written explicitly.[3] However, many Lao outside of Laos, and some inside Laos, continue to write according to former spelling standards. For example, the old spelling of [4] 'to hold a ceremony, celebrate' contrasts with the new ?/?.[5]

Variant systems

Lao language in other scripts

  1. Traditionally, only secular literature was written with the Lao alphabet. Religious literature was often written in Tai Tham, a Mon-based script that is still used for the Tai Khün, Tai Lü, and formerly for Kham Mueang.[6] The Lao style of this script is known as Lao Tham.[7]
  2. Mystical, magical, and some religious literature was written in Khom script (Aksar Khom), a modified version of the Khmer script.[8]

Other languages in Lao script

According to Article 89 of the 2003 Amended Constitution of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the Lao alphabet, though originally used solely for transcribing the Lao language, is also used to write several minority languages.[9][clarification needed]

  1. Additional Lao characters used to write Pali/Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Therav?da Buddhism, are now available with the publication of Unicode 12.0.[10] The font Lao Pali (Alpha) can be downloaded from Aksharamukha.[11]
  2. Additional Lao characters used to write Khmu' were also encoded.[12][13]
  3. An older version of Lao, Thai Noi, was also used by the ethnic Lao of Thailand's Isan region before Isan was incorporated into Siam.[14] Its use was banned[by whom?] and supplemented with the very similar Thai alphabet in 1871; however, the region remained culturally and politically distant until further government campaigns and integration into the Thai state (Thaification) were imposed in the 20th century.[15] Attempts to encode Thai Noi in Unicode have been made.[16]
  4. The applicability of Lao script for other minority languages requires further evaluations.[17]

Some minority languages use other writing systems. For example, the Hmong adopted the Romanized Popular Alphabet to spell the Hmong languages.


The twenty-seven consonants of the Lao alphabet are divided into three tone classes--high ( [s?:?]), middle ( [ka:?]), and low ( [t?m])--which determine the tonal pronunciation of the word in conjunction with the four tone marks and distinctions between short and long vowels. Aside from tone, there are twenty-one distinct consonant sounds that occur in the Lao language. Each letter has an acrophonical name that either begins with or features the letter prominently, and is used to teach the letter and serves to distinguish them from other, homophonous consonants. The letter ? is a special null consonant used as a mandatory anchor for vowels, which cannot stand alone, and also to serve as a vowel in its own right.

The letter ? (r) is a relatively new re-addition to the Lao alphabet. It was dropped as part of a language reform because most speakers pronounced it as "l", and had an ambiguous status for several decades. A 1999 dictionary does not include it when listing the full alphabet but does use it to spell many country names.[18] A comprehensive dictionary published by a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Information and Culture did not include it.[19] However, as the Lao vocabulary began to incorporate more foreign names (such as Europe, Australia, and America) it filled a need and is now taught in schools.[20] The letter ? can also be found in Unit 14 ( 14 ? ? ?) of a textbook published by the government.[21] It is generally used as the first consonant of a syllable, or to follow a leading consonant, rarely as a final consonant.

Consonant chart

The table below shows the Lao consonant, its name, its pronunciation according to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), as well as various romanization schemes, such as the French-based systems in use by both the US Board of Geographic Names and the British Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (BGN/PCGN), the English-based system in use by the US Library of Congress (LC), Royal Thai General System of Transcription (RTGS) used in Thailand, and finally its Unicode name. A slash indicates the pronunciation at the beginning juxtaposed with its pronunciation at the end of a syllable.

