90% of its population is of Khmer origin and speaks the Khmer language, the country’s official language. The remainder include Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham and Khmer Loeu.
The Khmer language is a member of the Mon-Khmer subfamily of the Austroasiatic language group. French, once the language of government in Indochina, is still spoken by some older Cambodians. French is also the language of instruction in some schools and universities that are funded by the government of France. Cambodian French, a remnant of the country’s colonial past, is a dialect found in Cambodia and is sometimes used in government.
However, in recent decades, many younger Cambodians and those in the business-class have favoured learning English. In the major cities and tourist centers, English is widely spoken and taught at a large number of schools because of the overwhelming number of tourists from English-speaking countries. Even in the most rural outposts, most young people speak at least some English, as it is often taught by monks at the local pagodas where many children are educated.
The official Cambodian language, known in English as Khmer, belongs to the Eastern Mon-Khmer group of the Mon-Khmer language family. Employing a script which (like Thai and Burmese) is believed to have evolved from southern Indian Brahmi, Khmer is one of the few non-tonal languages in South East Asia. Centuries of close contact between Thailand and Cambodia has resulted in a considerable amount of borrowing between the two languages, both at the lexical and syntactical levels.
As in neighbouring Viet Nam and Laos, French and Vietnamese are still spoken by members of the older generation, but the use of English is rapidly becoming widespread throughout the country and is expected to increase because it is the language employed within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).