The romanization of Khmer is a representation of the Khmer (Cambodian) language using letters of the Latin alphabet. This is most commonly done with Khmer proper nouns, such as names of people and geographical names, as in a gazetteer.

Romanization systems for Khmer edit

Cambodian geographical names are often romanized with a transliteration system, where representations in the Khmer script are mapped regularly to representations in the Latin alphabet (sometimes with some additional diacritics). The results do not always reflect standard Khmer pronunciation, as no special treatment is given to unpronounced letters and irregular pronunciations, although the two registers of Khmer vowel symbols are often taken into account.

When transcription is used, words are romanized based on their pronunciation. However, pronunciation of Khmer can vary by speaker and region. Roman transcription of Khmer is often done ad hoc on Internet forums and chatrooms, the results sometimes being referred to as Khmenglish or Khmerlish. These ad hoc romanizations are usually based on English pronunciations of letters, although they may also be influenced by Khmer spelling (as with the use of s rather than h to represent a final aspirate).

Since some sounds can be represented by more than one symbol in Khmer orthography, it is not generally possible to recover the original Khmer spelling from a pronunciation-based Roman transcription. Even transliteration systems often do not preserve all of the distinctions made in the Khmer script.

Some of the more commonly used romanization systems for Khmer are listed below. For full details of the various systems, see the links given in the External Links section.


The Khmer romanization scheme published by the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names is based on the BGN/PCGN system, described below. It is used for Cambodian geographical names in some recent maps and gazetteers, although the Geographic Department's modified system (see below) has come into use in the country since 1995.[1] Correspondences in the UNGEGN system are detailed in the Khmer alphasyllabary article.

Geographic Department edit

The Geographic Department of the Cambodian Ministry of Land Management and Urban Planning has developed a modified version of the UNGEGN system,[2] originally put forward in 1995, and used in the second edition of the Gazetteer of Cambodia in 1996. Further modifications were made in 1997, and the system continues to be used in Cambodia.[1]

The main change made in this system compared with the UNGEGN system is that diacritics on vowels are omitted. Some of the vowels are also represented using different letter combinations.


A system used by the United States Board on Geographic Names and the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use, published in 1972. It is based on the modified 1959 Service Géographique Khmer (SGK) system.[3]

ALA-LC Romanization Tables edit

This system (also called Transliteration System for Khmer Script), from the American Library Association and Library of Congress,[4] romanizes Khmer words using the original Indic values of the Khmer letters, which are often different from their modern values. This can obscure the modern Khmer pronunciation, but the system has the advantage of relative simplicity, and facilitates the etymological reconstruction of Sanskrit and Pali loanwords whose pronunciation may be different in modern Khmer. The system is a modification of that proposed by Lewitz (1969), and was developed by Franklin Huffman of Cornell University and Edwin Bonsack of the Library of Congress for the library cataloguing of publications in Khmer.

Example words written in each romanization system edit

English Khmer Pronunciation Romanization
Khmer script អក្សរខ្មែរ [ʔaksɑː kʰmae] 'âksâr khmêr 'aksar khmaer ʿʹaksar khmaer
Cambodia កម្ពុជា [kampuciə] Kâmpŭchéa Kampuchea Kambujā
centre មណ្ឌល [mɔnɗɔl], [mŏənɗɔl] môndôl mondol maṇḍal
brightness ពន្លឺ [pɔnlɨː] pônlœ ponlueu banlȳ
peace សន្តិភាព [sɑntepʰiəp] sântĕphéap santepheap santibhāb
belief ជំនឿ [cumnɨə] chumnœă chumnoea jaṃnẏa
to go ទៅ [təw] tŏu tov dau

Tables of romanization systems edit

This chart shows in full the three main systems for the romanization of Khmer: UNGEGN (or BGN/PCGN), Geographic Department and ALA-LC:

Consonants edit

  1st series   2nd series[note 1]

