KHMER /kmɛər/ or CAMBODIAN (natively ភាសាខ្មែរ
, or more formally ខេមរភាសា ) is the language of the
Khmer people and the official language of
The vast majority of Khmer speakers speak CENTRAL KHMER, the dialect
of the central plain where the Khmer are most heavily concentrated.
Within Cambodia, regional accents exist in remote areas but these are
regarded as varieties of Central Khmer. Two exceptions are the speech
of the capital, Phnom Penh, and that of the Khmer Khe in Stung Treng
province, both of which differ sufficiently enough from Central Khmer
to be considered separate dialects of Khmer. Outside of Cambodia,
three distinct dialects are spoken by ethnic Khmers native to areas
that were historically part of the
Khmer Empire . The Northern Khmer
dialect is spoken by over a million Khmers in the southern regions of
Khmer is primarily an analytic , isolating language . There are no inflections , conjugations or case endings. Instead, particles and auxiliary words are used to indicate grammatical relationships. General word order is subject–verb–object , and modifiers follow the word they modify. Classifiers appear after numbers when used to count nouns, though not always so consistently as in languages like Chinese . In spoken Khmer, topic-comment structure is common and the perceived social relation between participants determines which sets of vocabulary, such as pronouns and honorifics, are proper.
THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPECIAL CHARACTERS . Without proper rendering support , you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols .
Khmer differs from neighboring languages such as Thai, Burmese , Lao
and Vietnamese in that it is not a tonal language . Words are stressed
on the final syllable, hence many words conform to the typical
Mon–Khmer pattern of a stressed syllable preceded by a minor
syllable . The language has been written in the
* 1 Classification * 2 Geographic distribution and dialects * 3 Historical periods
* 4 Phonology
* 5 Grammar
* 5.1 Morphology
* 5.1.1 Nouns and pronouns * 5.1.2 Adjectives and adverbs * 5.1.3 Verbs
* 5.2 Syntax
* 6 Numerals * 7 Social registers * 8 Writing system * 9 See also * 10 References and notes * 11 Further reading * 12 External links
Khmer is a member of the Austroasiatic language family, the
autochthonous family in an area that stretches from the Malay
GEOGRAPHIC DISTRIBUTION AND DIALECTS
Approximate locations where various dialects of Khmer are spoken
Khmer is spoken by some 13 million people in
Khmer dialects , although mutually intelligible, are sometimes quite
marked. Notable variations are found in speakers from Phnom Penh
(Cambodia's capital city), the rural Battambang area, the areas of
The following is a classification scheme showing the development of the modern Khmer dialects.
* Cardamom (Western) Khmer
* Central Khmer
* Surin (Northern) Khmer * Standard Khmer and related dialects (including Khmer Krom)
STANDARD KHMER, or CENTRAL KHMER, the language as taught in Cambodian schools and used by the media, is based on the dialect spoken throughout the Central Plain , a region encompassed by the northwest and central provinces.
NORTHERN KHMER (called
Khmer Surin in Khmer) refers to the dialects
spoken by many in several border provinces of present-day northeast
Thailand. After the fall of the
Khmer Empire in the early 15th
century, the Dongrek Mountains served as a natural border leaving the
Khmer north of the mountains under the sphere of influence of the
WESTERN KHMER , also called
Cardamom Khmer or Chanthaburi Khmer, is
spoken by a very small, isolated population in the Cardamom mountain
range extending from western
PHNOM PENH KHMER is spoken in the capital and surrounding areas. This
dialect is characterized by merging or complete elision of syllables,
considered by speakers from other regions to be a "relaxed"
pronunciation. For instance, "Phnom Penh" will sometimes be shortened
to "m'Penh". Another characteristic of
KHMER KROM or SOUTHERN KHMER is spoken by the indigenous Khmer
population of the
KHMER KHE is spoken in the Se San , Srepok and Sekong river valleys of Sesan and Siem Pang districts in Stung Treng Province . Following the decline of Angkor, the Khmer abandoned their northern territories which were then settled by the Lao. In the 17th century, Chey Chetha XI led a Khmer force into Stung Treng to retake the area. The Khmer Khe living in this area of Stung Treng in modern times are presumed to be the descendants of this group. Their dialect is thought to resemble that of pre-modern Siem Reap.
Further information: Middle Khmer
NATIVE TO Khmer Empire
ERA 9th to 13th century
LANGUAGE FAMILY Austroasiatic
* OLD KHMER
A stone carved in Middle Khmer
Linguistic study of the
The following table shows the conventionally accepted historical stages of Khmer.
