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Khmer
Cambodian
ភាសាខ្មែរ, phiăsaa khmae, ខ្មែរ, khmae
PronunciationIPA: [pʰiə.ˈsaː kʰmae]
Native toCambodia, Thailand, Vietnam
EthnicityKhmer, Northern Khmer, Khmer Krom

Khmer is primarily an analytic language with no inflection. Syntactic relations are mainly determined by word order. Old and Middle Khmer used particles to mark grammatical categories and many of these have survived in Modern Khmer but are used sparingly, mostly in literary or formal language.[46] Khmer makes extensive use of auxiliary verbs, "directionals" and serial verb construction. Colloquial Khmer is a zero copula language, instead preferring predicative adjectives (and even predicative nouns) u

After the initial consonant or consonant cluster comes the syllabic nucleus, which is one of the vowels listed above. This vowel may end the syllable or may be followed by a coda, which is a single consonant. If the syllable is stressed and the vowel is short, there must be a final consonant. All consonant sounds except /b/, /d/, /r/, /s/ and the aspirates can appear as the coda (although final /r/ is heard in some dialects, most notably in Northern Khmer).[43]

A minor syllable (unstressed syllable preceding the main syllable of a word) has a structure of CV-, CrV-, CVN- or CrVN- (where C is a consonant, V a vowel, and N a nasal consonant). The vowels in such syllables are usually short; in conversation they may be reduced to [ə], although in careful or formal speech, including on television and radio, they are clearly articulated. An example of such a word is មនុស្ស mɔnuh, mɔnɨh, mĕəʾnuh ('person'), pronounced [mɔˈnuh], or more casually [məˈnuh].[42]:10

Stress in Khmer falls on the final syllable of a word.[44] Because of this predictable pattern, stress is non-phonemic in Khmer (it does not distinguish different meanings).

Most Khmer words consist of either one or two syllables. In most native disyllabic words, the first syllable is a minor (fully unstressed) syllable. Such words have been described as sesquisyllabic (i.e. as having one-and-a-half sy

Most Khmer words consist of either one or two syllables. In most native disyllabic words, the first syllable is a minor (fully unstressed) syllable. Such words have been described as sesquisyllabic (i.e. as having one-and-a-half syllables). There are also some disyllabic words in which the first syllable does not behave as a minor syllable, but takes secondary stress. Most such words are compounds, but some are single morphemes (generally loanwords). An example is ភាសា ('language'), pronounced [ˌpʰiəˈsaː].[42]:10

Words with three or more syllables, if they are not compounds, are mostly loanwords, usually derived from Pali, Sanskrit, or more recently, French. They are nonetheless adapted to Khmer stress patterns.[45] Primary stress falls on the final syllable, with secondary stress on every second syllable from the end. Thus in a three-syllable word, the first syllable has secondary stress; in a four-syllable word, the second syllable has secondary stress; in a five-syllable word, the first and third syllables have secondary stress, and so on.[42]:10–11 Long polysyllables are not often used in conversation.[22]:12

Compounds, however, preserve the stress patterns of the constituent words. Thus សំបុកចាប, the name of a kind of cookie (literally 'bird's nest'), is pronounced [sɑmˌbok ˈcaːp], with secondary stress on the second rather than the first syllable, because it is composed of the words [sɑmˈbok] ('nest') and [caːp] ('bird').[45]

Khmer once had a phonation distinction in its vowels, but this now survives only in the most archaic dialect (Western Khmer).[10] The distinction arose historically when vowels after Old Khmer voiced consonants became breathy voiced and diphthongized; for example *kaa, *ɡaa became *kaa, *ɡe̤a. When consonant voicing was lost, the distinction was maintained by the vowel (*kaa, *ke̤a); later the phonation disappeared as well ([kaː], [kiə]).[35] These processes explain the origin of what are now called a-series and o-series consonants in the Khmer script.

