Tones are often one of the more difficult aspects of many Asian languages for English speakers to master. In English the main use of tones is to indicate a question. By raising the tone at the end of a sentence it is usually understood to be a question. This is not the case with Lahu! Tones in Lahu are used like a letter of the alphabet. For example, if two words have exactly the same letters but a different tone then it is actually a different word.

Table tones lists the 7 tones in Lahu.

Tone Mark Name Description
(no mark) no tone
◌ˇ hkawˇ mvuh high, falling
◌ˉ hkawˇ mvuh taˆ high, rising
◌ˆ hkawˇ mvuh cheˆ high, clipped
◌ˬ hkawˇ nehˬ low, long
◌ˍ hkawˇ nehˬ zuhˍ very low, long
◌ꞈ hkawˇ nehˬ cheˆ low, clipped

To illustrate the difference a tone makes, the word laˇ means ‘tiger’, laˉ is a ‘saddle basket’, laˆ is the classifier for a mile (see [sec:classifiers]) and la is the verb ‘to come’. Obviously the context can help give the correct meaning but in most cases the correct tone is needed to be properly understood.