Morphology in Dai 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 Dai 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 Dai Lue they are very common. See for example:

ᦶᦂᧉᦺᦃ kææ³xaj¹ undo:open = ‘to explain’

ᦉᦱᧂᧉᦶᦔᧂ saaŋ³pæŋ¹ build:make = ‘to manufacture’



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

Nominalisers (turn verbs and adjectives into nouns)

ᦂᦱᧃ kaan¹ ᦂᦱᧃᦅᦹᧆᦔᦸᧂ kaan¹kɯt⁵pɔŋ¹ kaan:plan = planning
ᦃᦸᧂ xɔŋ¹ ᦃᦸᧂᦂᦲᧃ xɔŋ¹kin¹ thing:eat = food
ᦅᧄ kam⁴ ᦅᧄᦅᦹᧆ kam⁴kɯt⁵ word:think = idea
ᦑᦲᧈ tii⁵ ᦑᦲᧈᦉᧂᦂᦱ tii⁵saŋ¹kaa¹ place:suspect = a suspect
ᦑᦱᧂ taaŋ⁴ ᦑᦱᧂᦎᦻ taaŋ⁴taaj¹ path:die = death
ᦓᧄᧉ nam⁶ ᦓᧄᧉᦉᦳᧂ nam⁶suŋ¹ water:high = height
ᦩᦱᧄ xwaam⁴ ᦩᦱᧄᦀᦳᧃᧈᦑᦳᧃ xwaam⁴ʔun²tun⁴ xwaam:congratulate = greeting


Adverbialisers (turn adjectives into adverbs)

ᦎᦱᧄ taam¹ ᦎᦱᧄᦡᦲ taam¹dii¹ following:good = well
ᦐᧂᧉ naŋ³ ᦐᧂᧉᦛᦱᧃ naŋ³waan¹ with:sweet = sweetly
ᦑᦲᧈ tii⁵ ᦑᦲᧈᦐᧅ tii⁵nak² place:heavy = urgently


Agentives (start with a verb or a noun, and become the person doing the action)

ᦅᦳᧃ kun⁴ ᦅᦳᧃᦂᦸᧈᦡᦲᧃ kun⁴kɔɔ²din¹ person:build:earth = mason
ᦋᦱᧁ caaw⁴ ᦋᦱᧁᦓᦱ caaw⁴naa⁴ person:field = farmer
ᦋᦱᧂᧈ caaŋ⁵ ᦋᦱᧂᧈᦆᧄ caaŋ⁵xam⁴ artisan:gold = goldsmith
ᦷᦎ too¹ ᦷᦎᦎᦱᧂ too¹taaŋ¹ body:instead = representative
ᦕᦴᧉ pʰuu³ ᦕᦴᧉᦂᦸᧃᧈᦀᦸᧃ pʰuu³kɔn²ʔɔn¹ person:before = boss



Ordinal numbers are formed with ᦒᦲ tʰii⁴ plus a number. Thus ᦒᦲ ᧓ tʰii⁴saam¹ ‘third’.



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.

The most flexible elaborate expressions are built around separable compounds. Many compound words in Dai Lue are two-headed, in which both parts of the compound apply equally well to the referent.[1] These are especially open to creative expansion, and can be built on in many ways. Building on the word ᦃᧁᧉᦓᧄᧉ /xaw³nam⁶/ ‘rice:water’ = ‘food’ for instance, one might say:

ᦂᦲᧃᦃᧁᧉᦂᦲᧃᦓᧄᧉ kin¹xaw³kin¹nam⁶ eat:rice:eat:water = eat
ᦊᦱᧅᦃᧁᧉᦊᦱᧅᦓᧄᧉ jaak²xaw³jaak²nam⁶ hungry:rice:hungry:water = hungry
ᦙᦲᦃᧁᧉᦙᦲᦓᧄᧉ mii⁴xaw³mii⁴nam⁶ have:rice:have:water = have food
ᦠᦱᦃᧁᧉᦠᦱᦓᧄᧉ haa¹xaw³haa¹nam⁶ seek:rice:seek:water = look for food
ᦠᦳᧂᦃᧁᧉᦠᦳᧂᦓᧄᧉ huŋ¹xaw³huŋ¹nam⁶ boil:rice:boil:water = cook

The label ‘can be separated’ marks compounds that are separable[2]. The multitude of expanded forms that could be built on separable compounds are not listed exhaustively in the dictionary. Separable compounds appear in many parts of speech including nouns, verbs, pre-verbs, post-verbs, adjectives and classifiers. Further examples include:

