I have a friend who is Lao and I've noticed that a lot of the same words in Lao and Cantonese sound the same. The grammar itself seem different, but the numbers are similar.

Is there much relationship between the Lao and Cantonese language?

  • Indeed there may have been some influence from Chinese/Cantonese in Thai/Lao/Khmer. Like Jon, I was amazed at the similarities of Thai and Cantonese numerals. I remember being in hotel an elevator, with a bunch of Thais, and they were all calling their floors -- I got all of them :-)
    – dda
    May 27, 2012 at 15:01

2 Answers 2


Lao is a member of the Tai–Kadai language family. This family does include some languages spoken by minority groups, including the Zhuang languages of Guangxi. Several languages in this group have words which sound familiar to Cantonese speakers. (I remember traveling to Thailand and being shocked by how similar Thai numerals are to those of Cantonese.) Nevertheless, the historical relationship of this language family to Sino-Tibetan (the language family which includes Chinese dialects like Cantonese) is a matter of some debate. From Wikipedia:

The Tai–Kadai languages were formerly considered to be part of the Sino-Tibetan family, but outside China they are now classified as an independent family. They contain large numbers of words that are similar in Sino-Tibetan languages. However, these are seldom found in all branches of the family, and do not include basic vocabulary, indicating that they are old loan words (Ostapirat 2005).

That these languages share many similar words is not surprising because of the historical proximity of these communities, but it appears most linguists believe that there isn't a deep connection between the language families.


It's bidirectional. A lot of loanwords of Chinese origin happened when the language was middle Chinese, which Cantonese among modern languages tends to be the closest to.
Cantonese also has a Zhuang substratum, whereby cognates with other Tai-Kadai languages such as Thai and Lao.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.