I.   Introduction    


II.   Writing System      VI.   Independent Vowels
III.   Consonants      VII.   Diacratics
IV.   Sub-consonants





I. Introduction

    Cambodian, also known as Khmer, is the official language of the Kingdom of Cambodia and it is spoken by almost all Cambodians.  Khmer is also understood by people in many bordering countries such as Thailand (in the eastern provinces of Buriram, Surin, and Srisket in the northern Thailand), in the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam, and in southern Laos (Huffman, 1970).

    Cambodian is the major modern representative of the Mon-Khmer language family which includes hundreds of related dialects scattered over most of mainland Southeast Asia.  As for foreign influences on the language, the Khmer language has borrowed many words from Sankrit.   With the advent of Theravada Buddhism at the beginning of the fifteenth century, Khmer began to borrow Pali words, and continues to use Pali as a major source of neologisms today (Huffman 1970).  During the period of French domination, many French words were borrowed into the language and have become a part of the colloquial language, as well as medical and technical terms.  There is also a smattering of Chinese and Vietnamese loanwords in colloquial speech.

    Unlike Thai, Vietnamese, and Lao, Khmer is non-tonal and has a high percentage of disyllabic words which are derived from monosyllabic bases by prefixation, and infixation.   (Huffman, 1970)

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II. Writing System

    The Cambodian script (called Khmer letters) are all probably derived from various forms of the ancient Brahmi script of South India.  The Cambodian script has symbols for thirty-three consonants, twenty-four dependent vowels, twelve independent vowels, and several diacritic symbols.  Most consonants have reduced or modified forms, called sub-consonants, when they occur as the second member of a consonant cluster. Vowels may be written before, after, over, or under a consonant symbol.

    Some efforts to standardize Khmer spelling have been attempted, but inconsistencies persist, and many words have more than one accepted spelling.  A two-volume dictionary prepared under the direction of the Venerable Chuon Nath of the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh is the standard work on Khmer lexicography.

    Khmer is divided into three historical stages: Old Khmer (seventh to twelfth century A.D.), Middle Khmer (twelfth to seventeenth century A.D.), and Modern Khmer (seventeenth century to the present). It is likely that Old Khmer was the language of Chenla. The language of Funan was most probably a Mon-Khmer language. The earliest inscription in Khmer, found at Angkor Borei in Takev Province south of Phnom Penh, dates from A.D. 611.  (Huffman, 1970)

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III. Consonant

    There are thirty-three letters in the Cambodian writing system.  They are arranged in five groups according to the position of the articulation, proceeding from the back to the front of the mouth, and a sixth group labeled as miscellaneous.  The consonants in modern Cambodian are also divided into two categories or series. The first series is voiceless and the second series is voiced  (sometimes are called light voiced and heavy voiced).  The table below provides the symbol of all consonants sounds in IPA symbol with the first and second series sound.  (Huffman, 1970)





Pronunciation 1st Series Pronunciation 2nd Series
1 k kAA  
2 kh khAA  
3 k   kOO
4 kh   khOO
5 N   NOO
6 c cAA  
7 ch chAA  
8 c   cOO
9 ch   chOO
10 n)   n)OO
11 d dAA  
12 th thAA  
13 d   dOO
14 th   thOO
15 n nAA  
16 t tAA  
17 th thAA  
18 t   tOO
19 th   thOO
20 n   nOO
21 b bAA  
22 ph phAA  
23 p   pOO
24 ph   phOO
25 m   mOO
26 y   yOO
27 r   rOO
28 l   lOO
29 w   wOO
30 s sAA  
31 h hAA  
32 l lAA  
33 q qAA  


    As mentioned above, the consonants in modern Cambodian have two series. The first series is voiceless and the second series is voiced (sometimes are called light voiced and heavy voiced).  Here is a table to compare the two different sounds in the first and second series. 


First Series

Pronunciation 1st Series

Second Series

Pronunciation 2nd Series

khAA khOO
chAA chOO






thAA thOO
phAA phOO














យ៉ yAA yOO
រ៉ rAA rOO


sAA សឨ


hAA ហឨ


bAA បឨ


qAA អឨ



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IV. Sub-consonant 

    When two consonants are pronounced consecutively within a word, the second consonant's symbol is written in a special sub-consonant form which is placed below the first consonant.  The sub-consonant always follows the consonant in the pronunciation.  The form of the sub-consonant is in most cases a smaller version of its consonant version but some look completely different from the superscript.  The tables provided here are the lists of the sub-consonant and the consonant(Huffman, 1970)


ក្ក ខ្ខ ្គ ្ឃ ្ង
ច្ច ឆ្ឆ ្ជ ្ឈ ពា្ញ្ញ
ដ្ដ ឋ្ឋ ្ឌ ្ឍ ណ្ណ
ត្ដ ថ្ប ្ទ ្ធ ្ន
ប្ប ផ្ផ ្ព ្ភ ្ម
្យ ្រ ្ល ្វ  
ស្ស ហ្ហ អ្អ  


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V. Vowels

   The Cambodian vowel may consist of one or a combination of elements written before, above, below, or after the initial consonant.  There are 24 vowels in Khmer.  Since the abstract vowel (AA) is embedded in a consonant, there are only 23 vowels shown in the table below.  The pronunciation of a vowel in Khmer is determined by the series of the initial consonant that it accompanies.  Click on the vowels to listen to their pronunciation and practice with the consonants.

