Monday, July 20, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Cambodia

This spring, we took a look at the many fascinating languages spoken in Nepal and Malaysia. This week we're returning our focus to Southeast Asia with a discussion of the linguistic diversity of Cambodia, which is home to nearly two dozen languages.

The Official Language

Cambodia's sole official language is Khmer, which is also known as Cambodian. Khmer holds the title of second most spoken Austro-Asiatic language in the world after Vietnamese. There are nearly 13 million native speakers of Khmer in Cambodia, as well as another million non-native speakers, which comprise the vast majority of the country's population when combined.

The Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh,
which is the royal residence of the King of Cambodia.
Other Languages

While Khmer is undoubtedly the most dominant language in Cambodia, there are still several other languages with large numbers of speakers. The second most spoken language in Cambodia is Cham, an Austronesian language with approximately 200,000 native speakers. It is spoken by members of the Cham ethnic group that live throughout Southeast Asia, primarily in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and China.

Cham is followed in number of speakers by several Austro-Asiatic languages, namely Vietnamese, Mnong, Tampuan, and Brao. Vietnamese, the official language of neighboring Vietnam, is spoken by approximately 70,000 Cambodians, while Mnong and Tampuan both have between 30,000 and 40,000 native speakers. Brao, on the other hand, has only 9,000 native speakers, but this number doesn't include speakers of closely related language varieties such as Kru'ng and Kavet that are also used in Cambodia.

The Jarai, Lao, and Thai languages are also used by small numbers of Cambodians. Jarai is an Austronesian language spoken by the Jarai people in Cambodia and Vietnam, while Lao and Thai are the official languages of Laos and Thailand respectively.

Finally, there are the educational languages of French and English. French is often used in Cambodian schools and universities, and is also occasionally used by the government due to Cambodia's history of French colonial rule until 1953. However, English has been gaining popularity as an educational language in recent years due to increased tourism in the country.