Historical Stages of Khmer HISTORICAL STAGE DATE
Pre- or Proto-Khmer Before 600 CE
Pre-Angkorian Old Khmer 600–800
Angkorian Old Khmer 800 to mid-14th century
Middle Khmer Mid-14th century to 18th century
Modern Khmer 1800–present
Just as modern Khmer was emerging from the transitional period
represented by Middle Khmer,
Many native scholars in the early 20th century, led by a monk named
Chuon Nath , resisted the French and Thai influences on their
language. Forming the government sponsored Cultural Committee to
define and standardize the modern language, they championed
Khmerization, purging of foreign elements, reviving affixation, and
the use of
Old Khmer roots and historical Pali and
* Overview * Northern Khmer * Western Khmer * Khmer Khe
* v * t * e
The phonological system described here is the inventory of sounds of the standard spoken language, represented using appropriate symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).
LABIAL ALVEOLAR PALATAL VELAR GLOTTAL
PLOSIVE p (pʰ) t (tʰ) c (cʰ) k (kʰ) ʔ
VOICED PLOSIVE/IMPLOSIVE ɓ ~ b ɗ ~ d
NASAL m n ɲ ŋ
APPROXIMANT ʋ ~ w
The voiceless plosives /p/, /t/, /c/, /k/ may occur with or without aspiration (as vs. , etc.); this difference is contrastive before a vowel. However, the aspirated sounds in that position may be analyzed as sequences of two phonemes : /ph/, /th/, /ch/, /kh/. This analysis is supported by the fact that infixes can be inserted between the stop and the aspiration; for example ('big') becomes ('size') with a nominalizing infix. When one of these plosives occurs initially before another consonant, aspiration is no longer contrastive and can be regarded as mere phonetic detail: slight aspiration is expected when the following consonant is not one of /ʔ/, /b/, /d/, /r/, /s/, /h/ (or /ŋ/ if the initial plosive is /k/).
The voiced plosives are pronounced as implosives by most speakers, but this feature is weak in educated speech, where they become .
In syllable-final position, /h/ and /ʋ/ approach and respectively. The stops /p/, /t/, /c/, /k/ are unaspirated and have no audible release when occurring as syllable finals.
In addition, the consonants /ɡ/, /f/, /ʃ/ and /z/ occur occasionally in recent loan words in the speech of Cambodians familiar with French and other languages.
Various authors have proposed slightly different analyses of the Khmer vowel system. This may be in part because of the wide degree of variation in pronunciation between individual speakers, even within a dialectal region. The description below follows Huffman (1970). The number of vowel nuclei and their values vary between dialects; differences exist even between the Standard Khmer system and that of the Battambang dialect on which the standard is based.
Monophthongs of Khmer
FRONT CENTRAL BACK
SHORT LONG SHORT LONG SHORT LONG
CLOSE i iː ɨ ɨː u uː
CLOSE-MID e eː ə əː o oː
OPEN a aː ɑ ɑː
Diphthongs of Khmer LONG DIPHTHONGS iə ei ae ɨə əɨ aə uə ou ao ɔə
In addition, there are diphthongs and triphthongs which are analyzed as a vowel nucleus plus a semivowel (/j/ or /w/) coda because they can not be followed by a final consonant. These include: (with short monophthongs) /ɨw/, /əw/, /aj/, /aw/, /uj/; (with long monophthongs) /əːj/, /aːj/; (with long diphthongs) /iəj/, /iəw/, /ɨəj/, /aoj/, /aəj/ and /uəj/.
A Khmer syllable begins with a single consonant, or else with a cluster of two, or rarely three, consonants. The only possible clusters of three consonants at the start of a syllable are /str/, /skr/, and (with aspirated consonants analyzed as two-consonant sequences) /sth/, /lkh/. There are 85 possible two-consonant clusters (including etc. analyzed as /ph/ etc.). All the clusters are shown in the following table, phonetically, i.e. superscript ʰ can mark either contrastive or non-contrastive aspiration (see above ).
P ɓ T ɗ C K ʔ M N ɲ ŋ J L R S H ʋ T+H K+H T+R K+R
pʰt- pɗ- pʰc- pʰk- pʔ-
pʰn- pʰɲ- pʰŋ- pʰj- pʰl- pr- ps- pʰ-
T tʰp- tɓ-
tʰk- tʔ- tʰm- tʰn-
tʰŋ- tʰj- tʰl- tr-
C cʰp- cɓ-
cʰk- cʔ- cʰm- cʰn-
K kʰp- kɓ- kʰt- kɗ- kʰc-
kʔ- kʰm- kʰn- kʰɲ- kŋ- kʰj- kʰl- kr- ks- kʰ- kʰʋ-
S sp- sɓ- st- sɗ-
sk- sʔ- sm- sn- sɲ- sŋ-
mt- mɗ- mc-
ml- mr- ms- mh-
L lp- lɓ-
lk- lʔ- lm-
Slight vowel epenthesis occurs in the clusters consisting of a plosive followed by /ʔ/, /b/, /d/, in those beginning /ʔ/, /m/, /l/, and in the cluster /kŋ-/. :8–9
After the initial consonant or consonant cluster comes the syllabic nucleus , which is one of the vowels listed above. This vowel may end the syllable or may be followed by a coda , which is a single consonant. If the syllable is stressed and the vowel is short, there must be a final consonant. All consonant sounds except /b/, /d/, /r/, /s/ and the aspirates can appear as the coda (although final /r/ is heard in some dialects, most notably in Northern Khmer ).
