When it involves describing who or something indigenous Laos, there’s periodically confusion. Is it ‘Lao’ human being or ‘Laotian’ people? ‘Lao’ food or ‘Laotian’ food? follow to academics and activists, there is a an extremely real – and an extremely important – difference.

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The plot of describing who or something from Laos (or Lao People’s democratic Republic) have the right to be complicated. There room two renowned adjectives: ‘Lao’ and ‘Laotian’. I beg your pardon is much more respectful? i m sorry is more accurate? when do we usage one or the other?

A beneficial place to begin is the Lao language itself. Linguistically, over there is no difference between descriptors of the country, its people, its society and for this reason on. There is only one word: Lao. Because that example, that papaya salad (tam mak hoong) she eating? it’s ahaan Lao (Lao food). That group of human being playing pétanque in their backyards? castle kohn Lao (Lao people). That Baci ceremony you’re attending? It’s part of wadtanatam Lao (Lao culture). Within the country, ‘Lao’ is a global term for nearly everything.

In English however, both ‘Lao’ and ‘Laotian’ are widely used. From here, it’s necessary to recognize the background behind words ‘Laotian’.


The word ‘Laotian’ carries political undertones. It comes from the French adjective ‘laotien’/’laotienne’, used by the French during the country’s early american occupation native 1893-1945. Boy name Rathie, a historian affiliated with the EFEO (École française d’Extrême-Orient) and also Kaysone Phomvihane Memorial Museum in Vientiane, explains that colonists attributed Lao civilization with a “calm and gentle” stereotype. “‘Laotienne’ relates to this romantic Orientalism,” that tells culture Trip.

Rathie believes this idea has long faded in the country. Once Laos became a Communist state in 1975, the newly reformed federal government took efforts to mitigate the influence of their early american past; they eliminated French words native postage stamps, replaced early american figures ~ above banknotes and also took major steps to reform the Lao language. ‘Laotian’ represented Laos under French subjugation – ‘Lao’ represented Laos in fee of its very own destiny. As such, it came to be the typical adjective.

Despite becoming passé in Laos, the hatchet ‘Laotian’ is still provided internationally. Historian Dr. Kathryn Sweet describes that transparent the war in the 1970s, refugees fled overseas and also the word moved with castle – explaining why it proceeds to be offered by diaspora communities throughout the world.

Both student agree that consumption of ‘Lao’ and also ‘Laotian’ relies on an English-speaker’s understanding of, or connection to, this history. Chanida Phaengdara Potter, executive director the The SEAD (Southeast oriental Diaspora) Project, defines that educational organizations abroad serve to perpetuate the confusion. Because that example, refugees who concerned America as children (such as herself) had “only heard in the context of what U.S. Classrooms have actually taught castle – the they are ‘Laotian’.” So over time, they would certainly adapt to utilizing that label with the remainder of the world.


With a farming understanding of words ‘Laotian’ and its attachment to war and colonialism, the Lao diaspora have consciously started phasing it the end – but complications ensue. The word is deeply ingrained in Western society and even in policy. The us Census, for example, says that Lao-Americans must determine themselves as ‘Laotian’. Many Lao migrants, especially those in the restaurant market struggling to offer Lao food, have to defer come the more recognisable ‘Laotian’ brand – and also in some situations hide under the ‘Thai’ brand – therefore they have the right to survive.

Phaengdara Potter wishes that through shedding the hatchet ‘Laotian’, many will be cost-free “to celebrate and also reclaim your national identification or specific ethnic identity.” The much more that Lao human being can say the they space ‘Lao’, the more the basic public will use it.

So what carry out we make of every this? If you plan on travelling to Laos, Dr. Sweet has the complying with advice: “From within Laos definitely don’t use ‘Laotian’.” In various other words, usage ‘Lao’. This should also apply when exterior the country: that ‘Lao’ food, ‘Lao’ tradition and so on.

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As a last note, Phaengdra Potter claims it payment to be mindful of individuals who have actually a particular ethnic identification (there are numerous within Laos, ‘Lao’ being one of them), so it’s courteous come ask their choice if friend think the situation calls because that it.

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