LINGUIST List 7.971

Wed Jul 3 1996

Disc: Indic scripts, standard Lao

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Peter Daniels, Re: 7.959, Qs: Scripts
  2. linnjeLURE.LATROBE.EDU.AU, "Standard Lao"

Message 1: Re: 7.959, Qs: Scripts

Date: Mon, 01 Jul 1996 21:28:29 CDT
From: Peter Daniels <>
Subject: Re: 7.959, Qs: Scripts
Regarding David Solnit's query about Southeast Asian scripts, I would
immodestly state that the basic reference work is now *The World's Writing
Systems*, edited by me and William Bright (Oxford UP, 1996), wherein you
will find some rather nice charts and quite full bibliography on the ancestry
of South and Southeast Asian scripts. I believe that none of our authors use
so vague a term as "Pali scripts"; "Pali" is sort of a catch-all term for
"everything post-
Sanskrit and pre-modern, particularly if it relates to Buddhism," as far as
I can tell as a non-Indicist.
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Message 2: "Standard Lao"

Date: Wed, 03 Jul 1996 00:09:21 +1000
Subject: "Standard Lao"

 In response to the question on Lao standard language (from David
Solnit), and the comments (from Varisa Osatananda - see SEALANG server).

I have been working on Lao since 1990, when I was a foreign student at
Dong Dok University in Vientiane for one year. I have since taught Lao at
the Australian National University in Canberra, and completed research on
the language in a number of areas (mostly grammatical topics).

I am now working in Melbourne on a "Sketch Grammar of Lao, for
Reference", as well as
a project on the state of Lao language in the rapidly-changing capital,

A few brief points regarding "Standard Lao":

Any standard must be codified (officialised) in grammars, dictionaries,
the education system, TV, etc. Vientiane Lao is the standard in Laos,
but it is only WEAKLY codified. This does not mean there is no idea at
all of any standard. The Lao know "Dialects" when they hear them, and
also recognise the more "correct" variety spoken by newsreaders, or as
described (with some points of disagreement) in textbooks, etc. There
is, as yet, no Reference Grammar, only pedagogical work.
The language spoken in Vientiane has undergone great change since 1975,
with socialist rule (including imposed language reforms), and a huge
influx of speakers from all around the country. The variety considered
"standard" is the traditional dialect of Vientiane, spoken by those whose
families have originated in the area (typically, around Vat Ong Teu).
Certain features are diagnostic. SImilarly, certain non-standard
features are recognised (and stigmatised).
It is naive to suppose (as Osatananda does) that "it is the government's
policy to maintain that people are equal in every way and that there is
no dialect which is superior". It would be a bizarre (and careless)
government which did not have active concern for the political status of
the language. In fact, the Lao government implemented reforms in line
with socialist policies (e.g. hierarchical forms of address were
discouraged, Sanskritic terms replaced by loan-translations). The reason
why the standard has not been effectively implemented is simple lack of
resources. Laos has very limited infrastructure. The economy is now
expanding, but with it comes other difficulties for the language, such as
the intense and pervasive presence of Thai print and electronic media in

In sum, there IS a "standard Lao", and it is based on the traditional
Vientiane dialect. It is recognised by speakers, but is only weakly
codified (i.e. in terms of full details of what is "correct", and what is

Nick Enfield
Department of Linguistics
University of Melbourne
Parkville, VIC 3052. AUSTRALIA
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