A minor syllable (unstressed syllable preceding the main syllable of a word) has a structure of CV-, CrV-, CVN- or CrVN- (where C is a consonant, V a vowel, and N a nasal consonant). The vowels in such syllables are usually short; in conversation they may be reduced to , although in careful or formal speech, including on television and radio, they are clearly articulated. An example of such a word is មនុស្ស ('person'), pronounced , or more casually . :10
Stress in Khmer falls on the final syllable of a word. Because of this predictable pattern, stress is non-phonemic in Khmer (it does not distinguish different meanings).
Most Khmer words consist of either one or two syllables. In most native disyllabic words, the first syllable is a minor (fully unstressed) syllable. Such words have been described as sesquisyllabic (i.e. as having one-and-a-half syllables). There are also some disyllabic words in which the first syllable does not behave as a minor syllable, but takes secondary stress . Most such words are compounds , but some are single morphemes (generally loanwords). An example is ភាសា ('language'), pronounced . :10
Words with three or more syllables, if they are not compounds, are mostly loanwords, usually derived from Pali, Sanskrit, or more recently, French. They are nonetheless adapted to Khmer stress patterns. Primary stress falls on the final syllable, with secondary stress on every second syllable from the end. Thus in a three-syllable word, the first syllable has secondary stress; in a four-syllable word, the second syllable has secondary stress; in a five-syllable word, the first and third syllables have secondary stress, and so on. :10–11 Long polysyllables are not often used in conversation. :12
Compounds, however, preserve the stress patterns of the constituent words. Thus សំបុកចាប, the name of a kind of cookie (literally 'bird's nest'), is pronounced , with secondary stress on the second rather than the first syllable, because it is composed of the words ('nest') and ('bird').
PHONATION AND TONE
Khmer once had a phonation distinction in its vowels, but this now
survives only in the most archaic dialect (
Western Khmer ). The
distinction arose historically when vowels after
Old Khmer voiced
consonants became breathy voiced and diphthongized; for example *kaa,
*ɡaa became *kaa, *ɡe̤a. When consonant voicing was lost, the
distinction was maintained by the vowel (*kaa, *ke̤a); later the
phonation disappeared as well (, ). These processes explain the
origin of what are now called a-series and o-series consonants in the
Although most Cambodian dialects are not tonal , colloquial Phnom Penh dialect has developed a tonal contrast (level versus peaking tone) to compensate for the elision of /r/.
Intonation often conveys semantic context in Khmer, as in distinguishing declarative statements , questions and exclamations. The available grammatical means of making such distinctions are not always used, or may be ambiguous; for example, the final interrogative particle ទេ /teː/ can also serve as an emphasizing (or in some cases negating) particle.
The intonation pattern of a typical Khmer declarative phrase is a steady rise throughout followed by an abrupt drop on the last syllable. ខ្ញុំមិនចង់បានទេ ('I don't want it')
Other intonation contours signify a different type of phrase such as the "full doubt" interrogative, similar to yes-no questions in English. Full doubt interrogatives remain fairly even in tone throughout, but rise sharply towards the end. អ្នកចង់ទៅលេងសៀមរាបទេ ('do you want to go to Siem Reap?')
Exclamatory phrases follow the typical steadily rising pattern, but rise sharply on the last syllable instead of falling. សៀវភៅនេះថ្លៃណាស់ ('this book is expensive!')
