Distribution by ethno-linguistic families    

The Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC) is the organisation charged with implementing the Party and Government’s ethnic policy. They have classified the ethnic groups of the Lao PDR, following international practice, into four ethno-linguistic families: Lao-Tai (Tai-Kadai); Mon-Khmer (Austro-asiatic);

Hmong-Mien (Hmong-Yao, Miao-Yao); and Sino-Tibetan (mostly Tibeto-Burman). The LFNC currently recognises 49 ethnic groups and some 160 seng or subcategories. Classification by ethno-linguistic family replaces the earlier practice of referring to ethnic groups as Lao Loum, Lao Theung and Lao Soung (Low Lao, Upper Lao, and High Lao) which was in place officially until the ratification of the Constitution in 1991. These former categories corresponded roughly to Lao-Tai, Mon-Khmer, and Hmong-Mien/Sino-Tibetan respectively. Today, official practice requires the use of one of the 49 ethnic groups or categories.

Technically the term ethno-linguistic indicates that the categorisation of a group is based on self-identification as a distinct group, with language as the main characteristic of identification. The assignment of the subcategories in the official list, however, does not necessarily follow ethno-linguistic criteria. So many categories, for example Lao, include groups that by ethno-linguistic criteria are closer to Phou Thay. (This problem has been corrected on Map F3.)

The map presents the spatial distribution of the four ethno-linguistic families. Each dot corresponds to 100 persons of the respective family. Each family occupies a rather distinctive geographical region. The clearest demarcation is shown by the Sino-Tibetan family while that of the Mon-Khmer is the most widely dispersed across the north and south. The very detailed patterns of spatial coincidence occurring mainly around provincial capitals and along main axes of transportation are of the greatest interest. For example, the Lao-Tai groups populate the main communication axes to build majorities in towns of the north and also the east of the country, even in regions where normally other ethnic groups are in the majority.

A similar pattern of settling along transportation networks and nodes can be observed with Hmong-Mien people. This phenomenon could be related to more recent migration activities. On the other hand, the insert showing an enlargement of Vientiane Capital puts migration and the mixture of ethnic groups into perspective. It is interesting to see how the city is still dominated by Lao-Tai and that the few mainly Hmong-Mien migrants cluster into the same few villages.  These spatial patterns of overlay are analysed in more detail on Map F.3.




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