Country Listing

Cambodia Table of Contents



The Austronesian languages are spread over vast areas of Asia and the Pacific, from Madagascar to Easter Island and from Taiwan to Malaysia. Four Austronesian languages--Cham, Jarai, Rade, and Malay--are spoken in Cambodia. Cham is spoken by the largest number of people. Before 1975, there were about 100,000 speakers of Western Cham. Western Cham is the term used to distinguish (at least two mutually related dialects of) the Cham spoken in Cambodia and that used in adjacent inland Vietnam from Eastern Cham spoken in the coastal areas of central Vietnam. Western Cham is written in Arabic script, or, since the late 1960s and the early 1970s, in a romanized script devised by Protestant missionaries. The traditional Cham script, based on an Indian script, is still known and used by the Eastern Cham in Vietnam, but it has been lost by the Western Cham.

The Cham language is also nontonal. Words may contain one, two, or three syllables. Cham contains much linguistic borrowing from Arabic, Malay, and Khmer. The normal word order is subject-verb-object, and, as in Khmer, modifying adjectives follow the nouns that they modify. Most Cham in Cambodia are bilingual in Cham and in Khmer and many also know Arabic and Malay. Rade and Jarai, close relatives of Cham, are spoken by several thousand members of both ethnic groups in northeastern Cambodia. Both languages are written in romanized scripts based on the Vietnamese alphabet. Rade and Jarai have rich oral literatures, and the former has two epic tales that have been transcribed and published.

Data as of December 1987