Cham language

Not to be confused with Cham-Mona language or Cham Albanian dialect.
Pronunciation [caːm]
Native to Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, China (Hainan Island), various countries with recent immigrants
Native speakers
320,000 (2002 – 2008 census)[1]
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
Glottolog cham1328[2]

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 204,000 people in Cambodia and 79,000 people in Vietnam. There are also small populations of speakers in Thailand and Malaysia. Other Chamic languages are spoken in Cambodia and/or Vietnam (Raglai, Rade, Jarai, Chru and Haroi), on Hainan (Tsat) and in Aceh, North Sumatra (Acehnese).

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 alphabet while the Eastern Cham practice both Islam and Hinduism and use the Eastern version of the Cham alphabet. 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.[3]

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

Lê et al. (2014:175)[4] lists a few Cham subgroups.


Word formation

There are several prefixes and infixes which can be used for word derivation.[5]

Reduplication is often used:[5]

Syntax and word order

Cham generally uses SVO word order, without any case marking to distinguish subject from object:[6]

Dahlak atong nhu.
I beat he
I beat him.

Nhu atong dahlak.
he beat I
He beats me.

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:[7]

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:[8]

thaa drẽi athău thaa drẽi mœyău krung aï nhu brẽi kaa nhu
the dog and the cat which his brother gave him
"the dog and the cat his brother gave him"

nau tapak danau krung aï that ikan
to go straight lake which brother is fishing
"to go straight to the lake where his brother was fishing"

It is also possible to leave out this particle, without change in meaning:[6]

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:[9]

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.[10] The classifier will always come after the numeral, with the noun coming invariably before or after the classifier-numeral pair.

limœû boḥ chœk
five clf mountain
"five mountains"

palẽi naṃ boḥ
village six clf
"six villages"

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.[11]

harẽi thaa bangun
day one clf
"first day after new moon"

harẽi dvaa klaṃ
day two clf
"second day after full moon"

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.[8]

Comparative and superlative are expressed with the locative preposition di/dii:[12]

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


There are some particles that can be used to indicate tense/aspect.[13] 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.[14] 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[15] in front.[13]

The imperative is formed with the sentence-final particle bêk, and the negative imperative with the preverbal jvai/jvẽi (in Vietnam and Cambodia respectively).[13]


The Ming dynasty Chinese Bureau of Translators produced a Chinese-Cham dictionary.

John Crawfurd's 1822 work "Malay of Champa" contains a dictionary of the Cham language.

See also


  1. Western Cham at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Eastern Cham at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Cham". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Aymonier 1889, chapt. IX
  4. Lê Bá Thảo, Hoàng Ma, et. al; Viện hàn lâm khoa học xã hội Việt Nam - Viện dân tộc học. 2014. Các dân tộc ít người ở Việt Nam: các tỉnh phía nam. Ha Noi: Nhà xuất bản khoa học xã hội. ISBN 978-604-90-2436-8
  5. 1 2 Aymonier 1889, chapt. X
  6. 1 2 Aymonier 1889, chapt. XXI
  7. Aymonier 1889, chapt. XIII
  8. 1 2 Aymonier 1889, chapt. XII
  9. Aymonier 1889, chapt. XIX
  10. Aymonier 1889, chapt. XI
  11. Aymonier 1889, chapt. VIII
  12. Aymonier 1889, chapt. XVI
  13. 1 2 3 Aymonier 1889, chapt. XV
  14. Aymonier 1889, chapt. XIV
  15. This happens to be homophonous with the locative preposition.

Further reading

Eastern Cham language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
Western Cham language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
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