IMG_4644Most countries in Asia seem to have their own unique language system, like writing system. Khmer is no exception. Cambodian language is called Khmer.

Khmer writing system has 24 dépendent vowels, 14 indépendent vowels, 33 consonants (originally there were 35 consonants), and 10 supplementary consonants. Most dependent vowels have two different pronunciations, depending in most cases on the inherent vowel of the consonant to which they are added. Every consonant has its subscript form (perhaps it sounds similar to Capital letters and Small letters but it isn’t).

Khmer prononciation is rich. How about trying to differentiate these sounds:

k & kh, t & th, p & ph, ch & chh & j, d & dh, b & bh, nh & n & ng

They are amazing, aren’t they? One of the arguments for why Chinese is tonal is because it is a mono syllable language. Each word is only one syllable or a combination of one syllable words. As there are a limited number of single syllables that can be made, a particular sound, such as dai might appear in twenty different words, with completely different meanings. The way they differentiate between them is through tones. In contrast, Khmer isn’t a tonal language (yeah, cheers..).  Let’s try to pronounce these complex compound consonants:

pht (phteh = home), thng (thngai = day), chhn (chhnang = pot), phch (phchanh = to fail s.o), strr (saSTRacha = professor), phng (phnga = to turn up side down), …

Khmer listening is  a challenge for westerners. All the end-sounds are not strongly prounced like in French or English. Since Khmer is a lazy language, words are mostly combined and shortened. For example :

Meaning : Where are you going?
Full : Teur nek kompong tov ti na?
Shorten : kompong tov na?
Combine : M’pong tna?

Come on! Don’t give up yet! We are almost half-way there!

Khmer has anywhere from 40 – 80 vowel sounds, depending on who’s counting and which regional dialect they are studying. As a result, there are lots of sounds that sound identical to western ears, but have completely different meanings in Khmer. But it is an advantage for someone who already studied Thai, the vowels in Thai were taken from Khmer. So, you would already have been exposed to about 10% of the language. Instead of a hundred years to master the language, as I estimated you would need 90 years to complete.

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