Khmu Language
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Khmu Language
Native toLaos, Vietnam, Thailand, China
Native speakers
(3.500.000 cited 1990-2015 census)[1][2]
Lao, Latin
Language codes
kjg - Khmu
khf - Buddhist Kmhmu' (Kmhmu' Khwen)[3][4]

Khmu [k?mu?] 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.[6] 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

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.[7]
  • 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.[8]

Suwilai Premsrirat (2002)

Suwilai Premsrirat (2002)[9] reports the following locations and dialects of Kmhmu' in Laos, Vietnam, China, and Thailand.



The consonant inventory of Kmhmu' 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 Kmhmu', is a result of borrowings from the surrounding Tai languages.[10]

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive Aspirated p? t? c? k?
Voiceless p t c k ?
Voiced b d ? ?
Nasal Voiceless m? n?
Voiced m n ? ?
Preglottalized ?m ?n
Fricative Voiceless (f) s h
Approximant Voiceless w?* l? r? j?
Voiced w l r j
Preglottalized ?w ?j

*w? is technically a voiceless labio-velar approximant


The vowels of Kmhmu' show little variation across the dialects with all varieties having 19 monophthongs and three diphthongs (/i?/, // and /u?/).[7]

Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close /i/ /i:/ /?/ /?:/ /u/ /u:/
Close-mid /e/ /e:/ /?/ /?:/ /o/ /o:/
Open-mid /?/ /?:/ /?:/ /?/ /?:/
Open /a/ /a:/

See also


  1. ^ "Kmhmu'". Ethnologue. Retrieved .
  2. ^ "Khuen". Ethnologue. Retrieved .
  3. ^ Hammarström (2015) Ethnologue 16/17/18th editions: a comprehensive review: online appendices
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Khmu'". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Suwilai, Premsrirat, et al. Mahidol University. Dictionary of Khmu in Laos.
  9. ^ Premsrirat, Suwilai. 2002. Dictionary of Khmu in Laos. Mon-Khmer Studies, Special Publication, Number 1, Volume 3. Salaya, Thailand: Mahidol University.
  10. ^ Suwilai, Pr?ms?rat. 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

  • 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 2014.
  • Pr?ms?rat, 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
  • Pr?ms?rat, 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

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