Tai Lue language

Tai Lue
ᦅᧄᦺᦑᦟᦹᧉ, ᨣᩴᩣᩱᨴᩭᩃᩧ ᩢ
kam tai
Native toChina, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, United States
RegionYunnan, China
EthnicityTai Lue
Native speakers
550,000 (2000–2013)[1]
Tai Tham alphabet, Thai alphabet, New Tai Lue alphabet
Official status
Recognised minority
language in

Laos Thailand Myanmar Viet Nam

United States
Language codes
ISO 639-3khb

Tai Lue (Tai Lü: ᦅᧄᦺᦑᦟᦹᧉ, kam tai lue, [kâm.tâj.lɯ̀], Tai Tham spelling: ᨣᩴᩣᩱᨴᩭᩃᩧ ᩢ) or Tai Lɯ, Tai Lü, Thai Lue, Tai Le, Xishuangbanna Dai (Chinese: 傣仂语; pinyin: Dǎilèyǔ; Burmese: လူးရှမ်း, romanizedluu Shan; Lao: ພາສາໄຕລື້; Thai: ภาษาไทลื้อ, phasa thai lue, pronounced [pʰāː.sǎː.tʰāj.lɯ́ː]; Vietnamese: tiếng Lự or tiếng Lữ), is a Tai language of the Lu people, spoken by about 700,000 people in Southeast Asia. This includes 280,000 people in China (Yunnan), 200,000 in Burma, 134,000 in Laos, 83,000 in Thailand and 4,960 in Vietnam.[2] The language is similar to other Tai languages and is closely related to Kham Mueang or Tai Yuan, which is also known as Northern Thai language. In Yunnan, it is spoken in all of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, as well as Jiangcheng Hani and Yi Autonomous County in Pu'er City.

In Vietnam, Tai Lue speakers are officially recognised as the Lự ethnic minority, although in China they are classified as part of the Dai people, along with speakers of the other Tai languages apart from Zhuang.


Tai Lue has 21 syllable-initial consonants, 9 syllable finals and six tones (three different tones in checked syllables, six in syllables).



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain labial
Nasal [m] [n] [ŋ]
Plosive tenuis [p] [t] [k] [kʷ] [ʔ]
aspirated [pʰ] [tʰ]
voiced [b] [d]
Affricate [t͡s]
Fricative voiceless [f] [s] [x] [xʷ] [h]
voiced [v]
Approximant [l] [j]

The initials t͡s- and s- are palatalized before front vowels (which in the language are i, e, and ɛ) and become t͡ɕ- and ɕ-, respectively. For example, /t͡síŋ/ "hard" and /si᷄p/ "ten" are pronounced as [t͡ɕiŋ˥] and [ɕip˧˥] respectively. (Some textbooks denote t͡s as c).


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal [m] [n] [ŋ]
Plosive [p] [t] [k] [ʔ]
Approximant [w] [j]


Front Central-Back Back
/i/ /ɯ/ /u/
/e/ /ɤ/ /o/
/ɛ/ /a/

Generally, vowels in open syllables (without final) become long whereas ones in closed syllables become short (except /aː/ and /uː/).


Contrastive tones in unchecked syllables

The table below presents six phonemic tones in unchecked syllables, i.e. closed syllables ending in sonorant sounds such as [m], [n], [ŋ], [w], and [j] and open syllables. There are six tones for unchecked syllables, although only three are allowed in checked syllables (those ending with -p, -t or -k).

Description Contour Transcription Example New Tai Lue script Meaning
high 55 á /káː/ ᦂᦱ crow
high rising 35 a᷄ /ka᷄ː/ ᨠ᩵ᩣ to go
low rising 13 a᷅ /ka᷅ː/ ᨠᩢᩣ rice shoots
falling 51 â /kâː/ ᨣᩤ to be stuck
mid 33 a (not marked) /kaː/ ᨣᩤ᩵ price
low 11 à /kàː/ ᨣᩤᩢ to do business

Contrastive tones in checked syllables

The table below presents two phonemic tones in checked syllables, i.e. closed syllables ending in a glottal stop [ʔ] and obstruent sounds which are [p], [t], and [k].