Main article: Khmer grammar
Khmer is primarily an analytic language with no inflection . Syntactic relations are mainly determined by word order. Old and Middle Khmer used particles to mark grammatical categories and many of these have survived in Modern Khmer but are used sparingly, mostly in literary or formal language. Khmer makes extensive use of auxiliary verbs , "directionals" and serial verb construction . Colloquial Khmer is a zero copula language, instead preferring predicative adjectives (and even predicative nouns) unless using a copula for emphasis or to avoid ambiguity in more complex sentences. Basic word order is subject–verb–object (SVO), although subjects are often dropped ; prepositions are used rather than postpositions. Topic-Comment constructions are common and the language is generally head-initial (modifiers follow the words they modify). Some grammatical processes are still not fully understood by western scholars. For example, it's not clear if certain features of Khmer grammar, such as actor nominalization , should be treated as a morphological process or a purely syntactic device, :46, 74 and some derivational morphology seems to be "purely decorative" and performs no known syntactic work. :53
Lexical categories have been hard to define in Khmer. :360 Henri Maspero , an early scholar of Khmer, claimed the language had no parts of speech, while a later scholar, Judith Jacob, posited four parts of speech and innumerable particles. :331 John Haiman , on the other hand, identifies "a couple dozen" parts of speech in Khmer with the caveat that Khmer words have the freedom to perform a variety of syntactic functions depending on such factors as word order, relevant particles, location within a clause, intonation and context. Some of the more important lexical categories and their function are demonstrated in the following example sentence taken from a hospital brochure: :378
loːk nĕəʔ pdɑl cʰiəm tĕəŋ ʔɑh
pronoun pronoun verb noun particle adjective
2nd Per. respectful 2nd Per. familiar provide blood every all
trəw tae tɔtuəl nəw kaː piːnɨt riəŋ kaːj
auxiliary verb intensifier verb object marker nominalizer verb noun noun
must have to receive
examine shape body
nɨŋ pdɑl nəw prɑʋŏət sokʰapʰiəp ciə mun ciə sən
conjunction verb object marker noun adjective copula adverb copula adverb
history health be before be first
'All blood donors must pass a physical examination and provide a health history first (before they can give blood).'
Modern Khmer is an isolating language , which means that it uses little productive morphology . There is some derivation by means of prefixes and infixes , but this is a remnant of Old Khmer and not always productive in the modern language. Khmer morphology is evidence of a historical process through which the language was, at some point in the past, changed from being an agglutinative language to adopting an isolating typology. Affixed forms are lexicalized and cannot be used productively to form new words. :311 Below are some of the most common affixes with examples as given by Huffman. :312–316
AFFIX FUNCTION WORD MEANING AFFIXED WORD MEANING
prefixed /p/ causation /dac/ /daəm/ "broke, torn" "origin" /pdac/ /pdaəm/ "to tear apart" "to originate (trans.)"
prefixed /rɔ/ derives adjectives nominalization /lŭət/ /baŋ/ "to extinguish" "to hide" /rɔlŭət/ /rɔbaŋ/ "extinguished" "a screen, shade"
prefixed /prɑ/ reciprocity /kʰam/ /douc/ "to bite" "similar" /prɑkʰam/ /prɑdouc/ "to bite each other" "to compare"
prefixed /bɑN/ causation /baek/ /daə/ /riən/ "to break (intrans.)" "to walk" "to study, learn" /bɑmbaek/ /bɑndaə/ /bɑŋriən/ "to cause to break" "to take for a walk" "to teach"
infixed /ɑm/ causation /sʔaːt/ /slap/ "to be clean" "to die" /sɑmʔaːt /sɑmlap/ "to clean" "to kill"
infixed /Vmn/ nominalization /daə/ /dəŋ/ /cɨə/ "to walk" "to know (something)" "to believe" /dɑmnaə/ /dɑmnəŋ/ /cumnɨə/ "a trip" "information" "belief"
Compounding in Khmer is a common derivational process that takes two forms, coordinate compounds and repetitive compounds. Coordinate compounds join two unbound morphemes (independent words) of similar meaning to form a compound signifying a concept more general than either word alone. :296 Coordinate compounds join either two nouns or two verbs. Repetitive compounds, one of the most productive derivational features of Khmer, use reduplication of an entire word to derive words whose meaning will depend on the class of the reduplicated word. :185 A repetitive compound of a noun indicates plurality or generality while that of an adjectival verb could mean either an intensification or plurality.
Coordinate compounds: :296–297
/ʔəwpuk/ + /mdaːj/ > /ʔəwpuk mdaːj/
'mother' > 'parents'
//dək// + /nŏəm/ > /dək-nŏəm/
'to carry' > 'to lead'
Repetitive compounds: :185-185
/cʰap/ > /cʰap-cʰap/
/srəj/ > /srəj-srəj/
'very fast, quickly'
'women, women in general'
Nouns And Pronouns
Khmer nouns do not inflect for grammatical gender or singular/plural . There are no articles , but indefiniteness is often expressed by the word for "one" (មូយ, /muəj/) following the noun as in ឆ្កែមូយ (/cʰkae muəj/ "a dog"). Plurality can be marked by postnominal particles, numerals, or reduplication of a following adjective, which, although similar to intensification, is usually not ambiguous due to context.
