4M Lao Speakers
In Lao, words are not separated from each other by spaces. Commas are used for minor pauses in sentences, and major pauses are indicated by a period.
During the French occupation of Lao, the French added an “s” at the end of Lao (making it called ‘Laos’). This bore the meaning that there are many different groups of Lao people. After 1945, when they gained their independence, the country’s name changed back from Laos to its original one “Lao”.
Lao sometimes is referred to as Laotian (ລາວ Lao or ພາສາລາວ Lao language) which is the official language of Lao, as well as northeast of Thailand, where it is known as Isan.
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The complexity of Lao translation
1. The written language > Translation Service
- Consonants: It has 27 consonants and 7 consonantal ligatures. Lao consonants are divided into three classes which help to determine the tone of a syllable. The consonants can all be used at the beginning of a syllable but only some can be used at the end.
- Vowels: There are 33 vowels and they can be placed before, after, above, below, and around consonants. The vowel itself determines its placement. For instance, the vowel າ always appears after the consonant, as in, ກາ ( kaa / crow). The vowel ູ always appears below the consonant, as in, ປູ (puu / crab).
- Structure: The writing direction of the language is from left to right and it also read in the same direction as English. Spaces are not used for separating words and punctuation. The sentence structure is similar to Thai language and Thai is called a sister language to Lao.
- Grammar: As it is a close relative of Thai, the grammar structure is similar. Lao is a language that does not use inflections to represent grammar such as case, gender, number or tense. The syntactic function of words is created by word order and by various particles that follow nouns and verbs. In addition, Lao uses a system of a qualitative noun that follows the numeral and lie before the noun, For example, Tua = ‘body’ for animals – “saang song tua” = elephant two-body, meaning ‘two elephants’.
2. The spoken language > Media Service
- Dialects: There are many Lao dialects throughout the countries of Laos and Thailand. The written system is based on the dialect of the Lao capital Vientiane.
- Name: outside of formal, international, or academic spheres, In daily life, Lao people generally refer to themselves and others by nicknames, or seu lin—literally “play names”. Much likely to nicknames of Thai people (with whom the Lao share a great deal of cultural similarity)
Even though Thai and Lao are very similar, the translators still need to pay extra attention to the differences in the two languages as there could be historical or political sensitivity that could cause misunderstanding or even conflict.
Relate that to the translation of western languages like English to Lao and there are even more cultural differences to consider.