Khmer alphabet

From Academic Kids


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"The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" translated into Khmer.

The Khmer alphabet (ÂkkhârâKrôm Khémâra Phéasa - អក្ខរក្រមខេមរភាសា) is used to write the Khmer language. The oldest dated inscription in Khmer, found at Angkor Borei in Takev Province south of Phnom Penh, dates from 611 AD, but Khmer script was probably in use much earlier. Before this the Khmer used a southern indic script (Sanskrit) for several hundred years. Khmer script is probably the oldest writing system among the Southeast Asian cultures next to Mon script. Mon script was developed around the 8th century and Thai script was established in the late 13th century (1292 AD). It is also used to write a few other minority languages in Cambodia who have no form of script of their own.

A notable feature of the Khmer alphabet is that it has fewer symbols for vowels than the language has vowel phonemes. Instead, each consonant belongs to one of two series, and the vowel produced depends on which series the consonant belongs to (incidentally making it an abugida rather than a true alphabet). Therefore, most vowel signs have two different possible pronunciations, depending on which series the consonant belongs to. When no vowel sign is present, usually the inherent vowel of the consonant is used. Vowels can be divided into two groups: dependent vowel signs, which are written around a consonant letter, and independent vowel letters, which can stand alone. Dependent vowel signs are used more frequently than independent vowels and all independent vowel letters can be phonetically rendered with a dependent vowel. Khmer also has a number of diacritics, which can change the series of the consonant or change the pronunciation of the vowel.

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Ancient Khmer script engraved into the stone wall of a now ruined temple.


The Khmer script comes in several styles which may serve different purposes. Aksâr Chriĕng refers to slanted (or italic) letters. Slanted letters do not serve the same purpose as it does in English, so entire bodies of text such as in pulications or novels can be italic. Missing image

Aksâr Chhôr refers to any style that is "standing" or upright. Upright letters were previously not common as Aksâr Chriĕng, but now most computer fonts defaultly display Khmer text upright making it more widely seen. Missing image

Aksâr Mul is a round style which can be seen used for titles and headings in Cambodian documents, books, or currency, on shop signs or banners. Religious text on palm leaves can be entirely composed of this style of script. It is sometimes used to write royal titles while the surrounding text was plain. Several consonants and some subscripts in this style look totally different than the usual. Missing image

Aksâr Khôm is a variation of Aksâr Mul, but with some minor difference. Missing image

When these styles are handwritten, they can be pencil-line width. Most Khmer computer fonts depict neither of these styles exact, in fact, some may meld elements of Aksâr Mul and Aksâr Khôm into one style, so generally either is reffered to as Aksâr Mul.


There are 33 consonants in modern Khmer, there were two extra ones that were dropped but may be found only Pali or Sanskrit texts written with the Khmer script. To form consonant clusters, subscript consonants are used. Subscript consonants are commonly referred to plainly as subscripts or sometimes sub-consonants. In Khmer, they are known as cheung âksâr (ជើង​អ័ក្សរ) meaning the foot of a letter. Subscript consonants help form consonant clusters by cancelling the inherent vowel of the preceding consonant it's paired with. All consonants except for the Khmer letter Lâ (ឡ) has a subscript form.

Listed in the table below are the pronounciation of the consonants when recited, their values may be slightly different in orthography. Missing image


There are 23 official dependent vowels in Khmer. In Khmer they are known as srăk nissăy (ស្រៈនិស្ស័យ) or srăk phsâm (ស្រៈផ្សំ). Dependent vowels always have to be combined, or paired with a consonant in writing. Just like the consonants, there are A-series and O-series vowels. Of the 23, 15 of the vowels have a different pronounciation in the O-series. Vowel pronounciation depends on the series of the consonant it is paired with.

Independent Vowels are vowels that can be written without a consonant, hence the name. In Khmer they are called srăk penhtuŏ (ស្រៈពេញតួ) which means complete vowels.

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Consonant-Vowel Combinations

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Consonant combinations for loanwords

The Khmer writing system uses special combinations of consonant symbols to represent sounds that occur in loanwords. They are created by stacking a subscript under the consonant [hɑ] and to modify it's series, a treisâpt is used. For the consonant [pɑ], it is created by using the diacritical sign called musikaton over the consonant [bɑ]. Most of these additional consonants are mainly used to represent sounds from French and Thai loanwords.

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Khmer has its own set of numerals. Khmer numerals are very similar to Thai numerals, but have their own Khmer names. Arabic numerals are used to a lesser extent.

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Khmer in Unicode

   0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F


  • Huffman, Franklin. 1970. Cambodian System of Writing and Beginning Reader. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300013140
  • Jacob, Judith. 1974. A Concise Cambodian-English Dictionary. London, Oxford University Press.

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