្ក [k] ka Ka k
្ខ [kʰ] kha Kha kh
្គ [k] Ga Go g
្ឃ [kʰ] Gha Gho gh
្ង [ŋ] Ṅa Ṅo ng
្ច [c] Ca Ca c
្ឆ [cʰ] Cha Cha ch
្ជ [c] Ja Jo j
្ឈ [cʰ] Jha Jho jh
្ញ [ɲ] Ña Ño ñ
្ដ [ɗ] Ṭa Ṭa
្ឋ [tʰ] Ṭha Ṭha ṭh
្ឌ [ɗ] Ḍa Do
្ឍ [tʰ] Ḍha Ḍho ḍh
្ណ [n] Ṇa Ṇa
្ត [t] Ta Ta t
្ថ [tʰ] Tha Tha th
្ទ [t] Da Do d
្ធ [tʰ] Dha Dho dh
្ន [n] Na No n
្ប [ɓ], [p] Pa Pa,Ba[note 2] p
្ផ [pʰ] Pha Pha ph
្ព [p] Ba Bo, po

[Note 2]

្ភ [pʰ] Bha Bho bh
្ម [m] Ma Mo m
្យ [j] Ya Yo y
្រ [r] Ra Ro r
្ល [l] La Lo l
្វ [ʋ] Va Vo v
្ឝ [s] Śa sha ś
្ឞ [s] Ṣa Sha
្ស [s] Sa Sa s
្ហ [h] Ha Ha h
[l] Ḷa La
្អ [ʔ] A A A

Dependent vowels edit

A-series O-series A-series O-series A-series
◌◌ â ô a o a
◌់ á ó a o á
a éa a ea ā
ា់, ័◌ ă , a ea, oa â
ă ak eak à
័យ ăy oăy ai ey ăy
ĕ ĭ e i i
ei i ei i ī
œ̆ œ̆ oe ue
œ œ eu ueu ȳ
ŏ ŭ o u u
o u ou u ū
uo uo ua
aeu eu aeu eu oe
œă œă oea oea ẏa
ie ie ia
é é e e e
ê ê ae eae ae
ai ey ai ey ai
ao ou o
au ŏu au ov au
ុំ om ŭm om um uṃ
âm um am um aṃ
ាំ ăm ŏâm am oam āṃ
ាំង ăng eăng ang eang āṃng
ăh eăh ah eah aḥ
ិះ ĕh ĭh eh is iḥ
ឹះ œ̆h œ̆h oeh ueh ẏḥ
ុះ ŏh ŭh oh uh uḥ
េះ éh éh eh eh eḥ
ើះ aeuh euh aeuh euh oeḥ
ែះ êh êh aeh eaeh aeḥ
ោះ aôh ŏăh aoh uoh oaḥ

Independent vowels edit

â a a
អា a a ā
ĕ e i
ei ei ī
ŏ, ŭ o, u u
o, u ou, u ū
âu au ýu
rœ̆ rue
lœ̆ lue
ê ae ae
ai ai ai
ឱ, ឲ ao o
au au au

International Phonetic Alphabet transcription edit

Various authors have used systems based on the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to transcribe Khmer. One such system is used in the books of Franklin E. Huffman and others;[5] a more recent scheme is that used in J.M. Filippi's 2004 textbook Everyday Khmer or Khmer au quotidien.[6] These systems differ in certain respects: for example, Huffman's uses doubling of vowel symbols to indicate long vowels, whereas Filippi's uses the IPA triangular colon vowel length symbol.

Notes edit

  1. ^ Khmer consonants belong to two classes that dictate the value of dependent vowels.
  2. ^ When accompanied by a subscript form, it is romanized as p in the 1st series, although the Khmer diacritical mark is generally omitted: ប្លែងplaeng, ប្អូនp'oun, ប្រាប់prab.

References edit

  1. ^ a b Report on the Current Status of United Nations Romanization Systems for Geographical Names – Khmer, UNGEGN Working Group on Romanization Systems, September 2013 (linked from WGRS website).
  2. ^ Geographical Names of the Kingdom of Cambodia, submitted by Cambodia to the 8th UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, 2002 (also addendum with corrections).
  3. ^ Romanization System for Khmer (Cambodian), BGN/PCGN 1972 System.
  4. ^ ALA-LC Romanization Tables, Khmer, rev. 2012.
  5. ^ For example, Franklin E. Huffman, Cambodian System of Writing and Beginning Reader with Drills and Glossary, Adam Wood, 1970 (downloadable PDF).
  6. ^ Jean Michel Filippi, Everyday Khmer, Funan, Phnom Penh , 2004. French edition: Filippi et al., Khmer au quotidien, Librairie You-Feng, 2008.

External links to romanization tables edit