Tone Example Phonemic gloss
high-risinɡ ᩉᩖᩢᨠ /la᷄k/ post
mid ᩃᩢ᩠ᨠ /lāk/ steal
high-risinɡ ᩉᩖᩣ᩠ᨠ /la᷄ːk/ differ from others
mid ᩃᩣ᩠ᨠ /lāːk/ draɡ, pull


Word order is usually subject–verb–object; modifiers (e.g. adjectives) follow nouns.


As in Thai and Lao, Tai Lue has borrowed many Sanskrit and Pali words and affixes. Among the Tai languages in general, Tai Lue has limited intelligibility with Shan and Tai Nua and shares much vocabulary with, the other Southwestern Tai languages. Tai Lue has 95% lexical similarity with Northern Thai (Lanna), 86% with Central Thai, 93% with Shan, and 95% with Khun.[1]

Below, some Thai Lue words are given with standard Central Thai equivalents for comparison. Thai words are shown on the left and Tai Lue words, written in New Tai Lue script, are shown on the right.

Different words

Many words differ from Thai greatly:

  • ยี่สิบ → ᨪᩣ᩠ᩅ (/jîː sìp/ → /sâːw/, twenty; cf. Lao: /sáːw/, Northern Thai: /sāw/)
  • พูด → ᩋᩪᩢ (/pʰûːt/ → /ʔu᷅ː/, to speak; cf. Northern Thai: /ʔu᷇ː/)
  • พี่ชาย → ᩋᩢᩣ᩠ᨿ (/pʰîː t͡ɕʰaːj/ → /ʔa᷅ːj/, older brother; cf. Lao: /ʔâːj/, Northern Thai: /ʔa᷇ːj/)

Similar words

Some words differ in tone only:

  • หนึ่ง → ᨶ᩠ᨦᩧ᩵ (/nɯŋ/, one)
  • หก → ᩉᩫ᩠ᨠ (/hók/, six)
  • เจ็ด → ᩮᨧ᩠ᨯ (/t͡ɕét/, seven)
  • สิบ → ᩈᩥ᩠ᨷ (/síp/, ten)
  • กิน → ᨠᩥ᩠ᨶ (/kín/, to eat)

Some words differ in a single sound and associated tone. In many words, the initial ร (/r/) in Thai is ฮ (/h/) in Tai Lue, as is also the case in Lao and Tai Yuan:

  • ร้อน → ᩁᩢᩬᩁ (/rɔ́n/ → /hɔ̀n/, hot; cf. Lao: /hɔ̂n/, Northern Thai: /hɔ́ːn/)
  • รัก → ᩁᩢ᩠ᨠ (/rák/ → /hak/, to love; cf. Lao: /hāk/, Northern Thai: /ha᷇k/)
  • รู้ → ᩁᩪᩢ (/rúː/ → /hùː/, to know; cf. Lao: /hûː/, Northern Thai: /húː/)

Aspirated consonants in the low-class consonant group(อักษรต่ำ /ʔàk sɔ̌n tàm/) become unaspirated:

  • เชียงราย → ᨩ᩠ᨿᨦᩁᩣ᩠ᨿ (/t͡ɕʰiaŋ raːj/ → /t͡ɕêŋ hâːj/, Chiang Rai city and province)
  • คิด → ᨣᩧ᩠ᨯ (/kʰít/ → /kɯt/, to think; cf. Northern Thai: /kɯ́t/)
  • พ่อ → ᨻᩳ᩵ (/pʰɔ̂/ → /pɔ/, father; cf. Northern Thai: /pɔ̂ː/)
  • ทาง → ᨴᩤ᩠ᨦ (/tʰaːŋ/ → /tâːŋ/, way; cf. Northern Thai: /tāːŋ/)

(Note that the vowels also differ greatly between Tai Lue and Thai in many words, even though they are etymologically related and share the same root.)

