February 11, 2018

ຖາມຫຍັງກໍໄດ້ - The Silent H

Ask Anything Series on Laoconnection.comQuestion:  Why is there a letter H in Lao words that have been transcribed into English, when in fact the H is almost always silent?

Answer:  I suspect it may have something to do with French influence.  In French, the letter H is used but it doesn't have the same sound or use as it does in English.

When the French attempted to transcribe Lao words and names, they would use the H where they believed a breathy H sound needed to be.  And the Vietnamese administrators they brought in during those times continued the practice.  In other instances, you'll even see an H at the end of a name for seemingly no reason.

However, with English now being the predominant foreign Language in Laos (aside from Thai of course), English readers will read these words and pronounce them from their English perspective.

Here are some examples, with their proper pronunciation:
  • Wat That - should be pronounced vat tat
  • That Luang - should be pronounced tat luang
  • Phu Bia - a well-known mountain area, is pronounced poo bia
  • Phone - a common nickname in Laos, is pronounced pawn
  • Viengthong - should be pronounced viengtong
With those examples, I'm sure you get the picture.

Lao language tip:  If you see a letter H in an English/French transcribed Lao word such as those in the above examples, don't pronounce it.

This is a part of the new ຖາມຫຍັງກໍໄດ້ Ask Anything Series here on Laoconnection.com where we're sharing the many questions people have asked us over the years from in-person conversations, email, Facebook, and the blog. 

For those wanting to add to the conversation, your comments below the posts are welcome. Feel free to make contact in Facebook to ask questions.  Most people don't want their names published and that wish will be respected.

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