Letter Name Initial position Final position Unicode Tone Class
? k?i, chicken /k/ k /k/ k KO Middle
? ki, egg /k?, x/ kh - - KHO SUNG High
? ? ká:j, water buffalo /k?, x/ kh - - KHO TAM Low
? or ?ú?, ox or ?ú:, snake /?/ ng /?/ ng NGO Low
? or t:k, glass or cua: Buddhist novice /t?/ ch - - CO Middle
? ? s:?, tiger /s/ s - - SO SUNG High
? ? sâ:?, elephant /s/ x s - - SO TAM Low
? ?ú?, mosquito /?/ gn ny y /j/ j NYO Low
? ? dék, child /d/ d /t/ t DO Middle
? tà:, eye /t/ t - - TO Middle
? t, stocking, bag /t?/ th - - THO SUNG High
? t?ú?, flag /t?/ th - - THO TAM Low
? n?k, bird /n/ n /n/ ne n NO Low
? b:, goat /b/ b /p/ p BO Middle
? pa:, fish /p/ p - - PO Middle
? p?, bee /p?/ ph - - PHO SUNG High
? f?n, rain /f/ f - - FO SUNG High
? p?ú:, mountain /p?/ ph - - PHO TAM Low
? fáj, fire /f/ f - - FO TAM Low
? m:w, cat /m/ m /m/ m MO Low
? ja:, medicine /j/ y - - YO Middle
? () or () r?t (l?t), car or r?k?á?, bell /r/,/l/ r /n/ ne n LO LOOT Low
? lí:?, monkey /l/ l - - LO LING Low
? ví:, fan /?/,/w/ v v, w w v w WO Low
? ? h?:n, goose /h/ h - - HO SUNG High
? or ? ?ò:, bowl or ?:? frog /?/ - - - O Middle
? or ? h:?n house, or ha:, boat /h/ h - - HO TAM Low

Note that the Unicode names for the characters ? (FO TAM) and ? (FO SUNG) are reversed. The same is true for ? (LO LING) and ? (LO LOOT). This error was introduced into the Unicode standard and cannot be fixed, as character names are immutable.

Consonantal digraphs and ligatures

Lao also uses digraphs based on combinations of the silent (unpronounced) ? ? with certain other consonants, some of which also have special ligature forms that are optionally used.

In the Thai script, certain consonants are preceded by tone modifiers. This is because high consonants or low consonants cannot produce the full 5 tones of Thai. For instance, tone modifier ? can turn low consonants into high ones. This also explains why the Lao script reserved consonants with the same sounds (e.g. ? and ? /k?/, ? and ? /s/). Both high and low consonants are needed to produce full five (or six) tones of Lao.

Such design also exists in Lao. Sonorants ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ? are originally low consonants, but when they're preceded by ?, they become high consonants.

The older versions of the script also included special forms for combinations of ? (p?) + ? (?), ? (s) + ? (n), and ? (m) + ? (l). In addition, consonant clusters that had the second component of ? (r) or ? (l) were written with a special form ? underneath the consonant.[22][23] Since these were not pronounced in Lao, they were removed during various spelling reforms, and this symbol only appears in the ligature .[24]

Letter Initial position Unicode Sample Word Tone Class
/?/ ng ng lonely High
/?/ gn j ny ny ? grass High
? or /n/ n n rat High
? or /m/ m m dog High
or /l/ l l ? back High
/?/,/w/ v v,w w ? ring High


Lao characters in initial position (several letters appearing in the same box have identical pronunciation).

Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Alveolo-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal [m]
Plosive voiced [b]
voiceless [p]
aspirated [p?]
?, ?
?, ?
Fricative [f]
?, ?
?, ?
?, ?
?, ?
Affricate [t?]
Approximant [?]

* Depends on the dialect.

Lao characters in final position. In the old documents, the letter ? could be found in place of ?.

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal [m]
Plosive [p]
Approximant [j]


Vowels are constructed from only a handful of basic symbols, but they can be combined with other vowel forms and semi-vowels to represent the full repertoire of diphthongs and triphthongs used in the language. Vowels cannot stand alone or begin a syllable, so the silent consonant, ?, which can function as a vowel in its own right, is used as a base when spelling a word that begins with a vowel sound.

