Khmer (Cambodian)

illustrations langue khmer - danseuses
illustration langue khmer‎

Discovering the language

The teaching of Khmer (or Cambodian) in France began in 1908 at the École nationale des langues orientales. Khmer - spoken by some twenty million people - a member of the Austroasiatic language family (which also includes môn and vietnamese), is the official language of Cambodia, a member of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and the mother tongue of around 90% of the population. There are also large Khmer-speaking minorities in Thailand, in the provinces bordering Cambodia, and in southern Vietnam as far as the mouth of the Mekong delta; as well as a Khmer diaspora in Europe, mainly in France, North America (Canada and especially the USA), Australia and New Zealand, following the Khmer Rouge regime.

Currently taught within Inalco's Southeast Asia and Pacific Department, this language, written since at least the VIth century AD, has been enriched by sanskrit and pāli, languages of high culture, as well as by other geographically neighboring languages (Siamese, Vietnamese, but also borrowings from southern Chinese dialects, even from malais or perhaps even cham, before being impacted by French and now English). Khmer also influenced the languages of neighboring Thai countries - it greatly enriched Siamese, for example, and much lao - and the Khmer empire created a common cultural area covering present-day Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and southern Vietnam (the Mekong delta having been Khmer territory long before the beginnings of history, and large indigenous Khmer communities are still present there). In addition to Thailand and Laos, Cambodia, which has a predominantly Theravādine obedience, also shares a common religious area - beyond quite marked local particularisms - with Burma, southern Yunnan in China and Sri Lanka. From an even broader point of view, it is part of Indianized Southeast Asia, both peninsular and insular (the current Malay-Indonesian world for the insular part).

In France, Khmer is one of the optional (written or oral) or compulsory (written only) tests offered at the baccalauréat in the "langues vivantes étrangères et régionales" category, as well as at the BTS. It can also be presented as optional test as a third language in the competitive examination for secretary of foreign affairs (cadre d'Orient).

The study of Khmer, sanctioned by school diplomas or a European bachelor's degree, a Master 1 or Master 2 (with the possibility of pursuing a doctorate at Inalco), can be combined with several other fields of study. The Master's degree can be validated at Inalco - Paris or in Phnom Penh for the delocalized course at the Faculty of Archaeology of the Royal University of Fine Arts as part of a French-speaking curriculum aimed at students of Cambodian nationality or from Southeast Asian countries taking part in this program (see "Formation Khmer année 2016-2017" and "Partenaires et mobilité" below).
To name a few of the more "traditional" fields of study or research on Cambodia or Khmer culture:
- Anthropology and ethnology;
- Literature and oral traditions;
- History, epigraphy and philology (for example, the epigraphy of ancient Cambodia is recognized as a discipline in its own right in France, and an overview of the earlier states of the Khmer language - Pre-Angkorian Khmer, Angkorian Khmer and Middle Khmer - is taught at Master 1 level at Inalco, but the history of the Middle Ages and modern Cambodia is also a field of study of great interest) ;
- Arts, art history, musicology ;
- Religious studies (Cambodia is considered a "conservatory");
- Phonology, historical phonetics and phonetics;
- Linguistics (e.g. evolution of the modern language, study of regional languages within the country and across borders, since beyond the dialectal differences that may be marked, there is inter-comprehension with the central languages considered as standard).

Given the reciprocal linguistic and cultural influences over the centuries between Khmer, on the one hand, and Siamese (Thai) and lao, on the other (Siamese vocabulary includes a few thousand borrowings from Khmer, just as Khmer borrowed extensively from Siamese), the study of Khmer is of great interest to students or speakers of Siamese (Thai) and lao who wish to deepen their knowledge of their respective languages. The study of siamese also sheds light on the understanding of the Khmer language, having borrowed terms now fallen into disuse in Khmer itself.

Training courses

Masters I and II LLCER in Paris, Asia & Pacific pathway
Master I LLCER relocated to Phnom Penh, Asia & Pacific pathway, French-speaking curriculum for Cambodian students and students from other Southeast Asian countries taking part in the program

Brochure Licence LLCER Khmer 2023-2024 (6.72 MB, .pdf)

Brochure Tempo Khmer 2023-2024 (1.87 MB, .pdf)

Brochure diplôme d'établissement (DE) Khmer 2023-2024 (2.84 MB, .pdf)

Brochure diplôme de langue et passeport Khmer 2023-2024 (2.57 MB, .pdf)

Partnerships and mobility

  • Inalco has scientific and educational cooperation agreements with the Université royale des Beaux-Arts (សាកលវិទ្យាល័យភូមិន្ទវិចិត្រសិល្បៈ) (URBA) and with the Royal University of Phnom Penh (សាកលវិទ្យាល័យភូមិន្ទភ្នំពេញ) (URPP).
  • As part of the Manusastra project (គម្រោងមនុស្សសាស្ត្រ) and in partnership with the Royal University of Fine Arts, it is also possible for students in Inalco's Cambodian section to travel to the Cambodian capital, at the Université des Moussons, at the end of their second year of undergraduate studies, during the summer vacations, to attend courses in the humanities given to Cambodian students from URBA's Faculty of Archaeology, and also to Laotian students from the University of Laos (partnerships are also being set up with Vietnam and Thailand). These courses in French (with explanations and tutoring in Khmer for the Cambodian public) offer multi-disciplinary theoretical and methodological instruction in the humanities. They can be included in INALCO's course offerings as free UEs, or be the subject of equivalence with certain Inalco civilization courses.
  • On the other hand, the Centre d'Études khmères (មជ្ឈមណ្ឌលខេមរសិក្សា, Center for Khmer Studies - CKS), based in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, offers, in partnership with Inalco, junior summer scholarships (for French students under 25) and research scholarships for doctoral and post-doctoral students in Khmer studies (French researchers as well as European Union citizens integrated into the French university system).


In Europe, modern Khmer courses were previously offered at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London as well as at the University of Cologne. There was also an irregular offer of Khmer courses at the Humboldt University of Berlin, as well as an initiation at the L'Orientale University of Naples. Inalco is currently the only higher education institution offering Khmer courses at European level.


- Association d'échanges et de formation pour les études khmères : AEFEK ;
- Association des étudiants de la section de cambodgien de l'Inalco (AESCI) : e-mail contact AESCI ;
- Association Péninsule : Interdisciplinary Studies on Peninsular Southeast Asia.

Quelques mots en khmer / Bonze et écoliers khmers © Michel Antelme / Je suis Charlie khmer © Michel Antelme‎