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The Main Features of Cambodian Pronunciation

  • Eugénie J. A. Henderson


The pronunciation here described is that of Mr. Keng Vannsak, a young Cambodian born at Kompong Chhnang.

The words quoted in illustration of the text are shown both in Cambodian script and in a simplified phonetic transcription based on that of the International Phonetic Association. Where it has been considered useful, a more detailed transcription in general phonetic terms has been given in square brackets. All examples have been checked with a second Cambodian, Mr. Keo Mongkry, and where his usage differs from that of Mr. Keng, this has been noted.



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page 149 note 1 It should be noted that the symbol y is used in the transcription for the palatal semivowel, and not j as recommended by the I.P. A.

page 149 note 2 The differences in usage lay chiefly in (1) the realization of the registers, and (2) the use in rapid speech of alternative forms such as those described on p. 172. Mr. Keng, as a philosophy student with literary and dramatic leanings, was aware of and interested in language from both the philosophic and æsthetic standpoints. His style of utterance was in general more deliberate and controlled than that of Mr. Mongkry, who as a student of economics was less concerned with language for its own sake. The two styles complemented each other well. Mr. Keng's style was helpful in that the different voice quality and manner of utterance of the two registers were clearly, sometimes startlingly, recognizable, even in fairly rapid speech, whereas Mr. Mongkry appeared often to make no distinction other than that of vowel quality. On the other hand, Mr. Mongkry's style of utterance was valuable for the ease and naturalness with which the alternative pronunciations proper to rapid speech were forthcoming.

page 150 note 1 I am indebted to my colleague R. H. Robins for his suggestion of the terms “major” and “minor” to describe these two syllable types.

page 151 note 1 See Passy, , “Sons du Français,” § 59.

page 152 note 1 See pp 162–8.

page 152 note 2 Mr. Mongkry pronounced this symbol d. Asked for a word in which it occurred with this pronunciation, he was able to cite a personal name, dùc.

page 153 note 1 Since Sanskritic terminology is still used to describe the Cambodian syllabary, my informants were perplexed to find that some sounds that they are accustomed to call “voiceless” are regarded as “voiced” in Western phonetic terms (e.g. Cambodian d and b), while some of those they call “voiced” are “voiceless” to us (e.g. the plosives of the second register).

page 155 note 1 Found before final h and s only.

page 156 note 1 Mr. Mongkry gave his “colloquial” form of this word as rìəp.

page 156 note 2 Cambodian orthography usually records this front quality by spelling words with final ɣ or ɣC with the front vowel symbol , e.g. (see table on page 161). The sound, though e-like in quality, is shorter than e:F.

page 158 note 1 For pronunciation of final S, see page 169. Mr. Mongkry always pronounced [rh].

page 160 note 1 See page 173.

page 161 note 1 C and stand for consonant symbols. Initial C stands for any consonant or consonant group which implies pronunciation on the first register, and initial for any consonant or consonant group implying the second register. Final C includes virarga and anusvara marks.

page 162 note 1 See Firth, J. R., “Word Palatograms and Articulations,” BSOAS., xii, 1948, and Firth, J. R. and Adam, H. J. F., “New Techniques in Kymography and Palatography,” BSOAS, xiii, 1949.

page 164 note 1 See Firth, J. R. and Rogers, B. B., “The Structure of the Chinese Monosyllable in a Hunanese Dialect,” BSOS., viii, Part 4.

page 165 note 1 The qualification “occurring by themselves at the beginning of a word” is necessary as aspiration after a plosive forming part of certain initial groups may be a prosody of junction, and is treated separately. See pp. 165–8. See also Martini, F., “Aperçu phonologique du cambodgien,” BSL., xlii, 1946.

page 166 note 1 See definition of a syllable on p. 150.

page 166 note 2 See p. 165, where the types of two-place initial sequences are set out.

page 167 note 1 This word was unknown to my second informant.

page 168 note 1 For a discussion of the relation between loanwords and “exceptional structure” see “The Phonology of Loan-words in some South East Asian Languages”, in Trans. Phil., 1951.

page 169 note 1 In Mr. Mongkry's own words: “Ça tire sur le [сɔ].”

page 169 note 2 In Mr. Mongkry's pronunciation labial articulation is sometimes absent, so that one hears [] or [ɢ].

page 170 note 1 Note the gradual progression from simple monosyllable, through extended monosyllable and minor disyliable, to major disyliable. Between the stages there is only a relatively small structural difference. There is no sharp boundary between monosyllable and disyllable.

page 171 note 1 See page 167.

page 172 note 1 See p. 168.

page 173 note 1 See pp. 165 ff.

page 173 note 2 See p. 160.

page 174 note 1 Cf. p. 169.

page 174 note 2 For a discussion of the relation between loanwords and “exceptional structure” see “The Phonology of Loan-words in some South East Asian Languages”, in Trans. Phil., 1951.

page 174 note 3 For some of these and many more examples of Sanskritic loans in Cambodian, see Ménétrier, E., Vocabulaire Cambodgien dans ses rapports avec le Sanskrit et le Pali, Phnom Penh, 1933.


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