The names of the vowels are just as easy as saying sala (, [sá?l]) before the vowel sign. Some vowels have unique names, and these are (?, mâj mû:?n, rolled stem), (, mâj má:j, unwound stem), (, . mâj kò?, straight stem), (, . mâj kàn, ear stem), (, v? lá:m), and (, n?k k h?t).[25]

Although a dotted circle ? is used on this page to represent the consonant, in standard Lao orthography a small x symbol is used for this purpose.[20] Traditionally this was a simple, stylized, sans-serif x and it was included in Lao fonts before Unicode became widespread. Unicode does not make it available as part of the Lao alphabet set, and a lower-case sans-serif x is often used instead.

Some vowels change their forms depending on whether they appear in the final or medial position.

Short and long vowels

Short vowels Long vowels
Final Medial Final Medial
/a?/, /a/ a a /a: / a ? a aa
/i/ i i /i: / i ? i ii
/?/ u ? ue y /?: / u ue yy
/u/ ou u u u /u: / ou ? u uu
? /e?/, /e/ é e e /e:/ é ? e e
? //, /?/ è æ ae /?:/ è ? ae ei
/o?/, /o/ ô o o /o:/ ô ? o o
? ? //, /?/ o ? o /?:/ o ? o
/?/ eu oe oe /?:/ eu oe? oe
? ? /i?/ ia /i:?/ ia ?a ia
? // ua ?a uea ? /?:?/ ua a uea
? ? /u?/ oua ua ua /u:?/ oua ?a ua

Special vowels

Letter IPA BGN/PCGN LC RTGS Unicode Old Alternative
, * /aj/ ai ai or ay
? /aw/ ao
/am/ am

* In the Northern (Luang Prabang) dialect of Lao, is pronounced as [a?] rather than [aj]; similarly, in the Northeastern (Houaphanh) dialect, is pronounced as /?/.

As in the neighboring Thai script, is used to represent a glottal stop after a vowel.


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20
Lao Numerals ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
Lao Names ? ?
Thai Numerals ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
RTGS sun nueng song sam si ha hok chet paet kao sip sao
Transliteration soun nung song sam si ha hok chet pèt kao sip xao

Lao compatible software

Linux has been available in Lao since 2005.[26]

Windows did not officially support Lao until Windows Vista.[27] User-generated fonts are freely available online.[28]

In December 2011, the Lao Ministry of Science and Technology, in cooperation with the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, officially[29] authorized the use of Phetsarath OT[30] as the standard national font.

The Phetsarath OT font was already adopted by the government in 2009; however, Lao users were unable to use it, as international software manufacturers did not include the font in their software systems. Mobile devices were not able to use or show Lao language. Instead, mobile phone users had to rely on Thai or English as language.

The Laos Ministry of Post and Telecommunications asked local technicians to develop a software system of international standard that would enable the Phetsarath OT font to be like other font systems that local users could access.

In March 2011, the Lao company XY Mobile presented[31] the Phetsarath OT on mobile phones as well as tablet PCs using the mobile device operating system Android.

iOS supports Lao script on iPhones and iPads.


The Unicode block for the Lao script is U+0E80-U+0EFF, added in Unicode version 1.0. The first ten characters of the row U+0EDx are the Lao numerals 0 through 9. Throughout the chart, grey (unassigned) code points are shown because the assigned Lao characters intentionally match the relative positions of the corresponding Thai characters. This has created the anomaly that the Lao letter ? is not in alphabetical order, since it occupies the same code-point as the Thai letter ?.

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+0E8x ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+0E9x ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+0EAx ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+0EBx ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+0ECx ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
U+0EDx ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
1.^ As of Unicode version 13.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also


