Cambodian / Khmer
Background and status
Cambodian or Khmer is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia. With approximately 16 million speakers, it is the second most widely spoken Austroasiatic language (after Vietnamese). It is spoken by some 13 million people in Cambodia itself, and a second language for most of the minority groups and indigenous hill tribes.
Additionally there are a million speakers of Khmer native to southern Vietnam and 1.4 million in northeast Thailand. It belongs to a family of languages widely distributed in southern Asia and is the idiom of one of the earliest of the great nation-states in the region. As such it is the vehicle of sophisticated forms of architecture, music, dance, literature and statecraft which are transmitted to Cambodia's neighbours and which are still admired today.
Khmer has three main dialects that form a continuum running from north to south:
- Standard Khmer spoken by more educated people in larger cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It is mutually intelligible with the other dialects, but not all dialects are mutually intelligible among themselves.
- Surin or Northern Khmer spoken in eastern Thailand which is thought to have separated from Standard Khmer in the past few centuries.
- Cardamon or Western Khmer spoken in southwestern Cambodia.
Growth and usage
Standard Khmer, or Central Khmer, is used in the media, government administration, at all levels of education, and in most informal and formal contexts.
With more Cambodians wanting to be informed about developments in the world, Khmer-language websites are poised to play a key role among the country’s non-English-reading population. The younger generation is more prone to visiting these websites and because of the level of technical ability of the younger ones, there is also a demand in online shopping in their native language.