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The national language of Cambodia is Khmer, part of the Mon-Khmer group of Austro-Asiatic languages also spoken in northeast India and Indochina. The Khmer language originated from the Khmer Empire with some influences from the Sanskrit and Pali languages. The Khmer Empire was established circa 9th century and the spoken language is referred to as Old Khmer. After the decline of the Khmer Empire, the language was substantially altered, incorporating elements from Thai, Lao and Vietnamese from the 14th till the 18th century. This variation is the Modern Khmer commonly used by Cambodians today. There are three modern-day Khmer dialects, with the Phnom Penh dialect being the most prevalent. Another dialect is Northern Khmer, also known as Khmer Surin, spoken in regions close to Northern Thailand. The third derivative is Cardamom Khmer, an older dialect spoken by some in the Cardamom Mountains in Northern Cambodia.

The French language is also still used by some Cambodians as it was the standard language of instruction before Cambodia’s independence in 1953. It is still being taught in schools and academic institutions that were founded and funded by the French government. In government circles, a variation known as Cambodian French is still commonly used.

English is steadily gaining use in Cambodia, especially among the business class and younger generation. Due to influences from its neighbours, Chinese Vietnamese, Lao and Thai is also spoken in some regions.


Sources: Wikipedia, Compton’s Encyclopedia (1994) and Cambodian e-Government homepage