Language facts: Khmer

Mar 11, 2016

Khmer, also known as Cambodian, is an Austro-Asiatic language and it is the official language of Cambodia. Khmer is spoken by 15 million native speakers, 12.6 million of whom live in Cambodia.

As old as the Khmer empire

Khmer has been influenced by Sanskrit and Pali through Hinduism and Buddhism as well as the Southeast Asian languages of Thai, Lao and Vietnamese, but unlike those it is NOT a tonal language (in tonal languages, changing a tone of speech changes the meaning of words, with otherwise intact spelling. Many Asian languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai, are tonal, while most languages in Europe are not, although in some European languages the meaning of words can be changed using pitch accent on certain syllables).

The language developed under the Khmer Empire, dating back to the 9th century, but goes back even further. It underwent turbulent change from the 14th to the 18th century. Modern Khmer as used today cannot be used to interpret Old Khmer. Several dialects of Khmer exist with a significant amounts of speakers in both Thailand and Vietnam. The majority of speakers use the Central Khmer dialect though.

Khmer is an analytical and isolating language, which means there are no inflections, conjugations or case endings used.

Alphabet

Khmer is written in the Khmer script, from which both Thai and Lao have developed. This script also has its own numerals.The Khmer alphabet consists of 33 consonants supported by vowels represented by diacritics written above, below and/or alongside on either side of the consonant to modify it. This example shows consonants without the vowel diacritics:

ក ខ គ ឃ ង ច ឆ ជ ឈ ញ ដ ឋ ឌ ឍ ណ ត ថ ទ ធ ន ប ផ ព ភ ម យ រ ល វ ឝ ឞ ស ហ ឡ អ

Khmer numerals (0 to 9):

០ ១ ២ ៣ ៤ ៥ ៦ ៧ ៨ ៩

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