ᦛᦱᧃᦟᧄ waan¹lam⁴ sweet:delicious = delicious
ᦔᦲᧃᦛᦱᧃᦔᦲᧃᦟᧄ pin¹waan¹pin¹lam⁴ be:sweet:be:delicious = delicious
ᦢᧁᧈᦛᦱᧃᦢᧁᧈᦟᧄ baw²waan¹baw²lam⁴ not:sweet:not:delicious = not delicious
ᦓᧄᧉᦛᦱᧃᦓᧄᧉᦟᧄ nam⁶waan¹nam⁶lam⁴ water:sweet:water:delicious = flavour
ᦈᦳᦟᦻᧈ cuʔ²laaj⁵ deceive:lie = deceive
ᦅᧄᦈᦳᦅᧄᦟᦻᧈ kam⁴cuʔ²kam⁴laaj⁵ word:deceive:word:lie = a lie
ᦡᦾᧉᦂᦲᧃ dɔj³kin¹ eat:eat = eat
ᦈᦳᦡᦾᧉᦟᦻᧈᦂᦲᧃ cuʔ²dɔj³laaj⁵kin¹ deceive:eat:lie:eat = con to earn one’s living

This last example employs the common strategy of combining two different separable compounds into a longer expression.


Another strategy for creating elaborate expressions is to repeat two verbs.

ᦃᧇᦃᧇᦣᦸᧂᧉᦣᦸᧂᧉ   xap²xap²hɔŋ⁶hɔŋ⁶   sing:sing:call:call = ‘sing one’s heart out’


At the other end of the spectrum are elaborate expressions in relatively fixed form. Sometimes these contain component parts that are not independent morphemes, but involve a partial repetition of the base form:

ᦷᦀᧆᧈᦷᦍᧆᦀᦱᧆᦍᦱᧆ   ʔoot²jot⁵ʔaat²jat⁵   ‘dangling, swaying’ (from ʔoot²jot⁵ ‘dangle’)

ᦃᦷᦊᧅᦃᦊᧁ   xajok²xajaw²   ‘out of order, jumbled’ (from xajaw² ‘jiggle’)

ᦉᦳᦟᦱᦉᦳᦟᦱᧆ   sulaa⁴sulaat⁵   ‘liquor’ (from sulaa⁴ ‘liquor’)


Some elaborate expressions that are relatively fixed are formed from a collocation of four synonyms.

ᦺᦂᧉᦂᦲᧄᧈᦣᦲᧄᦈᧄ   kaj³kim²him⁴cam¹   near:near:edge:near = ‘near’


The fixed elaborate expressions often have internal rhyme, with the second and third syllables rhyming, creating a type of chiastic pattern. The morphemes are sometimes chosen as much for their rhyme and alliteration as for their semantic content.

ᦶᦆᧄᧉᦏᦲᧈᦡᦲᦎᦸᧂᧉ   xæm⁶tʰii²dii¹tɔŋ³   careful:close:good:touch = ‘carefully’

ᦃᦹᧃᧉᦡᦾᦟᦾᦜᦲᧂᧈ   xɯn³dɔj¹lɔj⁴liŋ² ascend:mountain:float:steep = ‘go up and down mountains’

ᦃᧇᦺᦆᧈᦺᦎᧈᦠᦱ   xap²xaj⁵taj²haa¹   drive:want:crawl:seek = ‘seek’

ᦊᦱᧁᧉᦠᦸᦎᦸᦵᦣᦲᧃ   jaaw³hɔɔ¹tɔɔ¹hɤn⁴   house:hall:stump:house = ‘house’



The parts of speech used in this Dai Lue dictionary are based largely on Haas’ analysis of Thai grammar, as reflected in her dictionary (Haas 1964). This is especially true with regard to verbs and other verb-like words (auxiliaries, modals, adverbs). Noss (1964) and Enfield (2007) have also influenced my understanding of the grammar of Dai languages.



Verbs that are the main verb of a clause are marked as either transitive or intransitive. Many verbs have both transitive and intransitive readings. ᦵᦂᦲᧆᧈ kɤɤt² as an intransitive verb is ‘be born; happen’; as a transitive verb it means ‘give birth’.



Pre-verbs (which Haas calls Adverb-auxiliaries) precede the main verb of the clause, but follow the subject. Some have adverbial meanings such as ᦂᦲᧉ kii³ ‘quickly’. The meanings of others are more typical of auxiliaries such as ᦷᦅᧃ kon⁴ ‘should’.



Post-verbs (which Haas calls Secondary Verbs) follow the main verb of the clause, and are typically adverbial in meaning. Many main verbs can be used also as post-verbs. ᦀᦸᧅᧈ ʔɔɔk² as a main verb is ‘to go out of; to exit’. As a post-verb it is a directional ‘out’: ᦋᧅ ᦺᦉᧉ ᦀᦸᧅᧈ /cak⁵ saj³ ʔɔɔk²/ ‘pull intestines out’. (See the full entry for more details.)


