What is the relationship between Khmer, Thai, and Viet languages

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by NickJunior, Oct 26, 2007.

  1. NickJunior Senior Member

    Amérique du Nord
    Dear Linguists,

    What is the relationship (if there is any) between the Khmer (Cambodian), Vietnamese, and Thai or Lao or Mon languages.

    People say that Khmer and Vietnamese belong to same family. However, the two people don't understand each other at all. People also say that the Khmer and the Thai belong to the separate families. Yet, the two people can actually understand some of the words among themselves.

    So what is the deal? Thanks.
  2. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Just a minor note to start with. Mutual intelligibility has little to do with the classification of languages. Armenian and Dutch also belong to the same family, but I doubt if the speakers can understand each other...

    According to ethnologue, Vietnamese, Mon and Khmer belong to the same language family, viz. Austro-Asiatic.
    Thai and Lao belong to a completely different language family, viz. Tai-Kadai.

    This kind of classification makes an abstraction of the influence of other languages over the centuries, possible convergence etc. It's just a classification, nothing more, nothing less :).


  3. Hulalessar

    Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    Thai and Lao are apparently quite close to each other, the language of Isaan (NE Thailand) coming somewhere between. The people of Isaan (at least when speaking English) refer to their language as "Thai-Lao" or even "Lao".
  4. rocky007 New Member

    Hindi, Gujarati
    thanks for the info..
  5. palomnik Senior Member

    Thai borrowed a large number of words from Khmer in the medieval era, along with a lot of cultural traditions - including the writing system - which I understand is the reason for the similarity. Lao is quite similar to Thai, and also apparently borrowed its writing system from Khmer, although it is supposedly simpler than Thai's (I've never studied Lao, but the Thai alphabet, despite being touted as "phonetic", is probably more complicated to read than English, in my opinion).

    Vietnamese, in the other hand, was heavily influenced by Chinese in its vocabulary, and this no doubt caused considerable divergence between Khmer and Vietnamese despite the fact that they are related languages. Chinese might have had an influence on the development of tones in Vietnamese, although the matter is debated and the fact is that the Vietnamese tonal structure is significantly different in nature from Chinese or Thai (Vietnamese has tonal "registers" - the difference may not be obvious but if you try to learn Vietnamese after learning Thai or one of the Chinese dialects it's noticeable). Khmer, of course, has no tones.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2009
  6. thaiduytrinh New Member

    Vietnamese and English
    I am just wondering why Thai and Vietnamese sound so similar? Does Thai have similar tonal system to Vietnamese?
  7. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    Thai and Vietnamese sound similar?
    I've only heard so many times that Vietnamese and Cantonese sound very similar.
  8. palomnik Senior Member

    All three (Vietnamese, Cantonese and Thai) have syllable final unreleased stops, which give them all a sort of "bouncy" sound, kind of like snapping a rubber band (by way of contrast, Mandarin doesn't have syllable final stops, at least not any more).

    Aside from that I don't think that Thai and Vietnamese sound all that similar. Thai tones are a lot more like tones in the Chinese dialects - they rely on tonal contrasts to tell them apart. Vietnamese tones have something approaching an absolute pitch.

    I suppose you could also argue that Vietnamese sounds somewhat like Cantonese, since they both have a wide gap between the highest and lowest tones.

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