Following Shemtov's lead with his wonderful thread on learning the Hebrew Alphabet, I've decided to make a thread dedicated to providing lessons on learning to read the Khmer script, one of the most absurdly complicated writing systems I've ever come across. A quick glance at Wikipedia shows that the IPA transcriptions on the Khmer Alphabet page don't even match those on the Khmer Language page. This is an indicator of things to come, so get ready.
Table of Contents:
* Part 1: Standard consonants
* Part 2: Subscript consonants
* Part 3: Vowels: long a, and the ɓɑntɑk diacritic
* Part 4: Vowels: <i> signs
* Part 5: Vowels: <u> signs
* Vowel review table 1
* Part 6: Vowels: <e> signs and other associated signs
* Part 7: Vowels: miscellaneous <a> signs
* Part 8: Vowels: compounds with <e> signs, including the <o> vowels
* Vowel review table 2
* Part 9: The aspiration sign reəh mʊk
* Part 10:The nasal sign nikkeəʔhet
* Part 11: Switching
* Part 12: Independent vowel signs
* Part 13: Miscellaneous diacritics
* Part 14: Numerals and punctuation, and three letters you’ll never use
* Part 15: The decorative script: aksɑː muːl
Khmer script is an alphasyllabary descended from the Pallava family of Brahmic scripts and is closely related to Thai and Lao scripts, but with very significant differences. Unlike most Southeast Asian languages, Khmer is not a tonal language, so the representation of tones is not a concern. However, historical sound changes and the fact that the Indic languages are very different from Khmer have led to a number of complexities that make this an extremely difficult script to learn.
The script contains 33 standard consonant signs plus two additional letters only used for transcribing Sanskrit, and 16 independent vowel signs (plus a 17th rare one). There are also numerous diacritics for indicating vowels and other things.
Note that for technical reasons I have elected to use a lot of images rather than text. I may increase the use of text later.
Part 1: Standard Consonants
The Khmer script is an alphasyllabary, which means that each letter in the script represents a consonant combined with a vowel value, much like a syllabary. The default vowel value, as indicated in the chart, is called the inherent vowel. The vowel that follows the consonant can be changed from the inherent vowel to other vowels through the use of various vowel diacritics, but for part 1, we can temporarily forget about the vowel diacritics and simply focus on the basic consonants and the inherent vowels as indicated in the chart:
Take care not to confuse ជ with ផ, and ឃ with យ.
ឌ and ឍ are particularly rare and will probably not be encountered.
You will notice that the consonants are divided up into two groups, and the inherent vowel sound differs between the two groups. Based on these vowels, the groups are usually called a-series o-series. As you have probably guessed, memorization of these two groups is essential to reading Khmer, as the groups affect the pronunciation of vowels.
It can be a challenge at first to memorize all of these letters, because many of them share both similar visual elements and pronunciations, but it is necessary to memorize all of these before you can proceed very far.
Although the Khmer language allows for syllable-final consonants, the modern Khmer script has no way of erasing or eliminating the inherent vowel in order to represent this final consonant unambiguously. This means that syllable-final consonants must simply be recognized as such based on the knowledge and intuition of the reader alone.
kʰɑːk - to abstain from; to refrain from
mɔːn - Mon ethnic group
Note that the inherent vowel /ɑː/ is absent from ក /kɑː/, and the /ɔː/ from the ន /nɔː/. There is no unambiguous, visual indication that this vowel has been removed; it simply must be understood implicitly.
Coda consonants are restricted in the standard dialect, though the script does not always represent this clearly: /r/ is dropped entirely at the end of syllables, while syllable-final /s/ is realized as /h/, and /j/ and /ʋ/ generally form diphthongs with the preceding vowel (though in some dialects, /ʋ/ can remain distinct). The only stops that can appear at the end of a syllable are voiceless, unaspirated, unreleased stops, regardless of the value of the letter that may appear there.
In bisyllabic words, if the first vowel is written as an inherent vowel, it is reduced in length:
rɔnɑːp – cross-piece; support; brace (not rɔːnɑːp)
Exercise: Transliterate the following words into IPA:
pole; post; handle; shaft
cornice; ledge; projection; balcony
tube; capsule; cocoon
type of dove
bend over to retrieve something from water
year of the monkey
rustling or crackling sound