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Cambodian language

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Cambodian is one of the main Austroasiatic languages, and has had considerable influence from Sanskrit, Pali, Thai, and Laotian. Some of these influences, such as Sanskrit and Pali, come from the influence of Buddhism and Hinduism on Khmer culture; the latter two are the result of linguistic contact and geographic proximity.

The Cambodian language is somewhat unusual among its neighboring countries' languages of Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese in that it is not a tonal language.

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

(This analysis comes from my observation as a conversant speaker of Cambodian without any background in linguistics).

A notable characteristic of the Phnom Penh accent is a tendency toward slang and laziness in pronunciation, much like American urban slang. 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" subconsonant in the first syllable (that is, where r is the second consonant, as in the English word "bread"). The r is not pronounced, the first consonant is pronounced harder than usual, and the syllable is spoken with a dipping tone much like the "hoi" tone in the Vietnamese language. For example, I have heard the word "dre" (meaning "fish") pronounced "te"; the "d" becomes a "t", and the vowel (long A) begins low and rises in tone.

Written Cambodian is alphabetic like English (and unlike Chinese). Its alphabet consists of two separate categories -- consonants and vowels. Pronunciation is given here in the traditional form (you will need a computer with Khmer fonts to see the letters below). It is also notable that the Cambodian script has fewer vowel symbols than the language has vowel phonemes. Instead, each consonant symbol has two digraphs, each with its own inherent vowel (incidentally making Khmer script an abugida rather than a true alphabet. The actual vowel sound represented is therefore indicated by the combination of the vowel symbol plus the inherent vowel of its associated consonant.


 ក gaw   ខ kaw   គ go    ឃ ko    ង ngo
 ច jaw   ឆ chaw  ជ jo    ឈ cho   ញ nyo
 ដ daw   ឋ taw   ឌ do    ឍ to    ណ naw
 ត Daw   ថ taw   ទ Do    ធ to    ន no
 ប ?     ផ ?     ព ?     ភ ?     ម ?
 យ yo    រ ro    ល lo    វ vo    ឝ saw
 ឞ ?     ស ?     ហ haw   ឡ law   អ aw


 aa/Ea Ay/EE A/E ew/ew eww/eww

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