Minority Languages of Cambodia

Cham

Cham is not only spoken by around 200,000 people in Cambodia, but also by approximately 100,000 in Vietnam and others in Southeast Asia. It belongs to the Austronesian family. Cham had many more speakers during the time of the Champa Empire, which ruled what is now central Vietnam from around the 7th century to 1832.

Here are some example words in Cambodian Cham:

  • anoek - child
  • sa - one
  • trap - heavy
  • pasa - market
  • amoh - hate

Chong

This language is endangered and is now only spoken by around 5,000 people in the Pursat province of Cambodia and by 500 in Thailand.

Jarai

The Jarai language is a Malayo-Polynesian dialect spoken by the Jarai people of Vietnam and Cambodia. The number of speakers is estimated to be around 330,000 and is in part related to the Cham language. In terms of phonology, Jarai has evolved in the pattern of the Mon-Khmer family, losing almost all vowel distinction in the first syllable.

Kuy

Although Kuy is spoken mostly in Thailand and Laos, it also features among in the Preah Vihear, Stung Treng and Kampong Thom provinces of northeastern Cambodia. A Katuic language and part of the larger Austroasiatic family, it is subject to many variations across various districts.

Stieng

This is the native language of the Stieng people of southern Vietnam and neighbouring areas of Cambodia. It too is a Mon-Khmer language from the Austroasiatic family. Bulo Stieng, its most researched dialect, is spoken mostly in the remote areas of the mountains and jungles.

The use of English

As mentioned in the description of Cambodian French earlier in the article, English is seen as the most important international language. This is largely due to Cambodia’s recent transformation towards a market economy and consequent globalisation process. Those looking to find a job easily upon graduation from university are making more of an effort to learn English so that they can deal with global investors. Those seeking jobs in tourism are also encouraged to learn English.

However, this does not mean that it is universally known or understood, and an effort should be made to integrate with the community into which you move by learning as much of the local language as possible. See our next guide article to learning the language to discover how to find language learning resources and schools in Cambodia

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