MoH 2020 - Development


Romanization or Romanisation, in linguistics, is the conversion of writing from a different writing system to the Roman (Latin) script, or a system for doing so. Methods of romanization include transliteration, for representing written text, and transcription, for representing the spoken word, and combinations of both. (Wikipedia)


Clearly standardised and agreed Romanisation is useful especially to the government in managing data in a foreign language (i.e. English) and sharing them with organisations and people who do not read the local script.

Situation Analysis

There are 2 internationally recognised Romanisation systems available for Lao - BGN/PCGN 1966 and ALA-LC

  1. BGN/PCGN 1966: Based on French, developed by the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) and the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use (PCGN)
  2. ALA-LC: American Library Association - Library of Congress, used to represent bibliographic information by North American libraries and the British Library and in publications throughout the English-speaking world.

However, none of these systems have been widely used by both the government and public due to lack of a national standard. It is observed that BGN/PCGN has been used although not in an approriate form. For example, there are a variety of the Romanised names of 18 provinces in Lao PDR, which are being used by the government and public.

No. Lao MoH
(MoH 2020)
(Census 2015)
(Village List)
(Old HMIS)
Google Map
01 ນະຄອນຫຼວງວຽງຈັນ Vientiane Capital Vientiane Capital Vientiane Capital Vientiane Capital Vientiane. C Vientiane
02 ຜົ້ງສາລີ Phongsali Phôngsali Phongsaly Phongsaly Phongsaly Phongsaly
03 ຫຼວງນ້ຳທາ Louangnamtha Louangnamtha Louangnamtha Luangnamtha Luangnamtha Luang Namtha
04 ອຸດົມໄຊ Oudomxai Oudômxai Oudomxai Oudomxay Oudomxay Oudomxay
05 ບໍ່ແກ້ວ Bokeo Bokèo Bokeo Bokeo Bokeo Bokeo
06 ຫຼວງພະບາງ Louangphabang Louangphabang Louangphabang Luangprabang Luangprabang Luang Prabang
07 ​ຫົວພັນ Houaphan Houaphan Houaphan Huaphanh Huaphanh Houaphanh
08 ໄຊຍະບູລີ Xainyabouli Xaignabouli Xaignabouly Xayaboury Xayabury Sainyabuli
09 ຊຽງຂວາງ Xiangkhouang Xiangkhouang Xiengkhouang Xiengkhuang Xiengkhuang Xiangkhouang
10 ວຽງຈັນ Vientiane Vientiane Vientiane Vientiane Vientiane. P Vientiane
11 ບໍລິຄຳໄຊ Bolikhamxai Bolikhamxai Bolikhamxai Borikhamxay Borikhamxay Bolikhamsai
12 ​​ຄຳມ່ວນ Khammouan Khammouan Khammouan Khammuane Khammuane Khammouane
13 ສະຫວັນນະເຂດ Savannakhet Savannakhét Savannakhet Savannakhet Savannakhet Savannakhet
14 ສາລະວັນ Salavan Salavan Salavan Saravane Saravane Salavan
15 ເຊກອງ Xekong Xékong Xekong Sekong Sekong Sekong
16 ຈຳປາສັກ Champasak Champasak Champasak Champasack Champasack Champasak
17 ອັດຕະປື Attapu Attapu Attapeu Attapeu Attapeu Attapeu
18 ໄຊສົມບູນ Xaisomboun Xaisômboun Xaisomboun Saysomboon Xaysomboun (don't exist)

In such a situation, a single Lao name can be romanised to multiple different spellings in the Roman script, which leads to difficulties in data collection, management and analysis based on geographic or administrative objects. The "Karaoke" styles are particularly challenging since there are so many variations from person to person.

"Karaoke" Script (Phasa Karaoke)

  • Informal and unstandardised ways of Romanisation that were originally named after karaoke machines that used to use some sort of transcription for Lao or Thai songs.
  • The Lao "Karaoke" styles are heavily influenced by Thai (especially the Isan dialect) due to the popularity of Thai music.
  • These styles also include a few features of the French and Vietnamese languages for historical reasons as well as English due to its growing influence.
  • In general, the "Karaoke" script is popular among the young generation that opted for the English keypad on their mobile phones to use social media.
  • It is observed that more young people start using the English elements for transcipting the Lao language. (e.g. Using 'un', 'ung', 'uk' for 'an', 'ang', 'ak' sound)
  • However, the ways the Lao people use the 'Karaoke' script are diverse, and it cannot be considered as one specific Romanisation convention.

Romanisation Principles

Against this complexity, there should be only one unique Romanisation system and a unique Lao name should be romanised to one unque romanised name.

Considering that the Lao public is familiar with the Thai language, the Romanisation of Thai was also studied for its potential adoption to Lao. However, it was expected to cause too drastic changes in the current province and district names and thus discarded.
e.g. ບໍ່ແກ້ວ - Bokaew (Thai), Bokeo (MoH 2020) / ​ຊຽງ​ເງິນ - Siangngoen (Thai), Xiangngeun (MoH 2020)

Revision of BGN/PCGN 1966

MoH 2020 revised several features of BGN/PCGN 1966 to adress the problems that have prevented its popular use. The revisions were made by the careful consideration of the Lao scripts and phonetics, IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and research on the current use of different methods as well as foreign examples.

MoH 2020 was not developed to be the national Romanisation system for the Lao government. The priority was to mitigate the situation for MoH and its partners and find the most reasonable standard possible to replace very problematic "Karaoke" names. In the long term, it is recommended for the government to develop the national policy so that every government entity uses the one standard.