The Khmer language is the official language of Cambodia, with sixteen million native speakers worldwide. This makes it the second most popular Austroasiatic language, just behind Vietnamese. While there are about eight million speakers in Cambodia, the Khmer language has made its way into many other countries including Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, France, China and North America.
While Khmer and Cambodian as languages are often interchangeable, Khmer is more commonly used throughout Cambodia and is accepted as the country’s official language. The name “Khmer” also refers to a group of people in Cambodia who make up about ninety percent of the population. The first kingdom of Khmer was established in the first century and was heavily influenced both linguistically and culturally by South Indian peoples. Because of this, even modern Khmer draws influence from Sanskrit and Pali, and it has taken many loanwords from these two languages. The Khmer script draws influence from a number of Brahmic scripts, also from the Indian subcontinent, dating from the seventh century.
While the Khmer empire experienced a decline after a Thai invasion in 1431, there isn’t much information as to what happened from this time until the French colonized Cambodia in the 1800s, helping to preserve Khmer’s differences from Thai and Vietnamese, but also introducing a limited French influence to the Khmer language. To this day, French remains a popular second language in the area, while Khmer can also be heard in parts of France.
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