/cʰkae craən/ or /cʰkae piː/ or /cʰkae tʰom tʰom/
dog large large
Classifying particles are used after numerals, but are not always obligatory as they are in Thai or Chinese , for example, and are often dropped in colloquial speech. Khmer nouns are divided into two groups: mass nouns, those which take classifiers, and specific nouns, which do not. The overwhelming majority are mass nouns. :67–68
/kʰmaw.daj piː daəm/
pencil two long cylindrical object
Possession is colloquially expressed by word order. The possessor is placed after that which is possessed. :160 Alternatively, in more complex sentences or when emphasis is required, a possessive construction using the word របស់ (/rɔbɑh/ ~ /ləbɑh/, "property, object") may be employed. In formal and literary contexts, the possessive particle នៃ (nɨj) is used: :358
/puəʔmaːʔ kʰɲom/ or /puəʔmaːʔ rɔbɑh kʰɲom/ or /puəʔmaːʔ nɨj kʰɲom/
friend property I
friend poss I
Pronouns are subject to a complicated system of social register, the choice of pronoun depending on the perceived relationships between speaker, audience and referent (see Social registers below). Kinship terms, nicknames and proper names are often used as pronouns (including for the first person) among intimates. Subject pronouns are frequently dropped in colloquial conversation.
Adjectives, verbs and verb phrases may be made into nouns by the use
of nominalization particles. Three of the more common particles used
to create nouns are /kaː/, /sec kdəj/, and /pʰiəp/. :45–48 These
particles are prefixed most often to verbs in order to form abstract
nouns. The latter, derived from Sanskrit, also occurs as a suffix in
fixed forms borrowed from
/sec kdəj deik/
/pʰiəp sɑːm rum/
nmlz to live
nmlz to lay down
'the act of lying down'
Adjectives And Adverbs
Adjectives , demonstratives and numerals follow the noun they modify. Adverbs likewise follow the verb. Morphologically, adjectives and adverbs are not distinguished, with many words often serving either function. Adjectives are also employed as verbs as Khmer sentences rarely use a copula .
Degrees of comparison are constructed syntactically. Comparatives are expressed using the word ជាង /ciəŋ/: "A X /ciəŋ/ " (A is more X ). The most common way to express superlatives is with ជាងគេ /ciəŋ keː/: "A X /ciəŋ keː/" (A is the most X). Intensity is also expressed syntactically, similar to other languages of the region, by reduplication or with the use of intensifiers .
/srəj nuh/ sʔaːt/
/srəj nuh sʔaːt sʔaːt/
/srəj nuh sʔaːt nah/
girl dem pretty
girl dem pretty pretty
girl dem pretty very
'That girl is pretty.'
'That girl is very pretty.'
'That girl is very pretty.'
As is typical of most East Asian languages, Khmer verbs do not inflect at all; tense , aspect and mood can be expressed using auxiliary verbs, particles (such as កំពុង /kəmpuŋ/, placed before a verb to express continuous aspect ) and adverbs (such as "yesterday", "earlier", "tomorrow"), or may be understood from context. Serial verb construction is quite common. :253
Khmer verbs are a relatively open class and can be divided into two types, main verbs and auxiliary verbs. :254 Huffman defined a Khmer verb as "any word that can be (negated)", :56 and further divided main verbs into three classes.
Transitive verbs are verbs which may be followed by a direct object :
/kʰɲom ɲam/ baj/
/kʰɲom tɨɲ baːrəj/
I eat rice
I buy cigarettes
'I eat rice.'
'I buy cigarettes.'
Intransitive verbs are verbs which can not be followed by an object:
/kʰɲom daə tɨw pʰsaː/
I walk directional market
to invite to sit
'I walk to the market.'
Adjectival verbs are a word class that has no equivalent in English. When modifying a noun or verb, they function as adjectives or adverbs, respectively, but they may also be used as main verbs equivalent to English "be + adjective".
Adjective: /proh lʔɑː/
Adverb: /proh nuh tʰʋəː kaː lʔɑː/
boy dem to work good
'That boy works well'
Verb: /proh nuh lʔɑː/
boy dem handsome
'That boy is handsome' :56
Syntax is the rules and processes that describe how sentences are formed in a particular language, how words relate to each other within clauses or phrases and how those phrases relate to each other within a sentence to convey meaning. Khmer syntax is very analytic . Relationships between words and phrases are signified primarily by word order supplemented with auxiliary verbs and, particularly in formal and literary registers, grammatical marking particles. Grammatical phenomena such as negation and aspect are marked by particles while interrogative sentences are marked either by particles or interrogative words equivalent to English "wh-words".
A complete Khmer sentence consists of four basic elements which include an optional topic, an optional subject, an obligatory predicate and various adverbials and particles. The topic and subject are noun phrases , predicates are verb phrases and another noun phrase acting as an object or verbal attribute often follows the predicate.
