The language of Cambodia, Khmer,
belongs to the Mon-Khmer family of languages. Khmer
uses a phonetic alphabet with 33 consonants, 23
vowels, and 12 independant vowels. Visually, the
Khmer alphabet is similar to the Thai and Lao, and
many words in these three languages trace their
origins to common Pali or Sanskrit roots.
One significant difference is that Khmer is not
tonal. In tonal languages, such as Thai, Lao, and
Vietnamese, the same sound has one meaning when
spoken in a high tone, and a different meaning when
spoken in a low tone.
Modern written Khmer can take two forms, an "oblique
script" used for handwriting and most printed texts,
and a "round script," used for headings, titles,
some religious texts, and other instances where
certain words or phrases need to be emphasized.
Khmer writing begins on the top
left of the page, and proceeds down and to the
right. Cambodian writing does not use spaces between
individual words; instead, spaces are used to denote
the end of phrases or sentences.
The placement of the vowels in written Khmer can be
confusing at first; vowels may follow or precede the
consonants, or they may go above or below, or some
combination of before, after, above, or below. The
placement of each vowel can be seen in the graphic
showing the 23 vowels. The light gray boxes indicate
the placement of the consonants.
Khmer also includes 12 "independent vowels," which
can exist without a preceding or trailing consonant.
The independent vowels may be used as monosyllabic
words, or as the initial syllables in longer words.
Khmer words never begin with regular vowels; they
can, however, begin with independent vowels.
Khmer numerals are also different, although Arabic
numerals are being used with increasing frequency.
There are also unique markings for Khmer
punctuation, but modern Cambodian writing also
incorporates several punctuation marks derived from