Cham language

Cham language

Native to Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, China (Hainan Island), various countries with recent immigrants
Native speakers
250,000  (2007)[1]
Western Cham (204,000)
Eastern Cham (73,000)
Cham alphabet (Vietnam), Arabic (Cambodia)
Official status
Official language in
none, recognised as a minority language in Cambodia and Vietnam
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
cja – Western Cham
cjm – Eastern Cham

Cham is the language of the Cham people of Southeast Asia, and formerly the language of the kingdom of Champa in central Vietnam. A member of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian family, it is spoken by 100,000 people in Vietnam and up to 220,000 people in Cambodia (1992 estimate). There are also small populations of speakers in Thailand and Malaysia. Other Chamic languages are spoken in Vietnam (Raglai, Rade, Jarai, Chru and Haroi), on Hainan (Tsat) and in Aceh, North Sumatra (Acehnese).


  • Dialectal differences 1
  • Grammar 2
    • Word formation 2.1
    • Syntax and word order 2.2
    • Nominals 2.3
    • Verbs 2.4
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • Further reading 5

Dialectal differences

Cham is divided into two primary dialects. Western Cham is spoken by the Cham in Cambodia as well as in the adjacent Vietnamese provinces of An Giang and Tây Ninh. Eastern Cham is spoken by the coastal Cham populations in the Vietnamese provinces of Bình Thuận, Ninh Thuận, and Đồng Nai. The two regions where Cham is spoken are separated both geographically and culturally. The more numerous Western Cham are predominantly Muslim (although some in Cambodia now practice Theravada Buddhism) and use either the Arabic script or the Western version of the Cham script while the Eastern Cham practice both Islam and Hinduism and use the Eastern version of the Cham script. Ethnologue states that the two dialects are no longer mutually intelligible. The table below gives some examples of words where the two dialects differed as of the 19th century.[2]

Cambodia southern Vietnam
child anœk anẽk
take tuk tôk
not jvẽi jvai
one sa tha
save from drowning srong throng
salt sara shara
equal samu hamu
final consonants
heavy trap trak
in front anap anak
lexical differences
market pasa darak
hate amoḥ limuk


Word formation

There are several prefixes and infixes which can be used for word derivation.[3]

  • prefix pa-: causative, sometimes giving more force to the word
    • thău (to know) → pathău (to inform)
    • blẽi (to buy) → pablẽi (to sell)
    • bier (low) → pabier (to lower)
    • yău (like, as) → payău (to compare)
    • jœû (finished) → pajœû (well finished)
  • prefix mœ-: sometimes causative, often indicates a state, possession, mutuality, reciprocity
    • jruu (poison) → mœjruu (to poison)
    • gruu (teacher) → mœgruu (to study)
    • téan (belly) → mœtéan (pregnancy)
    • boḥ (egg, fruit) → mœboḥ (lay an egg, give fruit)
    • daké (horn) → mœdaké (having horns)
  • prefix ta- or da-: frequentative
    • galuṇg (to roll) → tagaluṇg (to roll around)
    • dâp (to hide oneself) → dadâp (to be wont to hide oneself)
  • infix -n-: noun formation
    • pvâch (to speak) → panvâch (speech)
    • tiêu (row) → taniêu (oar)
    • dok (to live) → danok (house, living place)
  • infix -mœ-: no specific meaning
    • payău (to compare) → pamœyău (to compare)

Reduplication is often used:[3]

  • palẽi, pala-palẽi (country)
  • raḅaḥ, raḅaḥ-raḅœp (misery)

Syntax and word order

Cham generally uses SVO word order, without any case marking to distinguish subject from object:[4]

Dummy pronominal subjects are sometimes used, echoing the subject:

Inœû hudiêp dahlak nhu atong adẽi puthang nhu.
my wife's mother she beat her husband's younger sister
"My wife's mother beats her husband's younger sister."

Composite verbs will behave as one inseparable verb, having the object come after it:

Bloḥ nhu ḍiḥ dii apvẽi anẽk lakẽi.
then she lie at fire (i.e.: give birth) son
"Then she gave birth to a son."

Sometimes, however, the verb is placed in front of the subject:

Lêk dahlak.
fall I
"I fall."

Auxiliary verbs are placed after any objects:

Nhu ba hudiêp nhu nau.
he bring his wife go
"He brings his wife."

If a sentence contains more than one main verb, one of the two will have an adverbial meaning:

Nhu dâp klaḥ mœtai.
he hide evade death
"He evaded death by hiding."