Basic Constituent Order
When combining these noun and verb phrases into a sentence the order is typically SVO:
/kʰɲom ʔaoj ceik muəj cɑmnuən/
sbj I verb give obj banana one bunch
'I gave a bunch of bananas'
When both a direct object and indirect object are present without any grammatical markers, the preferred order is SV(DO)(IO). In such a case, if the direct object phrase contains multiple components, the indirect object immediately follows the noun of the direct object phrase and the direct object's modifiers follow the indirect object:
/kʰɲom ʔaoj ceik cruːk muəj cɑmnuən/
sbj I verb give dir obj banana ind obj pig one bunch
'I gave the pig a bunch of bananas' :207
This ordering of objects can be changed and the meaning clarified with the inclusion of particles. The word /dɑl/, which normally means "to arrive" or "towards", can be used as a preposition meaning "to":
/kʰɲom ʔaoj ceik muəj cɑmnuən/ dɑl cruːk/
I give banana one bunch toward pig
'I gave a bunch of bananas to the pigs' :207
Alternatively, the indirect object could precede the direct object if the object marking preposition /nəw/ were used:
/kʰɲom ʔaoj cruːk nəw ceik muəj cɑmnuən/
I give pig obj marker banana one bunch
'I gave the pig a bunch of bananas' :207
However, in spoken discourse OSV is possible when emphasizing the object in a topic-comment -like structure. :211
/tuːk muəj kɔŋ pram ʔɑŋ/
boat one to sit five monk
'In a boat there sit five monks' :148
/ʋɪʔciə cao luəc mɨn baːn/
science thief to steal neg compl
'Science, a thief can not steal.' :211
The elements in parentheses are optional. Honorifics are a class of words that serve to index the social status of the referent. Honorifics can be kinship terms or personal names, both of which are often used as first and second person pronouns, or specialized words such as /preah/ ('god') before royal and religious objects. :155 The most common demonstratives are /nih/ ('this, these') and /nuh/ ('that, those'). The word /ae nuh/ ('those over there') has a more distal or vague connotation. If the noun phrase contains a possessive adjective, it follows the noun and precedes the numeral. If a descriptive attribute co-occurs with a possessive, the possessive construction (/rɔbɑh/) is expected. :73
Some examples of typical Khmer noun phrases are:
KHMER TEXT IPA GLOSS TRANSLATION
ផ្ទះស្កឹមស្កៃបីបួនខ្នងនេះ /ptĕəh skəm.skaj bəj buən kʰnɑːŋ nih/ house high three four spine these noun adj numb numb classifier dem 'these three or four high houses' :142
ចេកទុំពីរស្និតនេះ /ceːk tum piː snət nih/ banana ripe two bunches these noun adj numb classifier dem these two bunches of ripe bananas
ពួកម៉ាកខ្ញុំពីរនាក់នេះ /puəʔmaʔ kʰɲom piː nĕə nih/ friend I two person these noun poss numb classifier dem these two friends of mine
ពួកម៉ាកតូចរបស់ខ្ញុំពីរនាក់នេះ /puəʔmaʔ touc rɔbɑh kʰɲom piː nĕə nih/ friend small of I two person these noun adj poss numb classifier dem these two small friends of mine :73
The Khmer particle /dɑː/ marked attributes in Old Khmer noun phrases and is used in formal and literary language to signify that what precedes is the noun and what follows is the attribute. Modern usage may carry the connotation of mild intensity. :163
/ʋiəl srae dɑː lʋɨŋ lʋəːj/
field paddy adj marker vast
'(very) expansive fields and paddies'
Khmer verbs are completely uninflected, and once a subject or topic has been introduced or is clear from context the noun phrase may be dropped. Thus, the simplest possible sentence in Khmer consists of a single verb. For example, /tɨw/ can mean "I'm going.", "He went.", "They've gone.", "Let's go.", etc. :17 This also results in long strings of verbs such as:
/kʰɲom cɑng tɨw daə leːng/
I to want to go to walk to play
'I want to go for a stroll' :187
Khmer uses three verbs for what translates into English as the copula. The general copula is /ciə/; it is used to convey identity with nominal predicates. :212 For locative predicates, the copula is /nɨw/. :212 The verb /miən/ is the "existential" copula meaning "there is" or "there exists". :208
/piəsaː ciə kaː sɑmdaeŋ cət kumnɨt krŏəp jaːŋ/
language copula nmlz to express heart thought all kind
'Language is the expression of all emotions and ideas'
/ʋiə nɨw cɪt ʋŏət/
/miən pʰaen kaː/
he copula close temple
to exist plan
'He is close to the temple.'
