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Lao alphabet

Languages Lao, Thai and others
Time period
c. 1350–present
Parent systems
Sister systems
ISO 15924 Laoo, 356
Direction Left-to-right
Unicode alias

The Lao alphabet, Akson Lao (Lao: ອັກສອນລາວ ), is the main script used to write the Lao language and other minority languages in Laos. Ultimately of Indic origin, the alphabet includes 27 consonants (ພະຍັນຊະນະ ), 7 consonantal ligatures (ພະຍັນຊະນະປະສົມ [pʰāɲánsānā pá sǒm]), 33 vowels (ສະຫລະ [sálā]) (some based on combinations of symbols), and 4 tone marks (ວັນນະຍຸດ [ván nā ɲūt]). According to Article 89 of Amended Constitution of 2003 of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the Lao alphabet is the official script to the official language, but is also used to transcribe minority languages in the country, but some minority language speakers continue to use their traditional writing systems while the Hmong have adopted the Roman Alphabet.[1] An older version of the script was also used by the ethnic Lao of Thailand's Isan region, who make up a third of Thailand's population, before Isan was incorporated into Siam, until its use was banned and supplemented with the very similar Thai alphabet in 1871, although the region remained distant culturally and politically until further government campaigns and integration into the Thai state (Thaification) were imposed in the 20th century.[2] The letters of the Lao Alphabet are very similar to the Thai alphabet, which has the same roots. They differ in the fact, that in Thai there are still more letters to write one sound and the more circular style of writing in Lao.

Lao, like most indic scripts, is traditionally written from left to right. Traditionally considered an abugida script, where certain 'implied' vowels are unwritten, recent spelling reforms make this definition somewhat problematic, as all vowel sounds today are marked with diacritics when written according the Lao PDR's propagated and promoted spelling standard. However most Lao outside of Laos, and many inside Laos, continue to write according to former spelling standards, which continues the use of the implied vowel maintaining the Lao script's status as an abugida. 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 punctuations were traditionally not used, but a space is used and functions in place of a comma or period. The letters have no majuscule or minuscule (upper and lower case) differentiations.


  • History 1
  • Consonants 2
    • Consonant chart 2.1
    • Consonantal digraphs and ligatures 2.2
    • Phonetic 2.3
  • Vowels 3
  • Numerals 4
  • Lao compatible software 5
  • Unicode 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9
  • Further Reading 10


The Lao script was slowly standardised in the Mekong River valley after the various Tai principalities of the region were merged under the rule of the Kingdom of Lan Xang in the 14th century. This script, sometimes known as Tai Noi, has changed little since its inception and continued in use in the Lao-speaking regions of modern-day Laos and Isan, while the Thai alphabet continued to evolve, but similarity of the scripts can still be seen. This script was ultimately influenced by earlier writing systems in use by the Mon and the Khmer.

Traditionally, only secular literature was written with the Lao alphabet. Religious literature was often written in Tua Tham, a Mon-based script that is still used for the Tai Khün, Tai Lue, and formerly for Kham Mueang. Mystical, magical, and some religious literature was written in a modified version of the Khmer alphabet.


The 27 consonants of the Lao alphabet are divided into three tone classes—high (ສູງ [sǔːŋ]), middle (ກາງ [kaːŋ]), low (ຕ່ຳ tām)—which determine the tonal pronunciation of the word in conjunction with the four tone marks and distinctions between short and long vowels, but aside from tone, there are 21 distinct consonant sounds that occur in the Lao language. Each letter has an acrophonical name that either begins with or features the word prominently and is used to teach the letter and serves to distinguish them from other, homophonous consonants. The letter ອ is a special null consonant used as an anchor for vowels, which cannot stand alone, as well as serves as a vowel in its own right.

