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Cham script

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Cham script
Akhara Cam
ꨀꨇꩉ ꨌꩌ
Script type
Time period
4th century–present[1]
DirectionLeft-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesCham, Sanskrit
Related scripts
Parent systems
Sister systems
Khmer, Kawi, Old Mon, Grantha, Tamil
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Cham (358), ​Cham
Unicode alias
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.
Closeup of the inscription on the Po Nagar stele, 965. The stele describes feats by the Champa kings.
A Champa manuscript recounting the social culture of the Cham community of the early 18th century

The Cham script is a Brahmic abugida used to write Cham, an Austronesian language spoken by some 245,000 Chams in Vietnam and Cambodia.[3] It is written horizontally left to right, just like other Brahmic abugidas.



The Cham script is a descendant of the Brahmi script of India.[3] Cham was one of the first scripts to develop from a script called the Pallava script some time around 200 CE. It came to Southeast Asia as part of the expansion of Hinduism and Buddhism. Hindu stone temples of the Champa civilization contain both Sanskrit and Chamic language stone inscriptions.[4] The earliest inscriptions in Vietnam are found in Mỹ Sơn, a temple complex dated to around 400 CE. The oldest inscription is written in faulty Sanskrit. After this, inscriptions alternate between Sanskrit and the Cham language of the times.[5]

Cham kings studied classical Indian texts, such as the Dharmaśāstra, and inscriptions make reference to Sanskrit literature. Eventually, while the Cham and Sanskrit languages influenced one another, Cham culture assimilated Hinduism, and Chams were eventually able to adequately express the Hindu religion in their own language.[5] By the 8th century, the Cham script had outgrown Sanskrit and the Cham language was in full use.[6] Most preserved manuscripts focus on religious rituals, epic battles and poems, and myths.[5]

Modern Chamic languages have the Southeast Asian areal features of monosyllabicity, tonality, and glottalized consonants. However, they had reached the Southeast Asia mainland disyllabic and non-tonal. The script needed to be altered to meet these changes.[4]



The Cham now live in two groups: the Western Cham of Cambodia and the Eastern Cham (Panduranga/Phan Rang Cham) of Vietnam. For the first millennium AD, the Chamic languages were a dialect chain along the Vietnam coast. The breakup of this chain into distinct languages occurred once the Vietnamese pushed south, causing most Cham to move back into the highlands while some like Phan Rang Cham became a part of the lowland society ruled by the Vietnamese. The division of Cham into Western and Phan Rang Cham immediately followed the Vietnamese overthrow of the last Cham polity.[4] The Western Cham people are mostly Muslim[7] and therefore prefer the Arabic script. The Eastern Cham are mostly Hindu and continued to use the Indic script. During French colonial times, both groups had to use the Latin alphabet.[citation needed]

There are two varieties of the Cham script: Akhar Thrah (Eastern Cham) and Akhar Srak (Western Cham). The two are distinct enough to be encoded in separate blocks, the Eastern Cham block included in Unicode Standard version 5.1 since March 2008, the Western Cham block approved but still awaiting inclusion as of late 2023.[8][9][10] A standard ALA-LC romanization of both varieties, which is based on EFEO romanization of Cham, is available.[11][12]



The script is highly valued in Cham culture, but this does not mean that many people are learning it.[13] There have been efforts to simplify the spelling and to promote learning the script, but these have met with limited success.[14][15] Traditionally, boys learned the script around the age of twelve when they were old and strong enough to tend to the water buffalo. However, women and girls did not typically learn to read.[6] The traditional Indic Cham script is still known and used by Vietnam's Eastern Cham but no longer by the Western Cham.[16]



Similar to other abugidas, the consonants of Cham have the inherent vowel. Dependent vowel diacritics are used to modify the inherent vowel.[3] Since Cham does not have virāma, special characters should be used for pure consonants. This practice is similar to the chillu consonants of the Malayalam script.

The Eastern Cham script. Nasal consonants are shown both unmarked and with the diacritic kai. The vowel diacritics are shown next to a circle, which indicates their position relative to any of the consonants.

Most consonant letters, such as [b], [t], or [p], include an inherent vowel [a] which does not need to be written. The nasal stops, [m], [n], [ɲ], and [ŋ] (the latter two transliterated ny and ng in the Latin alphabet) are exceptions, and have an inherent vowel [ɨ] (transliterated â). A diacritic called kai, which does not occur with the other consonants, is added below a nasal consonant to write the [a] vowel.[6]

Cham words contain vowel and consonant-vowel (V and CV) syllables, apart from the last, which may also be CVC. There are a few characters for final consonants in the Cham script; other consonants merely extend a longer tail on the right side to indicate the absence of a final vowel.[6]


Consonant letters
ka kha ga gha ngâ nga ca cha ja jha nyâ nya
nja ta tha da dha na nda pa pa pha ba
bha ma mba ya ra la wa ṣa sa ha

Medial consonants

Medial consonants (Consonant signs)
-ia -ra -la -ua
diacritics ◌ꨳ ◌ꨴ ◌ꨵ ◌ꨶ
examples ꨆꨳ

Final consonants


Cham does not employ a virama to suppress vowels. Final consonants are indicated in one of three ways: an explicit final consonant letter, a combining diacritic mark, or by .

