Lao is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west. Its population was estimated to be 6.5 million in 2012. The Lao economy depends heavily on investment and trade with its neighbours, Thailand, Vietnam, and, especially in the north, China.
The official and dominant language is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai linguistic group. However only slightly more than half of the population can speak Lao, the remainder speaking various ethnic minority languages, particularly in rural areas. The written language is based on Khmer writing script. Languages like Khmu and Hmong are spoken by minorities, particularly in the midland and highland areas.
The Lao language consists primarily of native Lao words. Because of Buddhism, however, Pali has contributed numerous terms, especially relating to religion and in conversation with members of the Sangha. Due to their geographic proximity, Lao has influenced the Khmer and Thai languages and vice versa. Formal writing has a larger amount of foreign loanwords, especially Pali and Sanskrit terms, much as Latin and Greek have influenced European languages.
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