The Lao language is descended from Tai languages spoken in what is now southern China and northern Vietnam (probably by some of the various peoples referred to as the Baiyue) in areas believed to be the homeland of the language family and where several related languages are still spoken by scattered minority groups. Due to Han Chinese expansion, Mongol invasion pressures, and a search for lands more suitable for wet-rice cultivation, the Tai peoples moved south towards India, down the Mekong River valley, and as far south as the Malay Peninsula. Oral history of the migrations is preserved in the legends of Khun Borom. Tai speakers in what is now Laos pushed out or absorbed earlier groups of Mon–Khmer and Austronesian languages.


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