Language in Laos: an Agenda for
N. J. Enfield, Ph.D.
Language and Cognition Group
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
There is at present a vigorous public debate in Laos on the issue of language, with the participation of scholars, researchers, educators, and politicians. This debate goes to the highest level, and has been on the agenda for decades. The issue? Whether the letter ‘r’ should or should not be included in the Lao alphabet. Meanwhile, there are nearly one hundred distinct human languages spoken in Laos which are in danger of extinction in the immediate or near future. We know little or nothing about the structure, history, or social setting of these languages or the people who speak them. There is no public debate about this issue in Laos, and next to no research activity to document the country’s dozens of minority languages, whether for scientific, practical, or social purposes. This paper offers a number of reasons why this must change.