Puneet Varma (Editor)

Cham language

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Native to
Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, China (Hainan Island), various countries with recent immigrants

Native speakers
320,000 (2002 – 2008 census)

Language family
Austronesian Malayo-Polynesian Nuclear Malayo-Polynesian Malayo-Sumbawan Chamic Coastal Cham

Western Cham (204,000) Eastern Cham (73,000)

Writing system
Cham alphabet (Vietnam), Arabic (Cambodia)

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.

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

  • Chăm Poông: in Thạnh Hiếu village, Phan Hiệp commune, Bắc Bình District, Bình Thuận Province. The Chăm Poông practice burial instead of cremation as the surrounding Cham do.
  • Chăm Hroi (population 4,000): in Phước Vân District (Bình Định Province), Đồng Xuân District (Phú Yên Province), and Tây Sơn District (Bình Định Province)
  • Chàvà Ku, a mixed Malay-Khmer people in Châu Đốc
  • Word formation

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

  • 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:

  • 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:

    Dummy pronominal subjects are sometimes used, echoing the subject:

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

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

    Auxiliary verbs are placed after any objects:

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

    Adjectives come after the nouns they modify:

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

    Composite sentences can be formed with the particle krung:

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

    Questions are formed with the sentence-final particle rẽi:

    Other question words are in situ:


    Like many languages in Eastern Asia, Cham uses numeral classifiers to express amounts. 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.

    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.

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


    There are some particles that can be used to indicate tense/aspect. 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:

    The second one is sentence-final:

    Certain verbs can function as auxiliaries to express other tenses or aspects. 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 in front.

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


    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.


    Cham language Wikipedia

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