The Basics

The Lahu language is the language spoken by the Lahu people in Burma, Thailand, China and Laos. This course is based on the Lahu spoken in northern Thailand near Burma. Even within different villages there will be slight differences in the pronunciation of some words.

For more information about the Lahu language see the Wikipedia entry for Lahu.


The written Lahu alphabet is based on the Roman alphabet with only a few diacritics to identify tones. For this reason many people who are already familiar with the Roman alphabet (English speakers particularly) should be able to begin reading within a short period of time.

Several methods of writing the sounds (orthographies) in the Lahu language exist. The Protestant and Catholic orthographies were, naturally, created by missionaries. Matisoff by James A. Matisoff, a linguist from Berkeley University, California, uses a different system and may be regarded as being a more accurate representation of the spoken language. There is also the Chinese system. Of these four main orthographies, the Protestant method is the most widely used and understood by the Lahu people themselves and is therefore the method that is used here. See the Appendix for a chart showing a comparison between the four orthographies.

The order of the alphabet generally follows the same order as that of the English alphabet. Some references, namely Matisoff 1, use a method of ordering the alphabet based on the traditional order of Sanskrit-derived languages. This uses the method of articulation to determine the order of the letters.

Abbreviations on this site

These abbreviations are used throughout the main text and the dictionary.

Abbreviation Description
n noun
vb verb
sbj subject
obj object
par partical (general)
fp final partical
clf classifier
pol polite
lit literally

Words placed in square brackets “[ ]” have been added to complete the sense of sentences.

  1. Matisoff, J. (2006). English-Lahu Lexicon. University of California Publications in Linguistics, Vol. 139. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press. Available online ↩︎

Other subjects in this section:


The different groups of Lahu people.


How to say the vowels in Lahu.


The tones in the Lahu alphabet and how to say them.


Some basic expressions to get you started.