|Native to||Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, China|
|Native speakers||710,000 (1999–2005)|
|Writing system||Lao, Latin|
kjg – Khmu
khf – Khmu Khwen
Khmu [kʰmuʔ] is the language of the Khmu people of the northern Laos region. It is also spoken in adjacent areas of Vietnam, Thailand and China. Khmu lends its name to the Khmuic branch of the Austroasiatic language family, the latter of which also includes Khmer and Vietnamese. Within Austroasiatic, Khmu is often cited as being most closely related to the Palaungic and Khasic languages. The name "Khmu" can also be seen romanized as Kmhmu, Khmu', Kammu, or Khamuk in various publications or alternatively referred to by the name of a local dialect.
As a minority language with no standardizing influence, many dialects have evolved. Dialects differ primarily in consonant inventory, existence of register, and the degree to which the language has been influenced by the surrounding national language(s). Dialects are, for the most part, mutually intelligible; however communication can be difficult between speakers of geographically distant dialects.
The dialects of Khmu can be broadly categorized into two groups, Western Khmu and Eastern Khmu. Western Khmu dialects have fewer consonant phonemes and instead use phonemic register contrast, as seen in other Austroasiatic languages, of "lax" breathy register and "tense" modal register. In at least one dialect of Western Khmu, known as Khmu Rook, tonogenesis is evident as the register contrast has developed into a system of two phonetic tones with six phonemic realizations. Eastern Khmu dialects show the opposite tendency. Completely lacking either register or tone distinction, these dialects utilize a three-way distinction of stops (voiced, voiceless and aspirated voiceless) and nasals (voiced, voiceless, and pre-glottalized) in the syllable-initial position for phonemic contrast.
The consonant inventory of Khmu is shown in the table below. The phonemes in the colored cells are particular to the dialects of Eastern Khmu. The phoneme /f/, present in dialects of both Eastern and Western Khmu, is a result of borrowings from the surrounding Tai languages.
*w̥ is technically a voiceless labio-velar approximant
The vowels of Khmu show little variation across the dialects with all varieties having 19 monophthongs and three diphthongs (/iə/, /ɨə/ and /uə/).
- Khmu reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
Khmu Khwen reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Diffloth, Gérard (2005). "The contribution of linguistic palaeontology and Austroasiatic". in Laurent Sagart, Roger Blench and Alicia Sanchez-Mazas, eds. The Peopling of East Asia: Putting Together Archaeology, Linguistics and Genetics. 77–80. London: Routledge Curzon.
- SUWILAI Premsrirat, author. 2001. "Tonogenesis in Khmu dialects of SEA." Mon-Khmer Studies: a Journal of Southeast Asian Linguistics and Languages 31: 47-56.
- Suwilai, Premsrirat, et al. Mahidol University. Dictionary of Khmu in Laos.
- Suwilai, Prēmsīrat. The Thesaurus and Dictionary Series of Khmu Dialects in Southeast Asia. Nakorn Pathom: Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, Mahidol University at Salaya, Thailand, 2002. ISBN 740501125
- Prēmsīrat, Suwilai. The Thesaurus and Dictionary Series of Khmu Dialects in Southeast Asia. Nakorn Pathom: Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development, Mahidol University at Salaya, Thailand, 2002. ISBN 740501125
- Prēmsīrat, Suwilai. Khmu, a Minority Language of Thailand. Papers in South-East Asian linguistics, no. 10. Canberra, A.C.T., Australia: Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 1987. ISBN 0-85883-365-4
- Proschan, Frank. Kmhmu Language and Language Policy: At Home and Abroad. [S.l: s.n, 1995.
- Proschan, Frank. Poetic Parallelism in Kmhmu Verbal Arts: From Texts to Performances. [S.l: s.n, 1988.
- Smalley, William Allen. Outline of Khmu structure. American Oriental series. Essay, v.2. New Haven, Conn: American Oriental Society, 1961.
- Svantesson, Jan-Olof. Kammu Phonology and Morphology. Travaux de l'Institut de linguistique de Lund, 18. Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1983. ISBN 91-40-04870-5
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