Although most Cambodian dialects are not tonal, the colloquial Phnom Penh dialect has developed a tonal contrast (level versus peaking tone) as a by-product of the elision of /r/.[35]

Although most Cambodian dialects are not tonal, the colloquial Phnom Penh dialect has developed a tonal contrast (level versus peaking tone) as a by-product of the elision of /r/.[35]

Intonation often conveys semantic context in Khmer, as in distinguishing declarative statements, questions and exclamations. The available grammatical means of making such distinctions are not always used, or may be ambiguous; for example, the final interrogative particle ទេ /teː/ can also serve as an emphasizing (or in some cases negating) particle.[46]

The intonation pattern of a typical Khmer declarative phrase is a steady rise throughout followed by an abrupt drop on the last syllable.[41]

ខ្ញុំ

The intonation pattern of a typical Khmer declarative phrase is a steady rise throughout followed by an abrupt drop on the last syllable.[41]

Other intonation contours signify a different type of phrase such as the "full doubt" interrogative, similar to yes-no questions in English. Full doubt interrogatives remain fairly even in tone throughout, but rise sharply towards the end.

អ្នកចង់ទៅលេងសៀមរាបទេ   [↗neaʔ caŋ | ↗tɨw leːŋ siəm riəp | ꜛteː]    ('do you want to go to Siem Reap?')[41]

សៀវភៅនេះថ្លៃណាស់   [↗siəw pʰɨw nih| ↗tʰlaj | ꜛnah]    ('this book is expensive!')[41]

Khmer is primarily an analytic language with no inflection. Syntactic relations are mainly determined by word order. Old and Middle Khmer used particles to mark grammatical categories and many of these have survived in Modern Khmer but are used sparingly, mostly in literary or formal language.[46] Khmer makes extensive use of auxiliary verbs, "directionals" and serial verb construction. Colloquial Khmer is a zero copula language, instead preferring predicative adjectives (and even predicative nouns) unless using a copula for emphasis or to avoid ambiguity in more complex sentences. Basic word order is subject–verb–object (SVO), although subjects are often dropped; prepositions are used rather than postpositions.[47] Topic-Comment constructions are common and the language is generally head-initial (modifiers follow the words they modify). Some grammatical processes are still not fully understood by western scholars. For example, it is not clear if certain features of Khmer grammar, such as actor nominalization, should be treated as a morphological process or a purely syntactic device,[48]:46, 74 and some derivational morphology seems "purely decorative" and performs no known syntactic work.[48]:53

Lexical categories have been hard to define in Khmer.[48]:360 Henri Maspero, an early scholar of Khmer, claimed the language had no parts of speech,[48] while a later scholar, Judith Jacob, posited four parts of speech and innumerable particles.[49]:331 Lexical categories have been hard to define in Khmer.[48]:360 Henri Maspero, an early scholar of Khmer, claimed the language had no parts of speech,[48] while a later scholar, Judith Jacob, posited four parts of speech and innumerable particles.[49]:331 John Haiman, on the other hand, identifies "a couple dozen" parts of speech in Khmer with the caveat that Khmer words have the freedom to perform a variety of syntactic functions depending on such factors as word order, relevant particles, location within a clause, intonation and context.[48] Some of the more important lexical categories and their function are demonstrated in the following example sentence taken from a hospital brochure:[48]:378

/loːk

PRONOUN

you[RESP]

nĕəʔ

PRONOUN

you[FAM]

pdɑl

VERB

provide

cʰiəm

NOUN

blood

tĕəŋ

PARTICLE

every

ʔɑh

ADJECTIVE

all

trəw

AUXILIARY VERB

must

tae

INTENSIFIER

have to

tɔtuəl

VERB

receive

nəw

OBJECT MARKER

 

kaː

NOMINALIZER

 

piːnɨt

VERB

examine

riəŋ

NOUN

shape

kaːj

NOUN

body

nɨŋ

CONJUNCTION

and

pdɑl

VERB

provide

nəw

OBJECT MARKER

 

prɑʋŏət

NOUN

history

sokʰapʰiəp

ADJECTIVE

health

ciə


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