'There is a plan.'
Negation is achieved by putting មិន /mɨn/ before the verb and the particle ទេ /teː/ at the end of the sentence or clause. In colloquial speech, verbs can also be negated without the need for a final particle, by placing ឥត /ʔɑt/~/ʔət/ before them.
/kʰɲom mɨn cɨə teː/
/kʰɲom ʔɑt cɨə/
I to believe
I neg to believe neg
I neg to believe
'I don't believe.'
'I don't believe.'
Past tense can be conveyed by adverbs, such as "yesterday" or by the use of perfective particles such as /haəj/
/kŏət tɨw msəlmɨɲ/
/kŏət tɨw haəj/
he to go yesterday
he to go pfv
'He went yesterday.'
'He left.' or 'He's already gone.' :22
Different senses of future action can also be expressed by the use of adverbs like "tomorrow" or by the future tense marker /nɨŋ/, which is placed immediately before the verb, or both:
/sʔaek kʰɲom nɨŋ tɨw saːlaː riən/
tomorrow I fut to go school
'Tomorrow, I will go to school'
Imperatives are often unmarked. :240 For example, in addition to the meanings given above, the "sentence" /tɨw/ can also mean "Go!". Various words and particles may be added to the verb to soften the command to varying degrees, including to the point of politeness (jussives ): :240
/cou saːk lbɑːŋ kʰluən aeŋ coh/
/soum tʰʋəː taːm bɑndam kŏət tɨw/
imp try try you refl imp
please do follow instruction he imp
'Go ahead and try it yourself.'
'Please follow his instructions'
Prohibitives take the form "/kom/ + V" and also are often softened by the addition of the particle /ʔəj/ to the end of the phrase. :242
/kom nɨw tiː nih ʔəj/
proh to be place dem cohortative
'Don't stay in this place!'
There are three basic types of questions in Khmer. :46 Questions requesting specific information use question words . Polar questions are indicated with interrogative particles, most commonly /teː/ a homonym of the negation particle. Tag questions are indicated with various particles and rising inflection. :57 The SVO word order is generally not inverted for questions.
/loːk tɨw naː/
/loːk sdap baːn teː/
/loːk tɨw psaː haəj rɨː nɨw/
you to go where
you understand modal q
you to go market prf or yet
'Where are you going?'
'Can you understand?'
'Have you gone to the store yet?'
In more formal contexts and in polite speech, questions are also marked at their beginning by the particle /taə/.
/taə loːk ʔɑɲcəːɲ tɨw naː/
q you to invite to go where
'Where are you going, sir?' :302
Khmer does not have a passive voice, but there is a construction utilizing the main verb /trəw/ ("to hit", "to be correct", "to affect") as an auxiliary verb meaning "to be subject to" or "to undergo" which results in sentences that are translated to English using the passive voice. :286–288
/piː msəlmɨɲ kʰɲom trəw cʰkae kʰam/
from yesterday I was subject to dog to bite
'Yesterday I was bitten by a dog.' :302
Complex sentences are formed in Khmer by the addition of one or more clauses to the main clause. The various types of clauses in Khmer include the coordinate clause , the relative clause and the subordinate clause . Word order in clauses is the same for that of the basic sentences described above. Coordinate clauses do not necessarily have to be marked; they can simply follow one another. When explicitly marked, they are joined by words similar to English conjunctions such as /nɨŋ/ ("and") and /haəj/ ("and then") or by clause-final conjunction-like adverbs /dae/ and /pʰɑːŋ/, both of which can mean "also" or "and also"; disjunction is indicated by /rɨː/ ("or"). :217–218 Relative clauses can be introduced by /deal/ ("that") but, similar to coordinate clauses, often simply follow the main clause. For example, both phrases below can mean "the hospital bed that has wheels". :313
/krɛː pɛːt miən kɑŋ ruɲ/
/krɛː pɛːt dael miən kɑŋ ruɲ/
bed hospital have wheel to push
bed hospital rel pronoun have wheel to push
Relative clauses are more likely to be introduced with /deal/ if they do not immediately follow the head noun. :314 Khmer subordinate conjunctions always precede a subordinate clause. :366 Subordinate conjunctions include words such as /prŭəh/ ("because"), /hak bəj/ ("seems as if") and /daəmbəj/ ("in order to"). :251
Main article: Khmer numerals
Counting in Khmer is based on a biquinary system (the numbers from 6
to 9 have the form "five one", "five two", etc.) However, the words
for multiples of ten from 30 to 90 are not related to the basic Khmer
numbers, but are probably borrowed from Thai. The
The principal number words are listed in the following table, which gives Western and Khmer digits, Khmer spelling and IPA transcription.
