i just finished reading this discussion on lonely planet's website (see link). which is it, Lao or Laotian?
i always felt that the word "Laotian" referred to any person, thing, food, etc, from Laos - and that it was meant to refer to these things in the broader sense. additionally, the term seems useful in that it differentiates from a specific reference to the ethnic Lao people/language.
for example, most hmong people in the usa would fall under the category of Laotian (in the sense that they may be refugees from Laos) but would not fall under the category of Lao (in that Lao is a specific reference to a specific people, language that makes up the majority population in the country of Laos.)
also, certain foods maybe consider Laotian dishes, but may not be an actual dish of the lowland Lao people.
any comments on this? when i tell people i speak another language, i almost always say "i speak Lao." and i use the word Laotian for clarification purposes only. the word Laotian does seem to be a western invention - i've never heard it used in Laos. although the Lao government does have certain words in place to assist in developing a greater "Laotian" identity... (the terms Lao loum, Lao theung, and Lao soung, would be examples but i will save that for another post.)