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 .
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.
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.