Language Primer: Khmer

The predominant language of Cambodia, characterised by nuance and subtlety.

Sixteen million speakers employ Khmer, which predates its Austrosciatic counterparts Mon and Vietnamese on account of being the official language of the Chenla and Angkor kingdoms.  Like its counterparts, Khmer constitutes a rarity in this region of Southeast Asia on account of its reliance on stress rather than tone.

Read more: Madura is an invisible island off the northeast corner of Java. If you ever find it, try using some Madurese.

Visitors should recognise the importance of Som Pas in Cambodia. This traditional greeting is characterised by palms pressed together in an attitude of prayer; the hands are then lifted to chest level, accompanied by a bow. The higher the hands and lower the bow, the greater the show of respect. Som Pas tends to be used in tandem with saying hello and goodbye and fulfils the same role as a handshake.

It is thus:

Khmer Cambodia
Khmer niceties

Sorry / excuse me – Suom dtoh 

Hello – Choum reap sur (formal) / Soo sdai (informal)

How are you? – Sok sabai?

I’m fine – Sok sabai

Thank you – Aw khun 

Welcome – Soum swa-khom

Goodbye – Lee hai

Please – Saum 

Yes – Baat / Baa (males); Chaa (females) 

No – Ot teh

Maybe – Brahel

What’s your name? – Nyek chmua ai? 

My name is (Thomm) – Knyohm chmua (Thomm)

Where is (the temple)? – (Brasaeat) noh ai nah? 

I don’t know – Knyohm aht duong  

I want to go to … – Knyohm jang toh … 

How far? – Chhngay bonna? 

How long? – Rypel bonman? 

Temple – Brasaeat 

Airport – Pr​ lean​ yontohaoh

Hotel – Santhakar

Restaurant – Phochniyodthan

Bar – Bar 

How much is this? – Thlai puon maan? 

Cheap – Thaok 

Expensive – Thlai 

Very (cheap) – (Thaok) nasa

Do you have (a room)? – Tae anak mean (bantob) te?

Room – Bantob  

Beer – Srabie r

Water – Tuk 

Cigarettes – Bari 

Lighter – Sral cheang moun

Food – Ahar 

Drink – Phoek 

Chicken – Sach mean 

Fish – Trei 

Rice – Bay 

What’s the score? – Tae avei tow chea pintou

I like your nose – Khnhom chaulchett chramouh robsa anak

0 – Soon

1 – Muy

2 – Pi

3 – Bai

4 – Buhn prum

5 – Prum 

6 – Prum muy

7 – Prum pi

8 – Prum bai

9 – Prum buhn

10 – Dop

11 – Dop muy

12 – Dop pi

20 – Mphai

30 – Saam

40 – Sai

50 – Hay

60 – Hok

70 – Chet

80 – Paet

90 – Kau

100 – Muy roy

200 – Pi roy

300 – Bai roy


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