Adjectives and Numbers

Adjectives in Dai Lue follow the noun, whereas numbers precede the noun. Thus a word like ᦜᦻ laaj¹ ‘many’ is classed as a number because it precedes the noun.

Adjectives in Tai languages are a sub-class of verbs. Most intransitive verbs can be used as adjectives, but there are often semantic shifts when they are used this way. The meanings are thus recorded individually in the dictionary. The meanings of some words are markedly different when used as verbs and as adjectives.

verb meaning adjective meaning
ᦃᦱᧄᧈ xaam² ‘to guarantee’ ‘dependable’
ᦺᦊᧈ jaj² ‘to grow’ ‘great’
ᦊᦳᧂᧉ juŋ³ ‘to grimace’ ‘messy, tangled’
ᦺᦞᧉ waj⁶ ‘to put down’ ‘alert, alive’
ᦈᧇ cap² ‘to touch’ ‘correct’
ᦞᦻ waaj⁴ ‘to die’ ‘all gone’


Nouns and Classifiers

Every noun in Dai Lue has one or more classifiers that are used when counting. Each classifier is associated with a class of nouns. Sometimes the association between noun and classifier is based on shape or some other obvious characteristic of the noun. For instance ᦉᦲᧃᧉ sin³ ‘string’ is the classifier for hair, thread, rope, feathers, noodles, etc. Some classes of nouns are very large and some have a single member. Over 300 classifiers are listed in this dictionary.

Classifiers are associated with definiteness, and must be used when counting, with demonstratives, and in certain other situations. You cannot say ‘three hairs’ without using the classifier: ᦕᦳᧄ ᦉᦱᧄ ᦉᦲᧃᧉ /pʰum¹ saam¹ sin³/ ‘hair three strings’ (three hairs).

The classifier associated with each Dai Lue noun is listed with its entry. In the English-Dai Lue index the classifiers are grouped together alphabetically with the prefix ‘CLASSIFIER’.



There are 130 prepositions in Dai Lue. Prepositional phrases in Dai Lue are a constituent of the clause, or in some very limited circumstances a part of a noun phrase.



There are fifty pronouns in Dai Lue. There is no one simple set of pronouns, and the choice of an appropriate pronoun in each social situation is complicated. In many European languages there are two choices for the 2nd person pronoun ‘you’, one more formal than the other. In Dai Lue there several ways to say ‘you’ with differing degrees of formality, and this is true in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons. Social relationships and social setting determine the speaker's choice of a pronoun in each situation.

Each pronoun in the dictionary is accompanied by usage notes. Often kin terms can substitute for pronouns, and the usage and restrictions on these are also noted.

Demonstrative pronouns (e.g. ᦠᧃᧉ han³ ‘there’) and interrogative pronouns (e.g. ᦺᦕ pʰaj¹ ‘who’) are also listed.


Onomatopoetic words

Onomatopoetic words[3], or expressives, are a sub-class of post-verbs. They express sounds such as those made by animals, rainfall, or body movements.


Final particles

Final particles come at the very end of a Dai Lue sentence, after the object and any post-verbs. Final particles are important to Dai Lue communication, and have a variety of functions.

Questions of all kinds end in a particle, with different ones for yes/no questions, and wh- questions. ᦣᦱᧈ haa⁵ is a final particle used with yes/no questions. ᦋᦱ caa⁴ is used with wh- questions. Both of these final particles are neutral, in the sense that they imply no expected answer, and express no doubt, sarcasm or other beliefs. Look in the index for examples of final particles that do express such information.

There are several final particles that express an imperative with different degrees of force or politeness. ᦤᦸ dɔ⁴ is an imperative particle commonly used in any situation. ᦶᦡᧈ dææ² is used when one is pleading or desperate for a response.

Several final particles are used to express emotion of different kinds. These final particles are more commonly used in informal and spoken contexts than in written communication. The final particle ᦊᦱᧈ jaa² expresses strong emotion of any kind, or is used in a situation that is emotionally charged. The final particle ᦣᦱ haa⁴ is used with rhetorical questions expressing worry, anger, sarcasm or some other strong emotion. ᦣᦹ hɯɯ⁴ as a final particle expresses doubt or scepticism.

Other final particles are used as exclamations, when seeking assent or affirmation, when contradicting somebody, expressing certainty or ignorance, or as euphonious particles in poetry.

The final particles are grouped together in the English-Dai Lue index with the prefix FINAL PARTICLE.


[1] These are much more common in Dai Lue than in English. An English example might be ‘poet-doctor’.

[2] There a few places where the label ‘can be separated’ marks phrases that are inherently separated. See for example ᦂᦴᦙᦹᧂᦙᦹᧂᦂᦴ kuu¹mɯŋ⁴mɯŋ⁴kuu¹ ‘RECIPROCAL.

[3] Wayland (1996) has a helpful discussion of expressives in Lao, another Dai language.