October 29, 2012

LLR (book): Where do Lots of Lao Words Come From?

Title:  ພາ​ສາ​ລາວ​ສັບແລະ​ຄວາມ​ໝາຍ / Lao Language Vocabulary and Meaning / pasa lao sup lae kuam my
By:  Tongkum Anmanisone (Awnmaneeson), Suvan Tilavong (Teelavong)
Publisher/Year:  The National Publishing House (peemtee hongpeem haeng sat), 1997

Lao Literature Review (book) - Lao language vocabulary and meaning

Like many languages, Lao has absorbed words from its neighboring countries and foreign cultures and media  from afar that permeate throughout the country.  However, more so than any other source, historically a lot of words have come from Pali.  Pali is the ancient south Indian language in which Theravada Buddhism was written in.  It is this same language that entered Laos when Buddhism became the national religion all those centuries ago.

Unfortunately, Pali words are quite long and include a lot of syllables.  As an example, just think of the full long names of many temples, or Khmer or Thai names.  They're super long!  So there's been a habit in the Lao vernacular to shorten them down to single syllables.  In fact, Lao people in general have a habit of doing this on all sorts of words (ex.  calling computers by just com or think of all the Lao short form names for people's names or places that are used in everyday language).

There's very few books written in Lao that explain the etymology (linguistics term referring to the study of where words and their meaning come from) of Lao vocabulary.  Of course, there are dictionaries which give us meaning and translations but not necessarily the source of the word.

I was fortunate enough to find one such book that was exactly what I was looking for (shown above).  It explains the source and meaning of a Lao words.  It's not quite a full dictionary sized book but it does cover quite a list of words.  This book is great find for those interested in deeper knowledge of Lao language and linguistics.

I've read through it and many are Pali in origin.  Here's an example word that they include that I chose randomly, kalavat with the explanation (scanned image below).  Hope you can read Lao because it's interesting!

Lao Literature Review (book) - Lao language vocabulary and meaning, sample word

Well just in case you can't read Lao, here's the translation :-)
  • kalavat is a Lao word sourced from Pali words gla + avas (kala + avasa).  Gla means house/home, avas means address that one uses, who stays there.  Put the two words together glavas (kalavasa) gives meaning as the person who stays at the house/home, the person who has family.  The Lao word is pronounced as kalavat.
I hope my translation makes sense for everyone.  Please keep in mind also that kalavat does have other meanings in Lao as well.  However this is one of the meanings that's explained in this book.

(Related:  For online Pali-English dictionaries, please see our other post on that.)


  1. Wow! That's an interesting finding! and yeah...it was difficult to read that it was difficult to read that explanation in Lao...=/

  2. Hi, thats very interesting. where can I buy this book in Laos or on-line? thank for any help

    1. Sabaidee thanks for your interest. This book was bought in Laos just at a random bookstore in the Morning Market several years ago. Lao books come and go easily. They print in small numbers and don't do reprintings unless it's a particularly popular book. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any further copies of this book since. I sometimes feel like perhaps I got the last copy. If we do find another source or more copies, we'll be sure to post it here.

  3. ດີໃຈຫຼາຍທີ່ຮູ້ເວບນີ້