Though many aspirated consonants often become unaspirated, when an unaspirated consonant is followed by ร (/r/) the unaspirated consonant becomes aspirated:

  • ประเทศ → ᨷᩕᨴᩮ᩠ᩆ (/praʔtʰêːt/ → /pʰaʔtêːt/, country; cf. Northern Thai /pʰa.têːt/)

Other differences:

  • ให้ → ᩉᩨᩢ (/hâj/ → /hɯ᷅/, to give, let)


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 100 10,000 100,000 1,000,000
ᨶᩧ᩠᩵ᨦ ᩈᩬᨦ ᩈᩣ᩠ᨾ ᩈᩦ᩵ ᩉᩢᩣ ᩉᩫ᩠ᨠ ᩮᨧ᩠ᨯ ᩯᨸ᩠ᨯ ᩮᨠᩢᩢᩣ ᩈᩥ᩠ᨷ ᩁᩢᩭ ᩉ᩠ᨾᩨ᩵ᩁ ᩯᩈ᩠ᨶ ᩃᩢᩣ᩠ᨶ
nɯŋ sɔ́ŋ sám ɕi᷄ː ha᷅ː hók t͡ɕét pɛ᷄t ka᷅w ɕíp hɔ̀i mɯ᷄n ɕɛ́n làn

Writing systems

Tai Lue is written in three different alphabets. One is Fak Kham script, a variety of Thai script of Sukhothai. The second is Tham script and was reformed in the 1950s, but is still in use and has recently regained government support. The new alphabet is a simplified version of the old script.

Fak Kham

An ancient script, also used in Kengtung, Northern Thailand and Northern Laos centuries ago.


Tham script is called 老傣文 lao dai wen (Old Tai script) in China. Readable by the most people and used in Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

New Tai Lue

China Post logo with New Tai Lue script in Mohan, Yunnan

New Tai Lue is a modernization of the Lanna alphabet (also known as Tai Tham script), which is similar to the Thai alphabet, and consists of 42 initial consonant signs (21 high-tone class, 21 low-tone class), seven final consonant signs, 16 vowel signs, two tone letters and one vowel shortening letter (or syllable-final glottal stop). Vowels signs can be placed before or after the syllable initial consonant.

Similar to the Thai alphabet, the pronunciation of the tone of a syllable depends on the class the initial consonant belongs to, syllable structure and vowel length, and the tone mark.

Related varieties

The Bajia people (八甲人), who number 1,106 individuals in Mengkang Village (勐康村), Meng'a Town (勐阿镇), Menghai County, Yunnan, speak a language closely related to Tai Lue.[citation needed] There are 225 Bajia people living in Jingbo Township 景播乡, Menghai County (You 2013:270).[3] The Bajia are also known as the Chinese Dai 汉傣.

See also


  1. ^ a b Tai Lue at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ "Lü. Ethnologue".
  3. ^ You Weiqiong [尤伟琼]. 2013. Classifying ethnic groups of Yunnan [云南民族识别研究]. Beijing: Ethnic Publishing House [民族出版社].
  • Dāo Shìxūn 刀世勋: Dǎi-Hàn cídiǎn 傣汉词典 (Dai–Chinese Dictionary; Kunming, Yúnnán mínzú chūbǎnshè 云南民族出版社 2002). This is a dictionary of Tai Lue in unreformed spelling.
  • Yu Cuirong (喻翠荣), Luo Meizhen (罗美珍): Daile-Han cidian 傣仂汉词典 (Tai Lue - Chinese Dictionary; Beijing, Minzu chubanshe 2004).
  • Hanna, William J: Dai Lue-English Dictionary ; Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books. 2012. ISBN 978-6162150319

External links

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