Morphology in Tai Lue involves compounding, derivation, reduplication, and elaborate expressions. There are no inflectional affixes on words, such as the plural or tense endings of English.


Compound words

Compounding is the most important morphological process in Tai Lue. Over 60 per cent of the words in this dictionary are compound words. Compound words occur in all parts of speech.

In English, verb-verb compounds are rare (sleepwalk, stir-fry). In Tai Lue they are very common. See for example:

ᦶᦂᧉ ᦺᦃ kææ³xaj¹ undo:open = ‘to explain’

ᦉᦱᧂᧉ ᦶᦔᧂ saaŋ³pæŋ¹ build:make = ‘to manufacture’



These are some of the common derivational prefixes in Tai Lue.

Nominalisers (turn verbs and adjectives into nouns)

ᦂᦱᧃ kaan¹ ᦂᦱᧃ ᦅᦹᧆ ᦔᦸᧂ kaan¹kɯt⁵pɔŋ¹ kaan:plan = planning
ᦃᦸᧂ xɔŋ¹ ᦃᦸᧂ ᦂᦲᧃ xɔŋ¹kin¹ thing:eat = food
ᦅᧄ kam⁴ ᦅᧄ ᦅᦹᧆ kam⁴kɯt⁵ word:think = idea
ᦑᦲᧈ tii⁵ ᦑᦲᧈ ᦉᧂ ᦂᦱ tii⁵saŋ¹kaa¹ place:suspect = a suspect
ᦑᦱᧂ taaŋ⁴ ᦑᦱᧂ ᦎᦻ taaŋ⁴taaj¹ path:die = death
ᦓᧄᧉ nam⁶ ᦓᧄᧉ ᦉᦳᧂ nam⁶suŋ¹ water:high = height
ᦩᦱᧄ xwaam⁴ ᦩᦱᧄ ᦅᦹᧆ xwaam⁴kɯt⁵ xwaam:think = thought

Agentives (with nouns or verbs)

ᦅᦳᧃ kun⁴ ᦅᦳᧃ ᦅᦱᧉ kun⁴kaa⁶ person:sell = merchant
ᦋᦱᧁ caaw⁴ ᦋᦱᧁ ᦓᦱ caaw⁴naa⁴ person:field = farmer
ᦋᦱᧂᧈ caaŋ⁵ ᦋᦱᧂᧈ ᦆᧄ caaŋ⁵xam⁴ craftsperson:gold = goldsmith
ᦷᦎ too¹ ᦷᦎ ᦎᦱᧂ too¹taaŋ¹ body:instead = representative
ᦕᦴᧉ pʰuu³ ᦕᦴᧉ ᦂᦸᧃᧈ ᦀᦸᧃ pʰuu³kɔn²ʔɔn¹ person:before = boss


Uses of reduplication include:

1) onomatopoetic sounds ᦷᦁᧂᧈᦷᦁᧂᧈ ʔoŋ⁵ʔoŋ⁵ ‘growling sound’

2) repeated adjectives ᦌᦹᧈᦌᦹᧈ sɯɯ⁵sɯɯ⁵ ‘straight’, ᦶᦂᧃᧈᦶᦂᧃᧈ kæn²kæn² ‘tightly’ (from ᦶᦂᧃᧈ kæn² ‘hard, firm’)

3) adverbs ᦺᦈᧉᦺᦈᧉ caj³caj³ ‘repeatedly, insistently’

4) repetition with some sound changes ᦈᦸᧂᧉᦶᦈᧂᧉ cɔŋ³cæŋ³ ‘irregularly, randomly’.

The typical meaning of a reduplicated word is 'fairly', 'sort of'. ᦶᦡᧂ dæŋ¹ ‘red’ ᦶᦡᧂᦶᦡᧂ dæŋ¹dæŋ¹ ‘reddish, sort of red’. Such reduplication is not listed exhaustively in the dictionary, but exceptions to this pattern are listed.

Elaborate Expressions

Southeast Asian languages are known for their ‘elaborate expressions’: four-syllable compounds that often have idiomatic and colourful meanings. This is an area of creativity in the language in which people enjoy playing with sounds and creating enjoyable and interesting speech. Elaborate expressions range from ones that are very flexible and open to creative manipulation, to those that are relatively fixed.

More than 1600 elaborate expressions are listed as entries in this dictionary. Here are some examples.

ᦗᦸᧈ ᦺᦣᧈ ᦶᦙᧈ ᦓᦱ pɔɔ⁵haj⁵mææ⁵naa⁴ father:field:mother:paddy farmer
ᦃᦸᧉ ᦊᦴᧈ ᦣᦱᧁ ᦂᦲᧃ xɔɔ³juu²haaw⁴kin¹ point:stay:railing:be lifestyle
ᦢᦱᧃᧉ ᦵᦂᦲᧆᧈ ᦵᦙᦲᧂ ᦔᦲᧃ baan³kɤɤt²mɤŋ⁴pin¹ village:born:city:be hometown
ᦣᧂᧈ ᦙᦲ ᦔᦲᧃ ᦡᦲ haŋ⁵mii⁴pin¹dii¹ rich:have:be:good rich
ᦎᦸᧇᧈ ᦢᦳᧃ ᦎᦸᧇᧈ ᦅᦳᧃ tɔɔp²bun¹tɔɔp²kun⁴ respond:goodness:respond:goodness repay a kindness