Tai Lue
ᦅᧄᦺᦑᦟᦹᧉ, ᨣᩴᩣᨴᩱᩭᩃᩧ᩶
kam tai lue
Native toChina, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam
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
Language codes
ISO 639-3khb

Tai Lue (New Tai Lü: ᦅᧄᦺᦑᦟᦹᧉ, Tai Tham: ᨣᩴᩣᨴᩱ᩠ᨿᩃᩨ᩶, kam tai lue, [kâm.tâj.lɯ̀])[a] or Xishuangbanna Dai 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 open syllables).



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain labial
Nasal [m] [n] [ŋ]
Plosive tenuis [p] [t] [k] [] [ʔ]
aspirated [] []
voiced [b] [d]
Affricate [t͡s]
Fricative voiceless [f] [s] [x] [] [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 codas) occur as long whereas ones in closed syllables are 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 Old Tai Lue New Tai Lue script Meaning
high 55 á /káː/ ᦂᦱ crow
high rising 35 a᷄ /ka᷄ː/ ᨠ᩵ᩣ ᦂᧈ to go
low rising 13 a᷅ /ka᷅ː/ ᨠ᩶ᩣ ᦂᧉ rice shoots
falling 51 â /kâː/ ᨣᩤ to be stuck
mid 33 a (not marked) /kaː/ ᨣ᩵ᩤ ᦅᧈ price
low 11 à /kàː/ ᨣ᩶ᩤ ᦅᧉ 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 New Tai Lue Phonemic gloss
high-risinɡ ᩉᩖᩢᨠ ᦜᧅᧈ /la᷄k/ post
mid ᩃᩢ᩠ᨠ ᦟᧅᧈ /lāk/ steal
high-risinɡ ᩉᩖᩣ᩠ᨠ ᦜᦱᧅᧈ /la᷄ːk/ differ from others
mid ᩃᩣ᩠ᨠ ᦟᦱᧅᧈ /lāːk/ draɡ, pull




Singular Familiar Singular Deferential Plural Familiar Plural Deferential
1st person exclusive ᦕᦴᧉᦃᦱᧉ
inclusive ᦣᧁ
2nd person ᦈᧁᧉᦙᧃ
3rd person ᦎᦳᧃᦑᦱᧃᧈ


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



Word Meaning
ᦉᧂ (saŋ1) What
ᦌᦹ (sɯɯ4) Why
ᦂᦲᧈ (kii1) How many
ᦺᦕ (pʰaj1) Who
ᦺᦐ (naj1) Where


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:

Similar words

Some words differ in tone only:

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:

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

(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:

Other differences:


1 ᦓᦹᧂᧈ ᨶᩧ᩠᩵ᨦ nɯŋ
2 ᦉᦸᧂ ᩈᩬᨦ sɔ́ŋ
3 ᦉᦱᧄ ᩈᩣ᩠ᨾ sám
4 ᦉᦲᧈ ᩈᩦ᩵ si᷄ː
5 ᦠᦱᧉ ᩉᩢᩣ ha᷅ː
6 ᦷᦠᧅ ᩉᩫ᩠ᨠ hók
7 ᦵᦈᧆ ᩮᨧ᩠ᨯ t͡ɕét
8 ᦶᦔᧆᧈ ᩯᨸ᩠ᨯ pɛ᷄t
9 ᦂᧁᧉ ᩮᨠᩢᩢᩣ ka᷅w
10 ᧚᧐ ᦉᦲᧇ ᩈᩥ᩠ᨷ síp
100 ᧚᧐᧐ ᦣᦾᧉ ᩁᩢᩭ hɔ̀i
10,000 ᧚᧐᧐᧐᧐ ᦖᦹᧃᧈ ᩉ᩠ᨾᩨ᩵ᩁ mɯ᷄n
100,000 ᧚᧐᧐᧐᧐᧐ ᦶᦉᧃ ᩯᩈ᩠ᨶ sɛ́n
1,000,000 ᧚᧐᧐᧐᧐᧐᧐ ᦟᦱᧃᧉ ᩃᩢᩣ᩠ᨶ làn

Writing systems

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

Fak Kham

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


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

New Tai Lue

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

New Tai Lue is a modernization of the Lanna alphabet (also known as the 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).[4] The Bajia are also known as the Chinese Dai 汉傣.

See also


  1. ^ Chinese: 傣仂语; pinyin: Dǎilèyǔ; Burmese: လူးရှမ်း, romanizedluu Shan; Lao: ພາສາໄຕລື້; Thai: ภาษาไทลื้อ, romanizedphasa thai lue, pronounced [pʰāː.sǎː.tʰāj.lɯ́ː]; Vietnamese: tiếng Lự or tiếng Lữ; also spelled Tai Lɯ, Tai Lü, Thai Lue, Tai Le


  1. ^ a b Tai Lue at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Lü". Ethnologue.
  3. ^ a b Tai Lü Dictionary – Webonary
  4. ^ You, Weiqiong 尤伟琼 (2013). Yúnnán mínzú shìbié yánjiū 云南民族识别研究 [Classifying Ethnic Groups of Yunnan] (in Chinese). Beijing: Minzu chubanshe. ISBN 978-7-105-12703-0.

Further reading

  • Xishuangbanna Daizu Zizhizhou (2002). Dǎi Hàn cídiǎn 傣汉词典 [Dai–Chinese Dictionary] (in Chinese). Kunming shi: Yunnan minzu chubanshe. – This is a dictionary of Tai Lue in unreformed spelling.
  • Yu, Cuirong 喻翠荣; Luo, Meizhen 罗美珍 (2004). Dǎilè Hàn cídiǎn 傣仂汉词典 [Tai Lue–Chinese Dictionary] (in Chinese). Beijing shi: Minzu chubanshe. ISBN 7-105-05834-X.
  • Hanna, William J. (2012). Dai Lue-English Dictionary. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books. ISBN 978-616-215-031-9.