Final consonant letters
-k -ng -c -t -n -p -y -r -l -w -ṣ
Final consonant diacritics
-ng -m -h
diacritics ◌ꩃ ◌ꩌ ◌ꩍ
shown with (ca) ꨌꩃ ꨌꩌ ꨌꩍ

Independent vowels


Six of the initial vowels are represented with unique letters:[17]

Independent Cham vowels
a i u é ai o

Dependent vowels


Other initial vowels are represented by adding a diacritic to the letter (a).[17] The same diacritics are used with consonants to change their inherent vowel:

Dependent Cham vowels
-i -ei -u -e
diacritics ◌ꨩ ◌ꨪ ◌ꨫ ◌ꨬ ◌ꨭ ◌ꨭꨩ ◌ꨮ ◌ꨮꨩ
shown with (ka) ꨆꨩ ꨆꨪ ꨆꨫ ꨆꨬ ꨆꨭ ꨆꨭꨩ ꨆꨮ ꨆꨮꨩ
-o -ai -ao -au
diacritics ꨯꨮ ꨯꨮꨩ ꨯꨩ ꨯꨱ ◌ꨲ ◌ꨲꨩ ◌ꨮꨭ
shown with (ka) ꨆꨯꨮ ꨆꨯꨮꨩ ꨆꨯ ꨆꨯꨩ ꨆꨰ ꨆꨯꨱ ꨆꨲ ꨆꨲꨩ ꨆꨮꨭ



Cham has a distinctive set of digits:[17]

Arabic numerals 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Cham numerals
Names thaoh

Other symbols

Cham-Homkar (Om) symbol[a]
Symbol Name Function
Spiral Mark the beginning of a section.
Danda Text break
Double Danda Text break with progressive values of finality
Triple Danda Text break with progressive values of finality



Cham script was added to the Unicode Standard in April, 2008 with the release of version 5.1.[17]

The Unicode block for Cham is U+AA00–U+AA5F:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points


  1. ^ ꨀꨯꨱꩌ (U+AA00 & U+AA2F & U+AA31 & U+AA4C)


  1. ^ Marrison 1975, pp. 52–59.
  2. ^ Handbook of Literacy in Akshara Orthography, R. Malatesha Joshi, Catherine McBride(2019),p.29
  3. ^ a b c Cham. In The Unicode Standard, Version 11.0 (p. 661). Mountain View, CA: Unicode Consortium.
  4. ^ a b c Thurgood, Graham. From Ancient Cham to Modern Dialects: Two Thousand Years of Language Contact and Change. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999.
  5. ^ a b c Claude, Jacques. "The Use of Sanskrit in the Khmer and Cham Inscriptions." In Sanskrit Outside India (Vol. 7, pp. 5-12). Leiden: Panels of the VIIth World Sanskrit Conference. 1991.
  6. ^ a b c d Blood, Doris E. "The Script as a Cohesive Factor in Cham Society". In Notes from Indochina on ethnic minority cultures. Ed. Marilyn Gregerson. 1980 p35-44.
  7. ^ Trankell & Ovesen 2004
  8. ^ "Proposal for encoding the Cham script in the BMP of the UCS"[1].
  9. ^ Hosken, Martin. (2019). L2/19-217 Proposal to encode Western Cham in the UCS.
  10. ^ Everson, M. & Cunningham, A. (2016). L2/16-198 Proposal to encode Western Cham in the SMP of the UCS.
  11. ^ ALA-LC Cham romanization
  12. ^ "Cham Alphabet". kauthara.org. 2015. Retrieved 2020-07-20.
  13. ^ Bruckmayr, Philipp. (2019). The Changing Fates of the Cambodian Islamic Manuscript Tradition. Journal of Islamic Manuscripts, 10(1), 1-23. doi:10.1163/1878464X-01001001
  14. ^ Blood (1980a, 1980b, 2008); Brunelle (2008).
  15. ^ Rachna, Thim (26 November 2019). "Cambodia's Cham Muslims Fear Loss of Ancient Script and Language". VOA Khmer. Retrieved 2022-05-18.
  16. ^ Akbar Husain, Wim Swann Horizons of Spiritual Psychology 2009 - Page 28 "The traditional Cham script, based on an Indian script, is still known and used by the Eastern Cham in Vietnam, but it has been lost by the Western Cham. The Cham language is also non-tonal. Words may contain one, two, or three syllables."
  17. ^ a b c d Everson, Michael (2006-08-06). "Proposal for encoding the Cham script in the BMP of the UCS" (PDF).


  • Marrison, Geoffrey Edward (1975), "The Early Cham language and its relation to Malay", Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 48 (2 (228)): 52–59, JSTOR 41492110
  • Etienne Aymonier, Antoine Cabaton (1906). Dictionnaire čam-français. Vol. 7 of Publications de l'École française d'Extrême-Orient. E. Leroux. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  • Blood, Doris (1980a). Cham literacy: the struggle between old and new (a case study). Notes on Literacy 12, 6–9.
  • Blood, Doris (1980b). The script as a cohesive factor in Cham society. In Notes from Indochina, Marilyn Gregersen and Dorothy Thomas (eds.), 35–44. Dallas: International Museum of Cultures.
  • Blood, Doris E. 2008. The ascendancy of the Cham script: how a literacy workshop became the catalyst. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 192:45-56.
  • Brunelle, Marc. 2008. Diglossia, Bilingualism, and the Revitalization of Written Eastern Cham. Language Documentation & Conservation 2.1: 28–46. (Web based journal)
  • Moussay, Gerard (1971). Dictionnaire Cam-Vietnamien-Français. Phan Rang: Centre Culturel Cam.
  • Trankell, Ing-Britt and Jan Ovesen (2004). Muslim minorities in Cambodia. NIASnytt 4, 22–24. (Also on Web)
  • R. Malatesha Joshi, Catherine McBride(2019). Handbook of Literacy in Akshara Orthography

Media related to Cham script at Wikimedia Commons