Laotian is from a large group of related languages, the Thai-Lao or Tai-Kadai languages, which includes Thai, Shan in Burma, Zhuang in Yunnan, Li in Hainan Island, and other languages on the Chinese-Vietnamese border. Their original homeland seems to have been in Yunnan and Southern China. The movement of many speakers into Burma and Southeast Asia seems to coincide with the Mongol conquest of Yunnan, which would be enough to send anyone looking for a new home. The Thai-Lao group may already have left an enduring mark on Chinese itself, however, if the Chinese use of tones was borrowed from the group. Vietnamese was well as Chinese may have adopted this feature from this contact. The Thai-Lao languages are all tonal, with six tones in Lao, five in Thai, and up to 15 in others. The early Lao kingdoms are closely related to the Thai states, with their sub-Indian civilization, and eventually are absorbed or dominated by Siam. Vientiane was the seat of the Lan Xang Kingdom from 1353 until it was aborbed by Siam in 1778.
These lists were largely derived from Bruce R. Gordon’s Regnal Chronologies. Good lingustic information is in The Atlas of Languages (Facts On File, 1996, pp.62-64).
A splinter Kingdom that formed out of territory belonging to Vientiane, Luang Prabang became the seat of the modern Laotian state as the Royal capital. Vientiane became the “adminstrative” capital. Although the kings were not deposed by the Thais, the whole Laotian state came under Thai suzerainty, until passing to French influence.
As the French in Vietnam advanced against Siam, they endeavored to extend “protection” over Laos. French control east of the Mekong was established in 1893, west of the Mekong in 1904.
After the Indo-China War ended in 1954, Laos became independent, like Cambodia, under a neutralist government. There was little that the Laotians could do to enforce their neutrality, however, against the Vietnamese use of the “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” down the length of Laos, as a supply-line to the Communists in South Vietnam. The United States regularly bombed the trail, and at least once tried an incursion from Vietnam, but the Vietnamese were always good at rerouting and concealing their movements. When South Vietnam fell in 1975, the “dominoes” that followed, long the object of derision by Communist sympathizers, included Laos. This government was never so terrible as in Cambodia, and apparently has moderated its policies since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but no marked institutional reformation seems to have occurred.
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