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Friday, July 17, 2009

Khmer Inscription and Language

The earliest written language to have been found in the region is in Sanskrit, an Indian sacred language. The writings were carved in stones which could be dated back to 5th and 6th century, which show a strong influence of the Indian culture over the indigenous people.

Sometimes later, the Khmer Language seems to appear with many of its characters and words derived from Sanskrit. An oldest stone inscription written in Khmer language were found to be carved in 612 A.D. as its text said.

The contents of these stone inscriptions which were housed in the temples were mostly concern with religions, its ritual and philosophy, Indian epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, Kings' salutations and some poetic verses. Some of these stone inscriptions also list the assets which were owned by the temples and by the dignitaries as well as the different objects needed for ritual ceremonies. Although these assets and objects had long been disappeared, these listings served as another jigsaw in our quest for knowledge of the Angkor. Little things had been said about the ordinary life of the local people, however, these stone inscriptions had helped us to retrace the history of Khmer and to understand its political and cultural structure.

Around 1,200 stone inscriptions written in Sanskrit and Khmer had been discovered.

The inscriptions were careful engraved on the stone with a great work of real arts in order to show high respects to the gods of the temples. This could lead us to imagine that the Khmers were devout to their gods in whom they revered as their protector, and god's blessing would bring them prosperity.

Many Angkor temples had been found to contain the stone inscriptions in both languages - Sanskrit and Khmer, however, their contents could be differentiated into two distinct characteristics although both of them served for a religious purpose. Those inscriptions written in Sanskrit addressed more or less directly to the gods in term of religious prayers and rituals. Sanskrit is the sacred language of India and was maintained in the original form by the Khmers so that its value to their gods would not be deviated by any form of translation.

Generally, the Khmer inscription had its own distinction and the content was mostly a listing of assets, covering from paddy fields, cattle, objects and furniture, as well as the names of slaves which were owned by the temples. In many instances, some of the stone inscriptions were placed in the shrine by donors who could be the dignitaries or the elites of Khmer ruling class. These inscriptions could be varied, ranging from the listing of assets to some poetic verses.

According to Zhou Daguan in the Chinese annals, the ancient Khmers knew how to write on the latina leaves as well as by chalks on the animal's skin. Unfortunately, these materials seem to have been decayed over the past centuries due to damp weathers and insects.

It is hard to believe that such a high civilization of Khmer with a well-developed writing system would barely have any literature. Only three Khmer literatures are known since they were preserved in the stone inscription. Many literatures and other Khmer manuscripts, being written on unendurable materials other than on stone, are believed to have been lost with time, and some may have been survived until present day as local folklores.

Khmer alphabet


The Khmer alphabet is descended from the Brahmi script of ancient India by way of the Pallava script, which was used in southern India and South East Asia during the 5th and 6th Centuries AD. The oldest dated inscription in Khmer, found at Angkor Borei in Takev Province south of Phnom Penh, dates from 611 AD.

The Khmer alphabet closely resembles the Thai and Lao alphabets, which were developed from it.

No table features

* This is syllabic alphabet in which each consonant has two forms, one with an inherent /a/ (first series) and one with an inherent /o/ (second series)
* Vowels are indicated using either separate letters or diacritics, which written above, below, in front of, after or around consonants. The pronunciation of the vowels depends on whether a consonant they are attached to is of the first or second series.
* All consonants have a subscript form which is used to write the second consonant of a cluster.
* In a Khmer text there are no spaces between words, instead spaces indicate the end of a clause or sentence.
* Inspite of efforts to standardise written Khmer, many words have more than one accepted spelling.

Used to write:

Khmer (Cambodian), a member of the Mon-Khmer group of Austro-Asiatic languages, spoken by about 8 million people in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, China, France and the USA. Khmer shares many features and much vocabulary with Thai as a result of centuries of two-way borrowing. There are also borrowings from Sanskrit, Pali, French and Chinese in Khmer.

Khmer alphabet Consonants

Subscript consonants

Inpedendent vowels

Khmer vowel diacritics


Example text


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


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