Consonant chart

The table below shows the Lao consonant, its name, its pronunciation according to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), as well as various romanisation 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
ກ ໄກ່ kāi, chicken /k/ k /k/ k KO Middle
ຂ ໄຂ່ kʰāi, egg /kʰ/ kh /k/ k KHO SUNG High
ຄ ຄວາຍ kʷʰáːj, water buffalo /kʰ/ kh /k/ k KHO TAM Low
ງ ງົວ or ງູ ŋúə, ox or ŋúː, snake /ŋ/ ng /ŋ/ ng NGO Low
ຈ ຈອກ tɕɔ̏ːk, glass /tɕ/ ch /t/ t CO Middle
ສ ເສືອ sɯ̌ːə, tiger /s/ s /t/ t SO SUNG High
ຊ ຊ້າງ sâːŋ, elephant /s/ x s /t/ t SO TAM Low
ຍ ຍຸງ ɲúŋ, mosquito /ɲ/ gn ny y NYO Low
ດ ເດັກ dék, child /d/ d /t/ t DO Middle
ຕ ຕາ tàː, eye /t/ t /t/ t TO Middle
ຖ ຖົງ tʰǒŋ, stocking /tʰ/ th /t/ t THO SUNG High
ທ ທຸງ tʰúŋ, flag /tʰ/ th /t/ t THO TAM Low
ນ ນົກ nōk, bird /n/ n /n/ ne n NO Low
ບ ແບ້ bɛ̑ː, goat /b/ b /p/ p BO Middle
ປ ປາ paː, fish /p/ p /p/ p PO Middle
ຜ ເຜິ້ງ pʰɤ̏ŋ, bee /pʰ/ ph PHO SUNG High
ຝ ຝົນ fǒn, rain /f/ f /p/ p FO TAM High
ພ ພູ pʰúː, mountain /pʰ/ ph /p/ p PHO TAM Low
ຟ ໄຟ fáj, fire /f/ f /p/ p FO SUNG Low
ມ ແມວ mɛ́ːw, cat /m/ m /m/ m MO Low
ຢ ຢາ jaː, medicine /j/ y YO Middle
ຣ ຣົຖ or ຣະຄັງ rōt, car or rākʰáŋ, bell /r/,/l/ r /n/ ne n LO LING Low
ລ ລີງ líːŋ, monkey /l/ l /n/ ne n LO LOOT Low
ວ ວີ víː, fan /ʋ/,/w/ v v,w WO Low
ຫ ຫ່ານ hāːn, goose /h/ h HO SUNG High
ອ ໂອ ʔòː, bowl /ʔ/ O Middle
ຮ ເຮືອນ hɯ́ːən, house /h/ h HO TAM Low

Note that the Unicode names for the characters ຝ (FO TAM) and ຟ (FO SUNG) are reversed. The same is true for ຣ (LO LING) and ລ (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 silent ຫ ຫ່ານ with certain other consonants, some of which also have special ligature forms that are optionally used. Because of the first silent component is of the 'high' tone class, all the digraphs and ligatures are also of the high tone class. The older versions of the script also included special forms for combinations of ພ (pʰ) + ຍ (ɲ), ສ (s) + ນ (n), and ມ (m) + ລ (l). In addition, consonant clusters that had the second component of ຣ (r) or ລ (l) were written with a special form ຼ underneath the consonant.[3] Since these were not pronounced in Lao, they were removed during various spelling reforms and this symbol only appears in the ligature ຫຼ.[4]

Letter Initial position Unicode Tone Class
ຫງ /ŋ/ ng ng High
ຫຍ /ɲ/ gn j ny ny High
or ຫນ /n/ n n High
or ຫມ /m/ m m High
ຫຼ or ຫຣ /r/,/l/ r r High
ຫຼ or ຫລ /l/ l l High
ຫວ /ʋ/,/w/ v v,w w 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 [pʰ]
ຜ, ພ
ຂ, ຄ
Fricative [f]
ຝ, ຟ
ສ, ຊ
ຫ, ຮ
Affricate [tɕ]
Approximant [ʋ]
Trill [r]
ຣ, ລ
* Depends on the dialects.

Lao characters in final position.

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal [m]
ນ, ຣ, ລ
Plosive [p]
ບ, ປ, ພ, ຝ, ຟ
ຈ, ສ, ຊ, ດ, ຕ, ຖ, ທ
ກ, ຂ, ຄ
Approximant [j]
ຍ, ຢ


There are only a handful of basic symbols, but they can be combined with other vowel forms and semi-vowels like to create the full repertoire of diphthongs and triphthongs used in the language. Vowels cannot stand alone or begin a syllable, so the null consonant, ອ, which can function as a vowel in its own right, is used as a base. The names of the vowels are just as easy as saying sala (ສະຫລະ, ) before the vowel sign. Some vowels have unique names, and these are ໃ- (ໄມ້ມ້ວນ, mâj muân, rolled stem), ໄ- (ໄມ້ມາຽ, mâj máːj, unwound stem), -ົ (ໄມ້ກົງ, mâj kòŋ, straight stem), -ັ (ໄມ້ກັນ, mâj kàn, ear stem), -ຽ (ວິຣາມ, vī ráːm), and -ໍ (ນິກຄະຫິດ, nīk kʰā hǐt).[5]

