Khmenglish

This blog inevitably contains some Khmer. It will also contain attempts at romanising the Khmer into an intelligible transcription for English readers and speakers; there will also be some of the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) thrown into the mix.

However, doing this is actually quite hard. There are different methods and systems to romanise or to transcribe into IPA. Each has their positives and drawbacks. Each are accurate in some aspects but fail in others. With any linguistic method, you can pick them apart until the cows come home. And I ain’t got no time for that. So I have decided on two methods to make my life simpler and my posts more consistent. (Earlier posts might be a shambolic mess of anything-goes, but from January 2019 onwards, I’m going to commit to using the same methods throughout. Call it a New Years Resolution, if you will.)

The method I’ve chosen for romanising the Khmer alphabet is somewhat arbitrarily the Geographic Department of the Cambodian Ministry of Land Management and Urban Planning’s system. It sounds just as exciting as it is. This particular method is beneficial as the vowels don’t have accents or dots or squiggles or anything. The only downside is that it compensates by sometimes having a bizarrely long string of vowels. However, when using it transliterate songs or other words, it sort of works, especially if you are able to hear the words being said/sung as well.

Again, there is a wide range of IPA systems available, some of them basic and some of them more complex and full. Again, I’ve found things I don’t quite agree with for each. I mostly use Wikipedia’s system, which I believe is taken from Franklin Huffman’s research. However, I won’t always use the dental markers on the consonants or indicate the vowel length unless necessary. It just takes too long, and this blog is not meant as a rigorous teaching resource.

Sometimes, I will deviate from the system if I know it won’t aid in understanding or pronunciation (for example, I won’t tend to transcribe a final įžš and I will change a final įžŸ to ‘h’ rather than ‘s’ at the end of words). I will make mistakes; I’m only an amateur linguist and language learner. Please be patient. I made certain choices for ease, some for accuracy and some for consistency. Whatever reason I do it, the way I transcribe or transliterate the words is not a hill I am prepared to die on.

Transcribing songs

Everyone loves a good sing-song, especially in a language you barely understand.

Khmer have this lovely but frustrating habit of throwing nasal sounds (n, ng, nh, m) into their songs.

(The reason for this is that it is more important to preserve the vowel length of a syllable than the syllable coda. Therefore, if a syllable with a short vowel has to be sustained due to the length of the note, rather than change the vowel length as we would in English, the syllable coda will change to a sustained nasal consonant.)

I could try and write these nasal consonants in song transcriptions, to help you learn the words and sound Khmer when singing. However, the systems I use is mainly to make my life easier, not yours. So, tough luck, really.