  1. ^ Benedict, Paul K. "Languages and literatures of Indochina." The Far Eastern Quarterly (1947): 379-389.
  2. ^ For comparison of the two, please see Daniels, Peter T. & Bright, William. (Eds.). (1996). The World's Writing Systems (pp. 460-461). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ Unicode Consortium. (2019). Lao. In The Unicode Standard Version 12.0 (p. 635). Mountain View, CA: Unicode Consortium.
  4. ^ Allen Kerr, with the assistance of Sing Bourommavong, Houmpheng Phetmongkhonh, Samreung Singhavara, and Somsangouane Loungsisomkham, "Lao-English Dictionary" (1972, Catholic University Press, reprinted 1992 by White Lotus Co., Ltd., Bangkok)
  5. ^ William L. Patterson and Mario E. Severino, "Lao-English Dictionary" (1995, Dunwoody Press)
  6. ^ Everson, Michael, Hosken, Martin, & Constable, Peter. (2007). Revised proposal for encoding the Lanna script in the BMP of the UCS.
  7. ^ Kourilsky, Grégory & Berment, Vincent. (2005). Towards a Computerization of the Lao Tham System of Writing. In First International Conference on Lao Studies.
  8. ^ Igunma, Jana. (2013). Aksoon Khoom: Khmer Heritage in Thai and Lao Manuscript Cultures. Tai Culture, 23: Route of the Roots: Tai-Asiatic Cultural Interaction.
  9. ^ National Assembly No. 25/NA, 6 May 2003. Constitution of the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Translation Endorsed by the Law Committee of the National Assembly of the Lao PDR. Retrieved from WIPO Lex.
  10. ^ Rajan, V., Mitchell, B., Jansche, M., & Brawer, S. (2017). Revised Proposal to Encode Lao Characters for Pali.
  11. ^ Lao (Pali). Aksharamukha. Retrieved 25 February 2020.
  12. ^ Hosken, Martin. (2010). Proposal to add minority characters to Lao script.
  13. ^ Miller, Michelle. (2013). A Description of Kmhmu' Lao Script-Based Orthography. Mon-Khmer Studies, 42, 12-25.
  14. ^ Tsumura, Fumihiko. (2009). Magical Use of Traditional Scripts in Northeastern Thai Villages. Senri Ethnological Studies, 74, 63-77.
  15. ^ Ronnakiat, Nantana (1992). Evidence of the Thai Noi alphabet found in inscriptions. The Third International Symposium on Language and Linguistics, 1326 - 1334.
  16. ^ Mitchell, Ben. (2018). Towards a comprehensive proposal for Thai Noi/Lao Buhan script.
  17. ^ Lew, Sigrid. (2014). A linguistic analysis of the Lao writing system and its suitability for minority language orthographies. Writing Systems Research, 6(1), 25-40. doi:10.1080/17586801.2013.846843
  18. ^ Kangpajanpeng, Kiao; Vilaipan, Vilaisat; Vongnaty, Kunlapan (1999). English-Lao, Lao-English Dictionary [ ] (in Lao). Vientiane.
  19. ^ Konnyvong, Syviengkhek (2005). Dictionary of the Lao Language [?] (in Lao). Vientiane..
  20. ^ a b Lao Language, level 1 [?] (in Lao). Vientiane: Ministry of Education and Sports. 2007.
  21. ^ ? (Ministry of Education and Sports), & (Research Institute for Educational Sciences). (2019). ? ?1 1. Retrieved 12 May 2020 from
  22. ^ Ronnakieat, N.
  23. ^ Davis, Garry W. (2015). The story of Lao r: Filling in the gaps. Journal of Lao Studies 2, 97-109. Retrieved from
  24. ^ Ivarsson, Søren. (2008). Creating laos: the making of a lao space between indochina and siam, 1860-1945. Copenhagen, Denmark: Nordic Inst of Asian Studies.
  25. ^ Southeast asian language resource lao dictionary. (2005). Retrieved from
  26. ^ "Survey of Language Computing in Asia" (PDF).
  27. ^ "Microsoft Windows help page". Retrieved 2018.
  28. ^ " site How to "Setup Internet Explorer to read Lao font"". Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 2018.
  29. ^ "New font drives IT development in Laos" (PDF). Retrieved 2018.
  30. ^ Phetsarath OT Information page"
  31. ^ "Vientiane Times Laos unveils first Tablet". Retrieved 2018.

Further reading

External links

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