Lao numeral classifiers in comparison to Central Thai

Somsonge Burusphat, Ph.D.

Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development

Mahidol University, Salaya, Nakhonpathom, Thailand


This paper presents a semantic analysis of numeral classifier system in the Lao language. The hierarchically structured set of parameters underlying categorizations of nouns presented in a tree diagram has been applied to this study.


Shape/form component has the largest number of classes. The classes that have a lot of members are duaN, nuay, saay, sen, bay, phn, phQn, hua, and met. Most of these classes involve metaphorical extension into another semantic field. Repeaters are mostly used with entities possessing the nature/function component. The general classifier /an can be used with entities of any size and can replace some inanimate classifiers. The arrangement component mostly consists of classifiers which are derived verbs. The human classifier khon is widely used whereas phuu  is restricted to the indefinite construction: noun- phuu-numeral one.  The use of non-human classifier too has been extended from its original realm to class bad humans and inanimate objects. The animate collection component distinguishes between human and non-human. Thus a group of people belongs to one class and a group of animal belongs to another. The inanimate collection component overlaps with the arrangement component. A collection of inanimate objects are classified according to how they are arranged, e.g., a pile, a bundle, and a bunch. Partitive component partially relates to arrangement, e.g, a lump of object is in tn class and a slice of object is in piaN class. This component also distinguishes between one of a pair of body parts and inanimate objects. That is one hand is in the  baN or khaaN class and one shoe or sock is in the kiN class which is the same class as twig.


The comparative study of Lao and Thai numeral systems reveals that there is a great similarity of traditional use of numeral classifiers in both languages. The difference lies on the innovative classification of entities.