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Khmer Localization

A language spoken by some 16 million native speakers, Khmer (Cambodian) translation projects should be handled with extra care and attention. As one of the most orthographically complex languages there is, Khmer translation and localization shouldn’t be tackled without the necessary linguistic know-how and experience. Though not a tonal language like Thai, Burmese and Lao, similarly to its Southeast Asian neighbors, Khmer is characterized by an absence of spacing between words, meaning that DTP should only be performed by Khmer DTP operators.

Adding to the complexity; many DTP programs do not support Khmer, meaning workaround solutions are often required. Khmer has multiple registers – their use dependent on the situation, social context as well as age, sex, status of the speaker and the target audience. These are just some considerations when embarking on Khmer localization projects. Selecting the right Khmer translation partner with the right credentials is crucial.


  • Editing
  • Proofreading
  • Machine Translation engine building
  • Machine Translation post-editing
  • Desktop publishing
  • Voiceover & dubbing
  • Subtitling & closed captions
  • Flash & multimedia localization
  • Linguistic testing
  • Functional testing
  • Interpretation


  • Documentation
  • Technical manuals
  • Marketing materials
  • Brochures & flyers
  • Packaging & labeling
  • Magazines & newsletters
  • Websites
  • Mobile applications
  • Software applications
  • Training & eLearning
  • Voiceover & multimedia
  • Video content

About Khmer

The Khmer language is a member of the Mon-Khmer group Austroasiatic language family, of which the other two significant members are Vietnamese and Mon. Unlike most of the languages spoken in Southeast Asia, Khmer is not tonal language. The language developed in 4 major phases: pre-Angkorian Old Khmer, used prior to the 9th century CE; Angkorian Old Khmer, the language of the Khmer empire used until the mid-14th century CE; Middle Khmer, which is marked by profound changes in structure, pronunciation, and vocabulary, used until the 18th century CE; and Modern Khmer, the form of the language in current use.

The Khmer script, Aksar Khmer, is an adaptation of the Pallava script, which dates from the 3rd century CE. Like most Southeast Asian scripts, it ultimately derives from the Bhrami script, the earliest known examples of which date from the 2nd century BCE. It is an abugida – a writing system in which the consonants may include a vowel sound which is not explicitly written. Khmer is written from left to right with no spaces between words; spaces are used primarily to separate clauses, sentences, and items in lists.

The Khmer script has 35 consonants, 2 of which are now obsolete, and each consonant (with one exception) has two glyphs: a normal form and a subscript form. There are 2 sets of vowels: 25 dependent vowels, which must always be combined with a consonant; and 14 independent vowels (one of which has 2 glyphs), which stand alone at the beginning of syllables. In addition, there are 13 diacritics which modify pronunciation or intonation. Modern punctuation uses a mixture of Khmer glyphs and a number of Western glyphs ( ? ! « » ). Khmer numerals are still in common use; western numerals are also used, but to a lesser extent.

Consonants – Normal Form

Consonants – Subscript Form*

Dependent Vowels*

Independent Vowels

Diacritical Marks*

Punctuation Marks


* In order to ensure that the glyphs for subscript consonants, dependent vowels, and diacritics display correctly on all browsers, they are shown as paired with the letter

Khmer Translation & Localization Challenges

  • Due to the absence of spaces between words, line-breaking cannot be performed properly by a non-native DTP operator.
  • Khmer is one of the most orthographically complex languages, as it uses a combination of subjoined consonants, pre-, post-, super-, and sub-scripted vowels and diacritics, as well as ligatures. Many DTP programs cannot properly support the language, and data entry is complex – a single orthographic unit may require as many as 7 keystrokes to enter correctly.
  • The Khmer language has multiple registers; i.e., different vocabulary is used depending on the situation and social context, as well as on the age, sex, and status of the speaker / writer and the listener / reader. There are four major registers – royal, ecclesiastical, written, and spoken – with written and spoken each having multiple sub-registers.
  • Technical and scientific terms are often transliterated rather than translated, but there are few reference materials that define the “standard” spellings of such transliterations.


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For more information on how EQHO can assist you with your Khmer translation & localization requirements, please don’t hesitate to contact us through our website.

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