Khmu language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Native toLaos, Vietnam, Thailand, China
Native speakers
(798,400 cited 1990–2015 census)[1][2]
Lao, Latin, Thai
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
kjg – Khmu
khf – Buddhist Khmu (Kmhmu' Khwen)[3][4]

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.[5] 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.


Approximate location of Khmu dialects in Laos

Khmu has several dialects but no standard variety. 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.[6]
  • 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.[7]

Suwilai Premsrirat (2002)[edit]

Suwilai Premsrirat (2002)[8] reports the following locations and dialects of Kmhmu' in Laos, Vietnam, China, and Thailand.



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.[9]

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive Aspirated
Voiceless p t c k ʔ
Voiced b d ɟ ɡ
Nasal Voiceless ɲ̥ ŋ̥
Voiced m n ɲ ŋ
Preglottalized ʔm ʔn ʔɲ ʔŋ
Fricative Voiceless (f) s h
Approximant Voiceless [a]
Voiced w l r j
Preglottalized ʔw ʔj


The vowels of the Khmu' language show little variation across the dialects with all varieties having 19 monophthongs and three diphthongs (/iə/, /ɨə/ and /uə/).[6]

Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close i ɨ ɨː u
Close-mid e ə əː o
Open-mid ɛ ɛː ʌː ɔ ɔː
Open a



Person Singular Dual Plural
1st ໂອະ (òɂ) ອະ (àɂ) ອິ (ìɂ)
2nd ແຢະ (jɛ̀ɂ) (masculine), ປາ (pàː) (feminine) ສວາ (swáː) ປໍ (pɔ̀ː)
3rd ກັຽ (kəː) (masculine), ນາ (nàː) (feminine) ສນາ (snáː) ນໍ (nɔ̀ː)


Khmu uses mainly an SVO word order although an OVS order is also possible.



Cardinal /nɨŋ/ /sɔ́:ŋ/ /sá:m/ /sí:/ /há:/ /rók/ /cét/
ນຶງ ສອງ ສາມ ສີ ຫາ ຣົກ ເຈຕັ
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Ordinal /mò:j/ /pà:r/ /péɂ/ /sí:/ /há:/ /lók/ /cét/
ໂມຢ ປາຣ ເປະ ສີ ຫາ ລົກ ເຈຕັ
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th

Comparison with Khmer[edit]

English Khmu Khmer
dog ເສາະ (sɔ́ɂ) ឆ្កែ (chhke)
child ກອນ (kɔ́ːn) កូន (kaun)
mother ມະ (màɂ) ម៉ាក់ (meak)
flower ຣາງ (ràːŋ) ផ្កា (phka)
mountain ມົກ (mòk) ភ្នំ (phnom)
see ກເລະ (klèɂ) ឃើញ (keunh)
enemy ສັຕູ (sa tùː) សត្រូវ (sa trauv)
disappear ງັຕ (ŋát) បាត់ (bat)
shoot ປິຍ (píɲ) បាញ់ (banh)
seven ເຈຕັ (cét) ប្រាំពីរ (brapir)
penis ລົກ (lòk) លិង្គ (ling)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kmhmu'". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  2. ^ "Khuen". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  3. ^ Hammarström (2015) Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: a comprehensive review: online appendices
  4. ^ "Mon-Khmer Classification (Draft)".
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b SUWILAI Premsrirat, author. 2001. "Tonogenesis in Khmu dialects of SEA." Mon-Khmer Studies: a Journal of Southeast Asian Linguistics and Languages 31: 47-56.
  7. ^ Suwilai, Premsrirat, et al. Mahidol University. Dictionary of Khmu in Laos.
  8. ^ Premsrirat, Suwilai. 2002. Dictionary of Khmu in Laos. Mon-Khmer Studies, Special Publication, Number 1, Volume 3. Salaya, Thailand: Mahidol University.
  9. ^ 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 9740501125

Further reading[edit]

  • Premsirat, Suwilai (1991). "Aspects Inter-Clausal Relations in Khmu". In Davidson, Jeremy H. C. S.; Shorto, H. L. (eds.). Austroasiatic Languages: Essays in Honour of H.L. Shorto. University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies. pp. 123–140. ISBN 0728601834. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
  • 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 9740501125
  • 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

External links[edit]