Before the French colonize Laos, were laotian and thai the same language?
The people in the area now known as Laos spoke Lao, but there were various Lao dialects depending on where you were, and there were other languages spoken as well in different parts, like hill-tribe languages and dialects of Chinese. The Lao language extended well into the area now known as Thailand in the form of the Isaan language, which is a Lao dialect. So no, they were not the same language then, and it’s the same today of course. However, the Thai and Lao languages both belong to the Tai language family, and are closely related.
[pinterest-pro type=”pinit” pin_url=”http://siam-longings.com/1books/lao-isaan.htm” pin_image_url=”” pin_counter=”horizontal” pin_desc=”An attempt to offer some background on the Isaan “language,” as well as a look at the Isaan Region. “]This very recent historical occurrence concerning the Lao-based Isaan tongue quite intrigues me; and I say “tongue” in the sense of the language being a variant of the Lao language, for some linguistic authorities say that it is incorrect to label Isaan an actual language — but let’s for convenience steer away from that pedantic exactitude. From Wikipedia‘s article Isan:
Since the beginning of the 20th century, northeastern Thailand has been officially known as Isan, a term adopted from Sanskrit Ishan, meaning in a “north east direction.” The term “Isan” was derived from Isanapura, the capital of the Chenla kingdom. The Lao-speaking population of the region, who comprise the majority, distinguish themselves not only from the Lao of Laos but also from the central Thai by calling themselves Khon Isan or Thai Isan. The Khmer-speaking minority and Kuy (Suai), who live in the south of Isan, speak dialects and follow customs more similar to those of Cambodia than either the Thai people or the Lao people.
In the 20th century, a policy of nationalist “Thaification” promoted the incorporation of Isan as an integral part of Thailand and de-emphasised the Lao and Khmer ethnicities of the residents. The national government claimed (incorrectly) that the name “Isan” was derived from that of Iśāna (Sanskrit: ईशान), a manifestation of Shiva as deity of the northeast, and the Sanskrit word for northeast. This interpretation was intended to reinforce the area’s identity as the northeast of Thailand, rather than as a part of the Lao world.
Before the central government introduced the Thai alphabet and language in regional schools, the people of Isan wrote in the Lao alphabet, a similar script. Most Isan people still speak the Isan language, a dialect of the Lao language. A significan minority also speak Northern Khmer. The Kuy people, who are concentrated around the core of the Isanapura kingdom, and known as “Khmer Boran” or ancient Khmer, speak other Katuic languages, a link to the region’s pre-Siamese history as part of the Mon–Khmer kingdom of Chenla.
It is this “Thaification” that captures me — the notion that the spoken Isaan “language” is now written in Thai, and not the original script that literate Isaan people used prior to the enforcement of “Thaification” in the schools throughout the nation. This all began after 1933, but the real push came in the 1960s. My wife, born in 1973, would have been schooled exclusively to write in Central Thai. Her mother, born in the middle or early 1940s, might have learned to write the Isaan language in the old script.
Due to television and radio, even remote areas of Isaan — where Isaan is spoken as the daily language — are exposed to Central Thai. However, it must have been challenging to be an exclusively Isaan-speaking child starting school and being confronted with having to learn to read and write Central Thai. It would be like placing your young child into an immersion-language school where they will only learn to communicate via a foreign language.
There were literal book-burnings by the Central Thai government to eradicate written Isaan.
There is a small movement to reintroduce that former written script, and it seems to me that Khon Kaen University might be at the centre of it.
Have a look at Wikipedia‘s section on Demographics in that same Isan article. It has been updated with 2010 population figures and other statistics.
The number of speakers of Isan has been estimated at between 15 million and 23 million, the majority of these being in Isan.
For a little more on the differences between Central Thai, Isaan Thai, and Lao, check out the fairly elaborate responses to these four questions at LearnSpeakThai.com:
I never realized until working on this post that Wikitravel has quite an extensive Lao phrasebook, if you are interested.
I recently posted before that there is eventually going to be an English-Isaan (Isan) Dictionary available; and when it is available, you will find it listed at Living Hour – Learn Thai-Isaan Language Books. I’m looking forward to getting a copy.
As well, I have also posted before of Asger Mollerup’s Thai-Isan-Lao Phrasebook. And I have often-enough considered acquiring it, but to date I have not.
I am editing this post on May 16, 2012, with these additional websites spotlighting a little of the Isaan Region that you might find of some interest:
Well, the drop-ins by family, friends and neighbors always delay – if not change – the directions a day might otherwise take, but village life is a very social life. I am fortunate that our villagers somehow know I like my privacy, …
Publish Date: 05/05/2012 23:22
Although I’ve written of our average day in the village, there really is rarely an average day. By that, I mean, you’d think that living in a Thai-Lao village would be boring and sleepy; that every day would be pretty much the …
Publish Date: 04/28/2012 22:27
Lao Central aims to operate a mix of regional and domestic services from its base in Vientiane. After the Bangkok inaugural flight it said it was starting domestic services to Luang Prabang, 7 May and to Pakse next month.
Publish Date: 05/15/2012 0:25
The Boon Pakwet festival was fun. Imagine if your town could throw a party once every year and the surrounding towns paid for it. Not only that, but because the cost of the party is off-set by village volunteers, a huge pot-luck …
Publish Date: 05/14/2012 8:06
Riding our bikes home, after jahn hahn, Thip and I might stop at our biggest property (almost seven acres) that is just across the road that fronts the temple. “17 Rai” is one-third upper land and two-thirds rice paddies.
Publish Date: 04/21/2012 21:25
Late afternoon is Beer Chang time. If I have company, I’ll crack open some Leo, which is locally preferred over Chang, although I like Chang the best of all Thai beers I’ve tried thus far. It’s like a 5.5% alcohol Heinekin.
Publish Date: 04/25/2012 20:50
A rock climbing facility has opened in Thakhek, Laos, with easy access from Nakhon Phnom via the 3rd Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. Green Climbers Home is located near the Xiengliab Cave, 12 km, outside of Thakhek town.
Publish Date: 05/13/2012 2:00
I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me quite some time before I realized that those many words Thip used were Lao – not Thai! This is because even though The Isaan has been officially part of Thailand since 1768 C.E., …
Publish Date: 03/18/2012 21:42
Die Völkerschaften dieser Länder sind noch heute im Isaan ethnisch präsent, sowohl in den Gesichtszügen der Menschen wie in ihren Sprachen und Gebräuchen. Der grössere Teil der Bevölkerung besteht ethnisch aus Lao …
Publish Date: 05/13/2012 18:35
The origin of many of the bombing missions which decimated Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, the base provided dollars and jobs for the villagers of Baan Na Tha Kai who previously had little opportunity to work off of their rice …
Publish Date: 04/30/2012 19:01
Isaan Parade (Roi Et Provence). Posted by rolo at 8:14 AM · Email ThisBlogThis!Share to … Liking Whiskey (Thailand teaching life) · Buddha Park, Laos · One Down… Three To Go… ► May (3). What Hasn’t Gone Wrong Yet.
Publish Date: 05/08/2012 8:14
Singkorn’s Return (Isaan Lao language)
Published on Mar 26, 2012 by Create2010
“Singkorn’s Return” is an exciting adventure in the life of a young Isaan boy and his friends. Together they discover the evil in the world and finally escape it through the power of love.
(In the Isaan Language)
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