The Chamic languages, also known as Aceh–Chamic and Achinese–Chamic, are a group of ten languages spoken in Aceh (Sumatra, Indonesia) and in parts of Cambodia, Vietnam and Hainan, China. The Chamic languages are a subgroup of Malayo-Sumbawan languages in the Austronesian family. The ancestor of this subfamily, proto-Chamic, is associated with the Sa Huỳnh culture, its speakers arriving in what is now Vietnam from Borneo or perhaps the Malay Peninsula.[2]

After Acehnese, with 3.5 million, Jarai and Cham are the most widely spoken Chamic languages, with about 230,000 and 280,000 speakers respectively, in both Cambodia and Vietnam. Tsat is the most northern and least spoken, with only 3000 speakers.


Cham has the oldest literary history of any Austronesian language. The Dong Yen Chau inscription, written in Old Cham, dates from the late 4th century AD.

Due to extensive borrowing resulting from long-term contact, Chamic and the Bahnaric languages - a branch of the Austroasiatic family - have many vocabulary items in common.[2][3]

Roger Blench (2006)[4] notes that Aslian languages have many Chamic loanwords, pointing to a former presence of Chamic speakers on the Malay Peninsula.


Graham Thurgood (1999:36) gives the following classification for the Chamic languages.[2] Individual languages are marked by italics.

The Proto-Chamic numerals from 7 to 9 are shared with those of the Malayan languages, providing partial evidence for a Malayo-Chamic subgrouping (Thurgood 1999:37).

Roger Blench (2009)[5] also proposes that there may have been at least one other Austroasiatic branch in coastal Vietnam that is now extinct, based on various Austroasiatic loanwords in modern-day Chamic languages that cannot be clearly traced to existing Austroasiatic branches (Blench 2009; Sidwell 2006).[6]


The Proto-Chamic reconstructed below is from Graham Thurgood's 1999 publication From Ancient Cham to Modern Dialects.[2]


The following table of Proto-Chamic presyllabic consonants are from Thurgood (1999:68). There are a total of 13-14 presyllabic consonants depending on whether or not ɲ is counted. Non-presyllabic consonants include *ʔ, *ɓ, *ɗ, *ŋ, *y, *w. Aspirated consonants are also reconstructable for Proto-Chamic.

Proto-Chamic Presyllabic Consonants[2]
Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive Voiceless p t c k
Voiced b d ɟ ɡ
Nasal m ɲ[7]
Lateral l
Tap or trill r
Fricative s h

The following consonant clusters are reconstructed for Proto-Chamic (Thurgood 1999:93): *pl-, *bl-, *kl-, *gl-, *pr-, *tr-, *kr-, *br-, *dr-.


There are 4 vowels (*-a, *-i, *-u, and *-e, or alternatively *-ə) and 3 diphthongs (*-ay, *-uy, *-aw).[2]

Proto-Chamic Vowels
Height Front Central Back
Close i /i/ u /u/
Mid e /e/ ([ə /ə/])
Open a /a/


Reconstructed Proto-Chamic morphological components are:[2]

  • *tə-: the "inadvertent" prefix
  • *mə-: common verb prefix
  • *pə-: causative prefix
  • *bɛʔ-: negative imperative prefix (borrowed from Austroasiatic languages)
  • *-əm-: nominalizing infix
  • *-ən-: instrumental infix (borrowed from Austroasiatic languages)


Proto-Chamic has the following personal pronouns (Thurgood 1999:247-248):


  • *kəu – I (familiar)
  • *hulun – I (polite); slave
  • *dahlaʔ – I (polite)
  • *hã – you; thou
  • *ñu – he, she; they


  • *kaməi – we (exclusive)
  • *ta – we (inclusive)
  • *drəi – we (inclusive); reflexive
  • *gəp – other; group (borrowed from Austroasiatic languages)


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Aceh–Chamic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Thurgood, Graham (1999). From ancient Cham to modern dialects : two thousand years of language contact and change : with an appendix of Chamic reconstructions and loanwords. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0824821319. 
  3. ^ Sidwell 2009)
  4. ^ Blench, Roger. 2006. Why are Aslian speakers Austronesian in culture? Papers presented at ICAL-3, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
  5. ^ Blench, Roger. 2009. "Are there four additional unrecognised branches of Austroasiatic?."
  6. ^ Sidwell, Paul. 2006. "Dating the Separation of Acehnese and Chamic By Etymological Analysis of the Aceh-Chamic Lexicon Archived 2013-06-05 at WebCite." In The Mon-Khmer Studies Journal, 36: 187-206.
  7. ^ Reflexes of ɲ are rare in modern Chamic languages.