February 20, 2024

It's lap, not larb

By:  Laoconnection.com, February 20, 2024

Since there is no international set standard of how to write Lao words into English, you'll often see many spelling variations of the same word.  This is often dependent on who's writing and everyone seems to have their own way of writing it out - us included!

Lao language poster

Delicious Lap

One of the biggest mistakes we've found is how the most famous Lao food, a meat salad dish, is often incorrectly written as larb.  A better way to write it for English readers would be lap.  It should be pronounced lap like "doing a lap around the gym".  In Lao, it's written as ລາບ.  

The Useless H

The other one that people need to be aware of is the silent and superfluous letter h.  We wrote about this in a previous post.

Essentially, it's a warning that in many English translations of Lao words where the letter h is added is that it often serves no purpose.

Here are some examples of what we mean, shown with the common spelling vs. how it's really pronounced:
  • That - the Lao word for stupa, should be pronounced tat
    Examples:  Think of the famous Tat Luang in Vientiane or Vat Tat temple in Luangprabang.
  • Phu - the Lao word for mountain, should be pronounced poo / pu
  • Phone - a common nickname in Laos, should be pronounced pawn
  • Viengthong - also a common name, should be pronounced viengtong
Do you see the pattern?  The h is not pronounced.

Now this isn't to say that the letter sounding h doesn't exist in Lao language.  It does exist in Lao as ຫ and ຮ.

So how to know when to pronounce the h?  A simple rule to keep in mind is this:  If the word starts with an h / ຫ / ຮ then yes you typically would pronounce it.  But when that letter h is placed into other words, like the examples provided above, then it's most likely silent.  Admittedly, this isn't always the case but usually often it is.

Tell us what you think of some of these language oddities - comment below.

- Laoconnection.com

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