0 ០ សូន្យ /soun/
1 ១ មួយ /muəj/
2 ២ ពីរ /piː/ 20 ២០ ម្ភៃ /məˈphɨj/
3 ៣ បី /ɓəːj/ 30 ៣០ សាមសិប /saːm səp/
4 ៤ បួន /ɓuən/ 40 ៤០ សែសិប /sae sǝp/
5 ៥ ប្រាំ /pram/ 50 ៥០ ហាសិប /haː səp/
6 ៦ ប្រាំមូយ /pram muəj/ 60 ៦០ ហុកសិប /hok səp/
7 ៧ ប្រាំពីរ /pram piː/, /pram pɨl/ 70 ៧០ ចិតសិប /cət səp/
8 ៨ ប្រាំបី /pram ɓəːj/ 80 ៨០ ប៉ែតសិប /paet səp/
9 ៩ ប្រាំបួន /pram ɓuən/ 90 ៩០ កៅសិប /kaʋ səp/
10 ១០ ដប់ /ɗɑp/ 100 ១០០ មួយរយ /muəj rɔːj/
Intermediate numbers are formed by compounding the above elements. Powers of ten are denoted by loan words: រយ /rɔːj/ (100), ពាន់ /pŏən/ (1,000), ម៉ឺន /məɨn/ (10,000), សែន /saen/ (100,000) and លាន /liən/ (1,000,000) from Thai and កោដិ /kaot/ (10,000,000) from Sanskrit.
Ordinal numbers are formed by placing the particle ទី /tiː/ before the corresponding cardinal number.
Khmer employs a system of registers in which the speaker must always be conscious of the social status of the person spoken to. The different registers, which include those used for common speech, polite speech, speaking to or about royals and speaking to or about monks, employ alternate verbs, names of body parts and pronouns. This results in what appears to foreigners as separate languages and, in fact, isolated villagers often are unsure how to speak with royals and royals raised completely within the court do not feel comfortable speaking the common register. As an example, the word for "to eat" used between intimates or in reference to animals is /siː/. Used in polite reference to commoners, it is /ɲam/. When used of those of higher social status, it is /pisa/ or /tɔtuəl tiən/. For monks the word is /cʰan/ and for royals, /saoj/. Another result is that the pronominal system is complex and full of honorific variations, just a few of which are shown in the table below.
SITUATIONAL USAGE I/ME YOU HE/SHE/IT
Intimate or addressing an inferior អញ
Formal យើងខ្ញុំ or ខ្ញុំបាទ លោក (or kinship term, title or rank) គាត់
Layperson to/about Buddhist clergy ខ្ញុំព្រះករុណា
Buddhist clergy to layperson អាត្មា or អាចក្តី ញោមស្រី (to female) ញោមប្រុស (to male) ឧបាសក (to male) ឧបាសិកា (to female)
when addressing royalty ខ្ញុំព្រះបាទអម្ចាស់ or ទូលបង្គុំ (male), ខ្ញុំម្ចាស់ (female)
Khmer is written with the Khmer script, an abugida developed from the
Pallava script of India before the 7th century when the first known
inscription appeared. Written left-to-right with vowel signs that can
be placed after, before, above or below the consonant they follow, the
Consonant symbols in Khmer are divided into two groups, or series.
The first series carries the inherent vowel /ɑː/ while the second
series carries the inherent vowel /ɔː/. The Khmer names of the
series, /aʔkʰosaʔ/ ('voiceless') and /kʰosaʔ/ ('voiced'),
respectively, indicate that the second series consonants were used to
represent the voiced phonemes of Old Khmer. As the voicing of stops
was lost, however, the contrast shifted to the phonation of the
attached vowels which, in turn, evolved into a simple difference of
vowel quality, often by diphthongization . This process has resulted
ត + ា = តា /ta/ 'grandfather'
ទ + ា = ទា /tiə/ 'duck'
REFERENCES AND NOTES
* ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The
World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in
* ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank,
Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Khmeric".
Glottolog 2.7 . Jena: Max Planck
Institute for the Science of Human History.
* ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank,
Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Central Khmer".
Glottolog 2.7 . Jena: Max
Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
* ^ Oxford English Dictionary, "Khmer".
* ^ Enfield, N.J. (2005). Areal
* Ferlus, Michel. (1992). Essai de phonétique historique du khmer (Du milieu du premier millénaire de notre ère à l'époque actuelle)", Mon–Khmer Studies XXI: 57–89) * Headley, Robert and others. (1977). Cambodian-English Dictionary. Washington, Catholic University Press. ISBN 0-8132-0509-3 * Herington, Jennifer and Amy Ryan. (2013). Sociolinguistic Survey of the Khmer Khe in Cambodia. Chiang Mai: Linguistics