Short vowels Long vowels
-ະ, -ັ /a/ a a -າ /aː/ a ā a aa
-ິ /i/ i i -ີ /iː/ i ī i ii
-ຶ /ɯ/ u ư ue y -ື /ɯː/ u ư̄ ue yy
-ຸ /u/ ou u u u -ູ /uː/ ou ū u uu
ເ-ະ, ເ-ັ /e/ é e e ເ- /eː/ é ē e e
ແ-ະ, ແ-ັ /ɛ/ è æ ae ແ- /ɛː/ è ǣ ae ei
ໂ-ະ, -ົ /o/ ô o o ໂ- /oː/ ô ō o o
ເ-າະ, -ັອ- /ɔ/ o ǫ o -ໍ, -ອ- /ɔː/ o ǭ o
ເ-ິ /ɤ/ eu œ oe ເ-ີ /ɤː/ eu œ̄ oe
ເ-ັຍ, -ັຽ- /iə/ ia ເ-ຍ, -ຽ- /iːə/ ia īa ia
ເ-ຶອ /ɯə/ ua ưa uea ເ-ືອ /ɯːə/ ua ư̄a uea
-ົວະ, -ັວ- /uə/ oua ua ua -ົວ, -ວ- /uːə/ oua ūa ua
ໄ-, ໃ-*, -ັຍ /aj/ ai ai or ay -າຍ /aːj/ ay āi ai
ເ-ົາ /aw/ ao
-ຳ /am/ am


Hindu-Arabic numerals 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 20
Lao numerals ໑໐ ໒໐
Lao names ສູນ ນຶ່ງ ສອງ ສາມ ສີ່ ຫ້າ ຫົກ ເຈັດ ແປດ ເກົ້າ ສິບ ຊາວ
thai number ๑๐ ๒๐
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

Note that Sao, twenty, is not a Thai word and is only used here to show the RTGS transcription of the Lao Xao (ຊາວ). The Thai word for twenty would instead be Yi-Sip (ยี่สิบ).

Lao compatible software

Lao has been available for Linux for many years.

Lao was not officially supported by Windows until Windows Vista.[6] Although user-generated fonts are freely available online, viewing them required the user to download the fonts; place them into the "Windows", "Fonts", folder; and then open an Internet Explorer window. The user would then navigate to the "Tools" menu, "Internet Options" option, "General" tab. They would need to click on the "Fonts" option and then select the font that they downloaded.[7]

In December 2011 the Lao Ministry of Science and Technology in cooperation with the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications officially[8] authorized the use of Phetsarath OT[9] as the standard national font.

The Phetsarath OT font was already adopted by the government in 2009 but Lao users were unable to use it, as international software manufactures did not embed the font into 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[10] presented[11] the Phetsarath OT on mobile phones as well as tablet PCs using the mobile device operating system Android.


The Unicode block for the Lao script is U+0E80–U+0EFF, added in Unicode version 1.0. The first 10 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 ສ is not in alphabetical order, since it occupies the same codepoint as the Thai letter ส.

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
1.^ As of Unicode version 8.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Ronnakiat, N. (1992). Evidence of the thai alphabet found in inscriptions. The Third International Symposium on Language and Linguistics, 1326 - 1334.
  3. ^ Ronnakieat, N.
  4. ^ Ivarsson, Søren. (2008). Creating laos: the making of a lao space between indochina and siam, 1860-1945. Copenhagen, Denmark: Nordic Inst of Asian Studies.
  5. ^ Southeast asian language resource lao dictionary. (2005). Retrieved from
  6. ^ Microsoft Windows help page
  7. ^ site How to "Setup Internet Explorer to read Lao font"
  8. ^ New font drives IT development in Laos"
  9. ^ Phetsarath OT Information page"
  10. ^ The Phetsarath OT font on mobile devices"
  11. ^ Vientiane Times Laos unveils first Tablet"
  • Simmala, Buasawan and Benjawan Poomsan Becker (2003), Lao for Beginners. Paiboon Publishing. ISBN 1-887521-28-3

External links

  • Omniglot - Lao alphabet
  • Google Translate
  • The Lao Alphabet at SEAsite
  • Laos - language situation by N. J. Enfield
  • Numerals in many different writing systems, which includes Lao numerals; retrieved 2008-11-12
  • The Unicode Standard 5.0 Code Charts PDF (90.4 KB) Lao Range: 0E80 - 0EFF, from the Unicode Consortium
  • Free Lao script for Windows and Mac OS X
  • Phetasarth OT Information page
  • New font drives IT development in Laos
  • The Phetasarth OT font on mobile devices
  • Vientiane Times article: Laos unveils first Tablet

Further Reading

  • Lew, Sigrid. "A linguistic analysis of the Lao writing system and its suitability for minority language orthographies." Writing Systems Research ahead-of-print (2013): 1-16. Authors’s accepted manuscript
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