French loan-words in Lao

French loan-words in Lao

The French colonial era in Laos

Laos was a French colony from approx. 1893 until its independence in 1953.

Historically, Luang Prabang was the capital of Laos. However, much of the growth in terms of prosperity and economics happened in Vientiane, so that became the central “capital” as it is today.

Although the French were not the first European contact in Laos, they were the ones who had the most influence in carving out territories and boundaries.

The term ‘Farang’ literally means “France/French” in Lao.

Subsequently, other Europeans were mistakenly seen as the ‘French’ and so the term, ‘Farang’ caught on to refer to any Westerners.

As a result of the French influence,  Lao language has many words borrowed from French cultural interactions.
So, let’s look at a few examples from French.⠀⠀⠀

English Lao French
Coffee ກາ​ເຟ /gaafae/ Café
Chauffeur ໂຊເຝີ /sooferr/ Chauffeur
Chocolate ຊັ້ອກໂກແລັດ /sawkgoolaaet/ Chocolat
Ice Cream ກະ​ແລັມ /galaaem/ Crème Glacée

Most of the words shown are merely how Lao people try to pronounce foreign words based on the French system.

More words of French origin in Lao

English Lao French
Ball ໝາກບານ /maak baan/ Balle
Pilot ປີລົດ /bpii lot/ Pilote
Cement ຊີມັງ /sii mang/ Ciment
Air Hostess ສາວໂອແຕັສ /saao oo dtaaes/ Hôtesse de l'air
Petanque ເປຕັງ /bpaedtang/ Pétanque
Cassette/Tape ກາແຊັດ /gaasaaet/ Cassette

French coffee impact

One of the Lao word of French origin for ‘coffee’ is ກາເຟ /gaafae/ (or “café” in French)

Some fun facts

Laos has a very strong coffee industry — a remnant from the French colonial era when they started planting coffee.

The Bolaven Plateau located in Champasak, Laos is the area with the largest coffee plantations.

There’s even a Lao Coffee Festival in Vientiane, Laos.

A US-based company in San Diego, California  ‘Seven Seas Roasting’ sources its coffee beans from Paksong, Laos.


French language influence

Silent ‘e’, silent ‘h’, and silent ‘s’⠀

Much of the English transliteration in Laos is based on the French system.

Example: ວຽງຈັນ is pronounce as /viangchan/ in American English but spell as “Vientiane” from the French system. Another example is “Laotienne” (female)

There’s also a silent ‘h’ in the French transliteration.⠀

Even Lao diasporas who live in America are still using the French system to write their names.

Ever notice Lao names or last names starting with ‘Ph’ is pronounce as /pii/ as opposed to /fii/? One of my uncle name is ‘Phonekeo’ but in American English it should be “Pawnkeo.”

As for the silent ‘s’? Well, many people say/write, ‘He/she is Laos’, ‘I am Laos’ incorrectly. Just like how the term ‘Farang’ caught on to refer to any Westerners, using ‘Laos’ incorrectly as a noun has also caught on, unfortunately.

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‘Historical Dictionary of Laos’ – Martin Stuart-Fox

Silent ‘H’ from

French Protectorate of Laos

Laotians in France

1 thought on “French loan-words in Lao”

  1. It’s quite interesting that they adopted words from their former colonizers. In most cases, a country would erase any resemblance of their colonial impact.

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