Adjectives come after the nouns they modify:[5]

thang prong
house big
"a big house"

If the order is reversed, the whole will behave like a compound:

ôrang prong shap
person big noise
"a noisy person"
Composite sentences can be formed with the particle krung:[6]

It is also possible to leave out this particle, without change in meaning:[4]

Dahlak brẽi athêh nan kaa va dahlak dok dii palẽi Ram.
I give this horse to my uncle who live in the village of Ram
"I have given this horse to my uncle, who lives in the village of Ram."

Questions are formed with the sentence-final particle rẽi:[7]

Anẽk thău vakhar rẽi?
child know writing q
"Can you write, child?"

Other question words are in situ:

Hẽû nau hatau?
you go where
"Where are you going?"


Like many languages in Eastern Asia, Cham uses numeral classifiers to express amounts.[8] The classifier will always come after the numeral, with the noun coming invariably before or after the classifier-numeral pair.

The above examples show the classifier boḥ, which literally means "egg" and is the most frequently used — particularly for round and voluminous objects. Other classifiers are ôrang (person) for people and deities, ḅêk for long objects, blaḥ (leaf) for flat objects, and many others.

The days of the month are counted with a similar system, with two classifiers: one (bangun) used to count days before the full moon, and the other one (ranaṃ) for days after the full moon.[9]

Personal pronouns behave like ordinary nouns and do not show any case distinctions. There are different forms depending on the level of politeness. The first person singular, for example, is kău in formal or distant context, while it is dahlak (in Vietnam) or hulun (in Cambodia) in an ordinarily polite context. As is the case with many other languages of the region, kinship terms are often used as personal pronouns.[6]

Comparative and superlative are expressed with the locative preposition di/dii:[10]

tapaa di aï nhu
big at his brother
"bigger than his brother"


There are some particles that can be used to indicate tense/aspect.[11] The future is indicated with shi or thi in Vietnam, with hi or si in Cambodia. The perfect is expressed with jϞ. The first one comes in front of the verb:

Arak ni kău shi nao.
now I fut go
"I will go now."

The second one is sentence-final:

Shit traa kău nao jœû.
little more I go prf
"I'll be gone in a moment."

Certain verbs can function as auxiliaries to express other tenses or aspects.[12] The verb dok ("to stay") is used for the continuous, vœk ("to return") for the repetitive aspect, and kiœng ("to want") for the future tense.

The negation is formed with ôh/ô at either or both sides of the verb, or with di/dii[13] in front.[11]

The imperative is formed with the sentence-final particle bêk, and the negative imperative with the preverbal jvai/jvẽi (in Vietnam and Cambodia respectively).[11]

See also


  1. ^ Western Cham at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    Eastern Cham at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Aymonier 1889, chapt. IX
  3. ^ a b Aymonier 1889, chapt. X
  4. ^ a b Aymonier 1889, chapt. XXI
  5. ^ Aymonier 1889, chapt. XIII
  6. ^ a b Aymonier 1889, chapt. XII
  7. ^ Aymonier 1889, chapt. XIX
  8. ^ Aymonier 1889, chapt. XI
  9. ^ Aymonier 1889, chapt. VIII
  10. ^ Aymonier 1889, chapt. XVI
  11. ^ a b c Aymonier 1889, chapt. XV
  12. ^ Aymonier 1889, chapt. XIV
  13. ^ This happens to be homophonous with the locative preposition.

Further reading

  • Anthony Grant, Paul Sidwell, Australian National University. Pacific Linguistics (2005). Chamic and beyond: studies in mainland Austronesian languages (illustrated ed.). Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.  
  • Graham Thurgood (1999). From ancient Cham to modern dialects: two thousand years of language contact and change : with an appendix of Chamic reconstructions and loanwords. University of Hawaii Press.  
  • Etienne Aymonier, Antoine Cabaton (1906). Dictionnaire čam-français. Volume 7 of Publications de l'École française d'Extrême-Orient. E. Leroux. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  • Aymonier, Etienne (1889). Grammaire de la langue chame. Imprimerie coloniale. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  • Aymonier, Etienne and Antoine Cabaton (1906). Dictionnaire Cam-Français. Paris: Leroux.
  • Blood, D. L., & Blood, D. (1977). East Cham language. Vietnam data microfiche series, no. VD 51-72. Huntington Beach, Calif: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Blood, D. L. (1977). A romanization of the Cham language in relation to the Cham script. Vietnam data microfiche series, no. VD51-17. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  • Moussay, Gerard (1971). Dictionnaire Cam-Vietnamien-Français. Phan Rang: Centre Culturel Cam.
  • Thurgood, G. (1999). From ancient Cham to modern dialects: two thousand years of language contact and change. Oceanic linguistics special publication, no. 28. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-2131-9