How country names are pronounce within a language indicate a bit of its historical interactions and influences with other cultures. For instance, there’s no official way to say Canada in Lao, it is just simply, ການາດາ “Gaanaadaa/Canada.” Iceland is simply Iceland in Lao. Whereas for China, Lao people have a different way of pronouncing it as ຈີນ.
This blog post is about selected (common) countries name in the Lao language. It is not meant to label group of people, but rather to understand how different nations are pronounce in Lao.
What country do you come from?
Where are you from? (residence)
I am from ___
Early Western contact
During the French Indochina colonial era (approx. 1893 to 1949), the French were one of the earliest European contact in Laos (or at least with the most influence to carve out boundaries). The term ຝຣັ່ງ “Farang” and ຝຣັ່ງເສດ “Français“, likely came from when Lao people first heard the French pronunciation of Français as ຟະ and added ຣັ່ງ to make the pronunciation easier for the Lao native tongue.
The etymology of the name ‘French’ “Farang” itself derived from the historical group of a German tribe (the Franks), that once had a strong political & economical influence in Europe including naming ‘Franc’ as the modern day France.
Subsequently, when other early Europeans came to Southeast Asia, and to Laos, it is possible they were also mistakenly seen as “French” people as well. As a result, ຝຣັ່ງ, caught on as a general term to refer to those of any European ancestry or Westerners even today. Those in America who grew up in Laos might also refer to White Americans as ຝຣັ່ງ as well (with a neutral connotation).
Interesting note: The Lao (and Thai) word for potato is ມັນຝລັ່ງ/ມັນຝຣັ່ງ. When certain vegetables from Europe/France were transported and introduced in Laos, there was not an official name for them yet. Thus, it’s possible a ‘potato’ was given the name of the French: ມັນຝຣັ່ງ (it’s French)
How to say America in Lao
America is ອາເມລິກາ, which is pronounce with the /l/ sound. It can be phonetically spelled as “Ameligaa” based on the Lao writing.
Do Lao diasporas and/or Lao Americans refer to Americans (with Anglo/European ancestry) as ‘Farang’ as well? When I visited Laos, I heard people say ‘Farang’ all the time. In America, it depends on the age generation and whether they mainly grew up in Laos or not. I often hear my parents and older relatives, say “Farang” sometimes.
To distinguish between a group of native French people and White Americans, I often hear ຄົນອາເມລິກາຂາວ specifically refer to White Americans, or even simply just ຄົນຂາວ (White people) in general.
How to say foreigners in Lao
There are actually proper terms to address foreigners — different from saying ຝລັ່ງ. People from foreign countries/nations? ຄົນຕ່າງປະເທດ/ຄົນຕ່າງຊາດ. Someone who seems suspicious or not familiar with? ຄົນແປກໆ, which mainly refers to a “foreign” individual person, not a group.
Foreigners (different country)
Note: In Lao, the classifier ຄົນ is use to indicate a person and also of that person’s origin. America and People+America are the same.
Whereas in the English language, a citizen of America (noun) is seen as an American (adjective). The same goes for Germany => German, China => Chinese, France => French, Mexico => Mexican, and so forth.
You’ll see more examples of nationalities and countries below.
How to say France in Lao
Outside of Laos, a large number of Lao people live in France which has the second largest Laotian population other than America [source]. It is appropriate for Lao people to call people there ຄົນຝຣັ່ງ as they are after all, French nationals. The French refer to Lao people as Laotien (with both a neutral/masculine and feminine -ne version).
Is it ຝຣັ່ງ “Farang” or is it ຝລັ່ງ “Falang”?
Both Farang/Falang are just approximate English transliteration of ຝຣັ່ງ/ຝລັ່ງ, respectively. The ຣ /r/ is becoming less common in modern written Lao. Though you’ll still hear people say the /r/ sound often and the letter “ຣ” can be seen in classic Lao literature.
How to say Germany in Lao
This word is actually derived from the French word for Germany.
How to say Spain in Lao
How to say England in Lao
A British living in the United Kingdom is seen an “English” person to Lao people. Saying ອັງກິດ could mean the language “ພາສາ” or people “ຄົນ.” So, we will prefix this with the word for country “ປະເທດ.”
How to say Black in Lao
There is a term that Lao people refer to those who have African ancestry — ຄົນດຳ “Black people.” The word ດຳ/ສີດໍາ by itself means the color black. The word ແຫຼ້ is often use to describe various dark shades or someone/something that is tanned (not specific to race).
Dark (shades/skin tone)
How to say India in Lao
The term for Indian is ຄົນອິນເດຍ or ແຂກ. Likewise, the term for ‘Guest’ in Lao is also ແຂກ. As a kid, whenever my parents talked about having guests over, I once thought they were referring to someone of Indian descent at first. Perhaps it could’ve been Indian guests?
Whether the word ແຂກ has multiple meanings based on the context or that Indians were historically seen as actual ‘Guests’ in Southeast Asia is debatable.
How to say China in Lao
Descendant of Chinese (mainly from southern China) have been living in Laos for centuries. Many can speak both Mandarin Chinese and Lao.
Some people from the certain region in Laos might say ເຈກ. You might not hear it that often among the younger Lao crowds though.
How to say Vietnam in Lao
Lao people have two ways of referring to their neighboring Vietnamese fellows: 1) ວຽດນາມ and 2) ແກວ. You will often hear them causally say just ‘Viet’ as well (neutral connotation).
How to say Cambodia in Lao
Lao has its own way of saying “Cambodia” or “Khmer. “
How to say Korea in Lao
Hanguk is how Koreans say ‘Korea’ but in Lao it’s pronounce differently.
How to say Japan in Lao
The modern English way is to say, Japan. In Lao, Japanese are refer to as ຍີ່ປຸ່ນ “Nippon/Nypuun” which is how Japanese people refer to themselves.
How to say Thailand in Lao
Thai, formely known as Siamese, are relatives of Lao people. Both Lao and Thai share a common Tai ethnic ancestry.
How to say Laos in Lao
Laos is the country (noun). In the aftermath of the civil war, it has been refer to as Lao PDR (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) as well.
Lao is the people (adjective). It can be used to refer to the language, food, culture, and aspects of Lao society.
Laotian (Laoshan) is anything related to Laos/culture (deriving from ethnic Lao and Shan people).
There’s no such thing as a “Laos person” but rather a “Lao person.”
In Lao language, the notion of the country name and nationality is seen as the same, if you have notice a pattern from above. That is, there’s no conjugation of the country (noun) and the nationality (adjective). Laos also sounds close to Lao, but Thailand is never mistaken for sounding like the word “Thai.” Hence, you never hear someone say or type, “I am Thailand.”
Thus, you might come across Lao people who write or say something along the line of “I am Laos”, “He is China”, “You are India” when they do a literal Lao-to-English grammar translation.
As aforementioned, the classifier ຄົນ is use to indicate a person of that country’s origin.
Laos (country – common way)