Khmer Influence in Thai

Khmer Influence in Thai

This article was originally posted on WomenLearnThai.com.

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Face it. Khmer influenced the Thai language…

“The Siamese language began its formation not only from its original elements but also from a foreign root, the Khmer language to be specific.” Saveros Pou.

This kind of statement might be taken as an insult by some Thais. This is a sensitive issue, especially since this ridiculous clash about Preah Vihear temple. (A good adage in politics: to divert people from real problems, make up a good old chauvinist crisis).

Note that curiously the fact that ราชาศัพท์ comes from Khmer will be better accepted.

Khmer is a language of the Mon-Khmer family, Thai is a language of the Tai-Kadai family.

I don’t need to teach you this: The Khmer people had lived in peninsular southeast Asia long before the Tai people came from Yunnan.

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But now take a look at the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, “About Thailand”:

This theory has been altered by the discovery of prehistoric artifacts in Ban Chiang. It now appears that the Thais might have originated here in Thailand and latter scattered to various parts of Asia, including some parts of China.

Nice shortcut: A settlement from the bronze age has been found in Ban Chiang (the oldest one in the world it seems), so they were Thai people, the Thais come from Ban Chiang !!

Note that the more historically convincing (to say the least) theory of the Yunnan origin is used by some Chinese to assert that southeast Asia belong to the people’s republic of China…

So if you want to calm down a staunch partisan of the “Thai language doesn’t owe anything to those bumpkin เขมร“, here are a few facts.

Many borrowed words trace back to the สุโขทัย era. They are everyday words still in use today: for instance เดิน, “to walk”.

ราชดำเนิน means the king passage.

ดำเนิน is “the walking”. It comes from ดำเนิน, “to walk”. This is not a Thai way of coining words, this is a typical Khmer way of coining words (which is called infixation). Because เดิน is a Khmer word (today pronounced daoe (diphthong xะ เxอ) in Khmer).

We can find the original Thai word for “to walk” still in use today in Lao: ย่าง. Lao has been a little less influenced by Khmer than Siamese (or at least Lao has retained more original Thai words in parallel).

As for ราช, “the king” of course it’s an Indian word (maharajah), but it must be stressed that all the Sanskrit and Prakrit words you can find in Siamese (that makes a real big chunk) have entered Siamese through old Khmer, because the direct Indian influence had already vanished when the Siamese founded their kingdoms.

And of course, modern Thai script stems from Khmer script (but the old ones didn’t: Lanna and Tham stem from Mon).

Note that Khmer script is still used today in ยันต์ and tattoo, and if your staunch partisan has this kind of tattoo, he will tell you this is ขอม, not เขมร (which is exactly the same of course).

Here are a few examples:
จมูก “nose”, in Lao you say ดัง
สะพาน “bridge”, in Lao you say ขัว
ยาย “maternal grandmother”, in Lao you say แม่ตู้
กำลัง for continuous tense, in Lao you (can also) say พวม

This Lao/Thai trick is not a general rule:
ก๋วยเตี๋ยว in Lao you say เฝอ. Of course this one is not true: ก๋วยเตี๋ยว is a Teochew word and เฝอ a Vietnamese word.

Some other words:
วัด “monastery” and also “to measure” (both from Mon-Khmer root meaning “to make a circle, to mark the boundary”)
ผสม “to mix”
ตำนาน “legend”
ตำบล “district” (from old Khmer “cluster of houses”)
สะอาด “clean”
เรียน “to learn”
อาจ “can” (the final จ gives away the Khmer origin)
เสมียน “clerk”
ทะเบียน “register”
ถนน “street”
ตรวจ “to examine” and ตำรวจ “police” (you see the khmer coining of words as in “to walk”)
นัก prefix for profession (meaning “a person” in khmer), as in นักเรียน and guess what, เรียน also comes from Khmer.

Some grammatical words now:
สำหรับ “for”
เพราะ “because”
หรือ “or”
โดย “by way of”

And this is a very small (untidy…) sample of words of Khmer origin.

เขมร is of Khmer origin! Today in Cambodia it’s pronounced khmae (diphthong xะ แx). But in Surin they didn’t drop the ร, they pronounce a beautiful rolled ร. (I love those rolled ร, บุรรรรีรรรรัมย์ !!).

And it’s a general rule, Khmer Surin tends to be more conservative than Cambodian Khmer in its pronunciation. So we can say that if you want to hear “pure” Khmer, you have to go to Surin…

Sua noy

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