Language and Cognition -
| About Lao
Lao is the national language of Laos, spoken by over four million people there. It is also spoken by a minority in Northeast Cambodia, and a large minority (at least ten million) in Northeast Thailand (in areas bordering lowland Laos). There are also scattered Lao-speaking villages in Western Cambodia and Central and Eastern Thailand. The dialects spoken in Thailand are undergoing rapid change under the influence of central Thai. Lao is also spoken in sizeable expatriate communities in the US, Australia, and France.
Lao belongs to the Southwestern branch of the Tai family. It is an isolating, analytic tone language with no inflectional morphology and little productive derivational morphology. Most words have one stressed syllable, and many have a non-stressed presyllable in addition. There are five lexical tones (level, high rising, low rising, high falling, low falling). Two major open class lexical categories are noun and verb.
In the nominal domain, further form classes include personal (definite) pronouns, indefinite pronouns, determiners, and classifiers. The personal pronouns show a thoroughgoing set of distinctions for social deixis, distinguishing in all three persons between bare, familiar, polite and formal person reference. Indefinite pronouns distinguish only between basic ontological categories of person, animate, and thing. The indefinite pronouns also function as interrogative pronouns. There is a complex system of nominal classification, with distinct patterns for numeral classifiers, modifier classifiers, class terms, and kin prefixes. Most words which function as classifiers are not members of a distinct classifier form class, but are open class nouns used in classifier functions, as determined by constructional context. Noun phrases are basically head-initial, but do not show a high branching hierarchical structure. They are often discontinuous, with head nouns not always adjacent to modifier phrases. Discourse-level reference management (i.e., introducing new referents, tracking already introduced ones) generally follows principles of preferred argument structure, with new referents tending not to occur in subject function. A presentational verb-first construction provides a dedicated means for introducing new arguments in non clause-initial position. Subsequent tracking of referents in discourse involves the use of both definite pronouns and zero anaphora. Noun phrases in almost any position may be ellipsed if they are in any sense currently given (definite, accessible) in the discourse, or otherwise contextually retrievable. Exceptions include complements of certain prepositions, and heads of noun phrases with relative clause modifiers.
In the verbal domain, there are distinctions between sub-classes of verbs. One of these is the sub-class of adjectives, whose distinct syntactic properties include the possibility of a dedicated type of reduplication. There is a major open class of ideophones. These are distinct from verbs both in form (they tend to be bisyllabic, showing rhyming or alliterative structure) and grammatical behavior (they are constrained to a single construction type, and cannot take aspectual-modal marking).
Aspectual-modal distinctions are marked both preverbally and post verb-phrasally, in a series of ordered slots. Many of the aspectual-modal markers also function as open class items (mostly verbs). Further distinctions in the domain of modality are made by the sentence-final particles, an important and sizeable form class (with at least thirty members). Sentence-final particles make a range of distinctions in illocutionary force, status, and evidentiality. Syntactically, sentence-final particles constitute a robust syntactic end border of the clausal core. They are stressed and prosodically exposed, marking off any post-posed (i.e., right-positioned) material to come. Functionally, sentence-final particles are an important part of the set of aspectual-modal resources, which are distributed across a range of syntactic positions from the clausal core to the periphery and beyond.
Complex clausal grammar centers on the use of multi-verb constructions (or serial verb constructions). These are sequences of verbs or verb phrases which lack overt morphological marking of interrelationships such as subordination or coordination. A great variety of complex syntactic-semantic configurations are covertly coded in these sequences, including complex motion constructions, various types of secondary predication (depictive, resultative, and adverbial constructions), causative constructions, adverbial constructions, complement constructions, and coordinating constructions.
Lao is mostly spoken in lowland areas of Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia between the Annamite Cordillera (Vietnam and Cambodia) to the East, and the Chao Phraya River to the West (Thailand).
Lao is the official language of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos). It is a native language to about half of Laos's total population of around five million. (Several dozen other languages are spoken in the country, mostly with populations of fewer than ten thousand.) There are sizable populations of Lao speakers in regions bordering Laos, including a sizable minority in Northeast Cambodia (several hundred thousand people) and a very large population centered in Northeast Thailand and major cities such as Bangkok. Estimates range from ten to twenty million Thai citizens are ethnically Lao. There are sizable Lao-speaking communities in France, Australia, and the US, originating in massive refugee migrations in the late 1970s.
See following website (and many links there) for information: http://www.seasite.niu.edu/lao
- N. J. Enfield, 2007. A grammar of Lao. Berlin and New York: Mouton.