Native toYunnan, China; Thailand; Laos; Myanmar
Native speakers
600,000 (2007–2012)[1]
Latin script
Official status
Official language in
Lancang Lahu Autonomous County, Yunnan
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
lhu – Lahu
lhi – Lahu Shi
lkc – Kucong

Lahu (autonym: Ladhof [lɑ˥˧xo˩]) is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by the Lahu people of China, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos. It is widely used in China, both by Lahu people, and by other ethnic minorities in Yunnan, who use it as a lingua franca.[2] However, the language is not widely used nor taught in any schools in Thailand, where many Lahu are in fact refugees and illegal immigrants, having crossed into Thailand from Myanmar.[3]

Distribution by dialect

Lahu Na (Black Lahu) is the northern and standard Lahu dialect and is spoken in most of Yunnan, China, in Kengtung District of Shan State, Myanmar and in most parts of Thailand. It should not be confused with Lahu Aga (Black Lahu of Laos (See below) or Kucong (Black Lahu of Vietnam).

Lahu Phu (White Lahu) is the southern and most spoken dialects of the Lahu language. It is spoken all five countries wher it is spoken, including in Muong Te District of Lai Châu Province.

Lahu Nyi (Red Lahu) is only spoken in Thailand, including in the southern Yala Province.

Lahu Aga (Black Lahu) is spoken in Bokeo Province and Yunnan (Xishuangbanna).[4]


The Lahu language, along with the closely related Kucong language, is classified as a separate branch of Loloish by Ziwo Lama (2012),[5] but as a Central Loloish language by David Bradley (2007).[6] Lahu is classified as a sister branch of the Southern Loloish branch in Satterthwaite-Phillips' (2011) computational phylogenetic analysis of the Lolo-Burmese languages.[7]


Matisoff (2006)

A few dialects are noted, which are each known by a variety of names:[8]

Pham (2013)

Phạm Huy (2013:13) lists the following 3 branches.

Yunnan (1998)

Yunnan (1998:280)[11] lists 5 Lahu dialects.

Traditionally Lahu folk taxonomy splits the Lahu people into the two groups of Black Lahu and Yellow Lahu; Red Lahu and White Lahu are new dialect clusters originating in messianic movements within the past few centuries.[12] Black Lahu is the standard dialect in China,[2] as well as the lingua franca among different groups of Lahu in Thailand.[3] However, it is intelligible to speakers of Yellow Lahu only with some difficulty.[2]

Bradley (1979)

Based on the numbers of shared lexical items, Bradley (1979) classifies the Lahu dialects as follows:[13]

Common Lahu

Lama (2012)

Lama (2012) gives the following tentative classification for what he calls Lahoid.


Jin (2007)

Jin Youjing (2007)[14] classifies the Lahu dialects as follows.

Jin Youjing (1992)[15] covers Lahu linguistic geography and dialectology in detail.

Heh (2008)

Heh (2008)[16] lists Lahu Shi (Yellow Lahu) dialects as:

Lahu Aga was classified as Lahu Shi by Bradley (1979), but Heh (2008) found that it is actually linguistically closer to Lahu Na (Black Lahu). In Laos, there are about 9,000 Lahu Aga located in Bokeo Province (Tonpheung district, Muang Muang district, Houj Xai district, and the special region of Nam Yut) and Luang Namtha Province (Vieng Phoukha district, Boten district, and Muang Long district) (Heh 2008:161). In Laos, the Lahu Aga are most numerous in Tonpheung district (in Baan Dong Keap, Baan Sam Sip, Baan Khi Lek, Baan Beu Neong, Baan Hoe Ong, and Baan Nan Fa villages) and Vieng Phoukha district (in Baan Na Kat Tai, Baan Na Kat Neua, Baan Pamak, Baan NaNoi, Baan NaVa, Baan NaPhe, and Baan Na Shin villages) (Heh 2008:161-162). The Yellow Lahu are also called Lahu Kui Lung in Laos (Schliesinger (2003:110), with Kui meaning 'people'. There are about 21 Lahu Aga villages in Bokeo and Luang Namtha provinces, including in Ban Don Keao, Bokeo, and Ban Na Kat Neua, who had originally migrated from Yunnan, China. (Heh 2008:8). There are also 11 Lahu Aga families living in Baan Son Pu Nong, Chiang Saen District, Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. Heh (2008) provides comparative Lahu Aga dialectal data for:



Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar Uvular/
Plosive voiceless p t c k q
voiced b d ɟ ɡ
Fricative voiceless f ʃ (x) h
voiced v ɣ
Nasal m n ŋ
Approximant l j


Front Central Back
Close i ɨ u
Mid e ə o
Open ɛ a ɔ


Name Symbol Pitch
Mid 33 ˧
High-rising 35 ˦˥
High-falling 53 ˥˧
Low-falling 21 ˨˩
Very low 11 ˩
High-checked 54ʔ ˥˧ʔ
Low-checked 21ʔ ˨˩ʔ

Sound changes

Lama (2012) lists the following sound changes from Proto-Loloish as Lahu innovations.


Lahu has a similar grammar to many Tibeto-Burman languages.[19]


Below, common Vocabulary of the Lahu language.[20]

IPA Gloss
tɔ̀-kɔ=ya Akha
qhɔ̀ʔ-la ash
khɛ̂ bowl
nû-ɛ́ calf
kâlâ=g̈ ɔ̂-ma carrot (lit. foreign vegetable)
cê-lê clerk
pa-lûʔ ~ pa-lú catfish
a-ví sibling
hɔ́-yɛ temple
qhɔ̀ʔ year

See also


  1. ^ Lahu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Lahu Shi at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Kucong at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c Gordon, Raymond G. Jr., ed. (2005). "Lahu". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (Fifteenth ed.). Archived from the original on 1 October 2005.
  3. ^ a b Reh 2005
  4. ^ Ethnologue [full citation needed]
  5. ^ Lama, Ziwo Qiu-Fuyuan. 2012. Subgrouping of Nisoic (Yi) Languages. Ph.D. thesis, University of Texas at Arlington.
  6. ^ Bradley, David. 2007. East and Southeast Asia. In Moseley, Christopher (ed.), Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages, 349-424. London & New York: Routledge.
  7. ^ Satterthwaite-Phillips, Damian. 2011. Phylogenetic inference of the Tibeto-Burman languages or On the usefulness of lexicostatistics (and "Megalo"-comparison) for the subgrouping of Tibeto-Burman. Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University.
  8. ^ Matisoff 2006, p. xiii
  9. ^ Lahuyu Jianzhi 拉祜语简志 (1986)
  10. ^ "澜沧拉祜族自治县糯福乡南段村". Archived from the original on 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2013-03-07.
  11. ^ Yunnan Gazetteer Commission [云南省地方志编纂委员会] (ed). 1998. Yunnan Provincial Gazetteer, Vol. 59: Minority Languages Orthographies Gazetteer [云南省志. 卷五十九, 少数民族语言文字志]. Kunming: Yunnan People's Press [云南人民出版社].
  12. ^ Bradley 1979, p. 41
  13. ^ Bradley 1979, p. 159
  14. ^ Jin Youjing [金有景]. 2007. "Guanyu Lahuyu de fangyan" [关于拉祜语的方言]. Minzu Yuwen 民族语文 2007:3.
  15. ^ Jin Youjing 金有景, et al. 1992. 中国拉祜语方言地图集 = Cokawr Ladhof khawd fayer diqthurcir = the linguistic atlas of Lahu in China. Tianjin: Tianjin she hui ke xue yuan chu ban she 天津社会科学出版社.
  16. ^ Heh, Sa Mollay Kya. 2008. ;;A sociolinguistic comparison of Lahu Aga with Lahu Na. Master’s thesis.
  17. ^ Bradley 1979.
  18. ^ Matisoff, James A. (2003). Lahu. Graham Thurgood and Randy J. LaPolla (eds.), The Sino-Tibetan Languages: London & New York: Routledge. pp. 208–221.
  19. ^ "Tibeto-Burman languages - Tibeto-Burman and areal grammar | Britannica".
  20. ^ "English-Lahu Lexicon. Matisoff, James A." (PDF). 2006-04-01.


Further reading