Khmer language

From Academic Kids

Khmer (ភាសាខ្មែរ
Phasa Khmr)
Spoken in: Cambodia, Vietnam,
Thailand, USA,
France, Australia

Total speakers: (2004)
Native speakers

  • Cambodia:
  • Vietnam:

  • Thailand:
  • USA:
  • France:
  • Australia:
  • Canada:
  • 2nd language


15.7 or 22.6 million
14.7 or 21.6 million

  • 12.1 million
  • 1.1¹
    or 8² million
  • 1.2 million
  • 190,000
  • ca. 50,000
  • 22,000
  • 16,500
  • 1 million

in Cambodia

Ranking: 102

  Eastern Mon-Khmer

Official status
Official language of: Cambodia
Regulated by: ?
Language codes
ISO 639-1 km
ISO 639-2(B) khm
ISO 639-2(T) khm
Notes: 1- Vietnamese government figure
2- non-government estimates of the
Khmer Krom living in Vietnam.</center>

Khmer is one of the main Austroasiatic languages. Sanskrit and Pali have had considerable influence on the language, through the vehicles of Buddhism and Hinduism. As result of their geographic proximity, the Khmer language has influenced Thai and Laotian and vice versa.

Khmer is somewhat unusual among its neighboring languages (Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese) in that it is not a tonal language.



Modern Standard Khmer has the following consonant and vowel phonemes. (Please note: The phonological system described here is the inventory of sounds of the spoken language, not how they are written in the Khmer alphabet.)


p t c k ʔ
ɓ ɗ
(f) s h
m n ɲ ŋ
w j h

The consonant f occurs in just a few loanwords. The consonants ʃ, z and g occur only in loanwords from French and other recent introductions.

Vowel nuclei

i e ɨ ə a ɑ u o
i ɛː ɨː əː ɑː ɔː
iːə eːi aːe ɨːə əːɨ aːə ɑːo uːə oːu ɔːə

It must be noted that there is quite a bit of disagreement about the precise number and the phonetic value of these vowel nuclei.

Syllables and words

Khmer words are predominantly of one or two syllables. There are 85 possible clusters of two consonants at the beginning of syllables and two three-consonant clusters with phonetic alterations as shown below:

pʰt- pʰc- pʰk- pʰʔ- pɗ- pʰn- pʰɲ- pʰŋ- pʰj- pʰl- pɽ- ps- ph-
tʰp- tʰk- tʰʔ- tɓ- tʰm- tʰn- tʰŋ- tw- tj- tl- tɽ- th-
cʰp- cʰk- cʰʔ- cɓ- cɗ- cʰm- cʰn- cʰŋ- cʰw- cʰl- cɽ- ch-
kʰp- kʰt- kʰc- kʰʔ- kɓ- kɗ- kʰm- kʰn- kʰɲ- kŋ- kʰw- kʰj- kʰl- kʰɽ- ks- kh-
sp- st- sk- sʔ- sɓ- sɗ- sm- sn- sɲ- sŋ- sw- sl- sɽ- sth-
mət- məc- məʔ- məɗ- mən- məɲ- məl- məɽ- məs- məh-
ləp- lək- ləʔ- ləɓ- ləm- ləŋ- ləw- ləh- ləkh-

Syllables begin with one of these consonants or consonant clusters, followed by one of the vowel nuclei. At the end of the syllable, the following consonants can occur: -p, -t, -c, -k, -ʔ, -m, -n, -ɲ, -ŋ, -w, -j , -l and -h (-). When the vowel nucleus is short, there has to be a final consonant.

The most common word structure in Khmer is a full syllable as described above, preceded by an unstressed, minor syllable that has the structure CV-, CɽV-, CVN- or CɽVN- (C stands for a consonant, V for a vowel, N for m, n, ɲ or ŋ). The vowel in these minor syllables is usually reduced to ə in the spoken language.

Words can also be made up of two full syllables.

Words with three or more syllables are mostly loanwords from Pali, Sanskrit, French or other languages.


Dialects are sometimes quite marked; notable variations are found in speakers from Phnom Penh (the capital city) and Battambang in the countryside.

A notable characteristic of the Phnom Penh accent is a tendency towards what might be considered "relaxed" pronunciation, with some parts slurred together or dropped entirely. For instance, "Phnom Penh" will sometimes be shortened to "m'Penh". Another characteristic of the Phnom Penh accent is observed in words with an "r" in the second position of the first syllable (that is, where "r" is the second consonant, as in the English word "bread"). The "r" is not pronounced, and the first consonant is pronounced harder than usual, and the syllable is spoken with a dipping tone much like the "hỏi" tone in Vietnamese. For example, some people pronounce "dreey" (meaning "fish") as "te"; the "d" becomes a "t", and the vowel (similar to "long A" in English) begins low and rises in tone. Another example is the word for orange: it is pronounced kroich (the older form) by those in the countryside, but simply koich (without the r) by those in the city.


Word order in Khmer is generally Subject-Verb-Object. Khmer primarily an isolating language, but lexical derivation by means of prefixes and infixes is common.

Writing system

Khmer is written with the Khmer alphabet. Khmer numerals, are used more widely than Arabic numerals. The Khmer's inherited the numerals from India.


  • Ferlus, Michel. 1992. Essai de phontique historique du khmer (Du milieu du premier millnaire de notre re l'poque actuelle)", Mon-Khmer Studies XXI: 57-89)
  • Headley, Robert et. al. 1977. Cambodian-English Dictionary. Washington, Catholic University Press.
  • Huffman, Franklin. 1967. An outline of Cambodian Grammar. PhD thesis, Cornell University.
  • Huffman, Franklin. 1970. Cambodian System of Writing and Beginning Reader. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300013140
  • Jacob, Judith. 1974. A Concise Cambodian-English Dictionary. London, Oxford University Press.

External links


de:Khmer-Sprache eo:Kmera lingvo fr:Khmer ja:クメール語 nl:Khmer (taal) pl:Język khmerski sv:Khmer (sprk) th:ภาษาเขมร wa:Xhmer zh:高棉语


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