   The pronunciation of a vowel in Cambodian is determined by the two series of consonants (first and second series).  Examples of how to pronounce a vowel with the first and second series consonant are found in the Vowels page.  The table below provides the symbol of all vowel sounds in IPA symbol with the first and second series sound.  (Huffman, 1970)


Vowel Symbol

Name of Vowel in IPA


First Series

Second Series


Sraq  AA



x Sraq aa aa ie

Sraq e



Sraq ey



Sraq e



Sraq eh



Sraq o



Sraq ou



Sraq ue



Sraq ae


x Sraq he he he
x Sraq ie ie ie
x Sraq ei ei ee
x Sraq ae ae EE
x Sraq ay ay hy
x Sraq ao ao oo
x Sraq aw aw hw
xុំ Sraq om om um
x Sraq Am Am um
xាំ Sraq am am oe(m
x Sraq ah ah ee(h
xុះ Sraq oh oh uh
x Sraq eh eh ih
xាះ Sraq Ah Ah uh


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VI. Independent Vowel

     Independent vowels are known as /sraq phn) tue/ (complete vowel) becasue they incorporate both an initial consonant and a vowel.  In the table below, independent vowel from 1 to 5 and 10 to 11 include an initial /q-/ and are listed in the official dictionary along with other words that are spelled with an initial G and the equivalent vowel.  Independent vowel 6 and 7 include an initial /r/ and are listed in the official dictionary along with an initial r  and the equivalent vowel.   Independent vowel 8 and 9 includes an initial /l/ and are listed in the official dictionary along with an initial consonant l(Huffman, 1970)


Independent Vowels

Name of Independent Vowels

Value of Independent Vowels

sraq e qe

sraq ey qey
sraq o qo
sraq ao qao
sraq ew qew
ប្ញ sraq rhk rhk
sraq rhh rhh
ព្ញ sraq lhk lhk
sraq lhh lhh
sraq ae qae

sraq ay



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VII. Diacritic  (Huffman, 1970)

1.  The Bantaq bn5k' ( ' )

Diacritic Bantaq occurs on the top of the final consonant of a syllable and it is used to shorten the vowel of that syllable.  All Khmer consonant there is an inherent vowel.  The inherent vowel for first series consonant is /AA/ and second consonant is /OO/.

  1. In a syllable with invisible vowe, bantaq signalls the short inherent vowel.  Froexample, vowel /AA/ change to  /A/ after afirst series consoant, and  /OO/ change to  /u/ or /u(e/ after the second series consonant.
  2. The vowel ( - a ) /aa/ followed by the Bantaq (  ' ) will pronounced shorter /a/ after the first series consoant and after the second series consonant, vowel ( -a ) /aa/ is pronounced /o(e/ or /e(e/.
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2.  Treysap RtIsBV ( ~ )

    Treysap is used to convert four of the first series consonants s h b and G which have no second series counterpart to the second series consonant s~ h~ b~ and G~ .

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3.   Mousekatoan  mUsikTn5   ( " )

  1. Mousekatoan is used to convert six of the second series consonants g Baj m y r and v which has no second series counterparts to first series consonants g" Baj"" m" y" r" and v" .

  2. Mousekatoan is used to convert a first series consonant b to b" and from which b"   has the conterpart in the second series B .

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4.   Sanyok-sanha s?eyaKsBaJa ( =

  1. Sanyok-sanha has the same value as the (- a ).   It is used in a certain words which borrowed from Pali or Sakrit.  Usually, if the final consonant is silent, the words can be spelled with different way.
  2. If the sanyok-sanha plus a final  y, it is pronounced (ai) in the first series and (ei) in the second series.
  3. If the s sanyok-sanha plus a final ( r ) /r/, it is pronouced ( oa).
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5.   Robaat rZaT ( ` )

Robaat is the reflex of an origanal /r/ in Sanskrit words.

  1. In most words, when the (robaat) occurs over a final cononant, both the consonant and the robaat are not pronounced.
  2. In some cases, the effect of the robaat is to change the vowel/OO/ to /Oe/.
  3. When the robaat appears over a medial consoant, the robaat is pronouced.
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VIII. Punctuation  (Huffman, 1970)

1. Khan ( . )

    This is Cambodian full stop.  It occurs less frequently than the full stop in English.   It can be at the end of a single sentence or several sentences dealing with a single topic.

2. baariyaosaan ( .l )

baariyaosaan is a full stop that marks the the entire end of a chapter or an entire text.

3. Laq (.l. )

Laq is used to indicate et cetera.

4. Leiktoo ( [ )

Leiktoo is used to indicate that the word or phrase after which it occurs is to be repeated.

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