In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mon-Khmer Languages

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Classification
  • Historical Linguistics
  • Semantics
  • Sociolinguistics and Language Planning

Linguistics Mon-Khmer Languages
Jan-Olof Svantesson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0127


The Mon-Khmer languages are spoken over a large scattered area in Mainland Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Malaysia); southwestern China; and the eastern part of India and the Nicobar Islands. The total number of languages is about 140 and the total number of speakers is over one hundred million, but most Mon-Khmer languages have rather few speakers, and many are endangered. The two national languages, Vietnamese with over eighty million speakers and Khmer (Cambodian) with almost fifteen million speakers, are numerically heavily dominant, comprising more than nine-tenths of all Mon-Khmer speakers. The term “Mon-Khmer languages” has been used in different ways by different authors. All agree that Mon-Khmer is a part of the Austroasiatic language family, but there are different views about how Austroasiatic should be classified and the extent and place of Mon-Khmer within it. Here, “Mon-Khmer languages” is taken to mean those Austroasiatic languages that do not belong to the Munda branch (see separate Oxford Bibliographies ArticleMunda Languages”). Some researchers do not include the Aslian and Nicobarese Languages in Mon-Khmer, and there is also disagreement whether or not Mon-Khmer is a primary branch of Austroasiatic (see Classification). Only three Mon-Khmer languages have a long written tradition: Khmer (Cambodian), Mon (a minority language in Myanmar and Thailand), and Vietnamese. Most of them are still unwritten, or at least lack a generally used script.

General Overviews

Huffman 1986 is a bibliography that lists almost all literature about Mon-Khmer languages before 1983. The early 21st century Handbook of Austroasiatic languages (Jenny and Sidwell 2015) is the most up to date and complete overview of the Mon-Khmer languages. The journal Mon-Khmer Studies devotes most of its contents to articles about Mon-Khmer languages and often contains bibliographies of different branches of Mon-Khmer. The collections Papers from the annual meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society regularly contain works on Mon-Khmer languages. Papers from the first sixteen conferences (1991–2006) were published as proceeding volumes, and after that they appeared in the Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society. The book series Pacific Linguistics from the Australian National University in Canberra includes many books dealing with Mon-Khmer and other Southeast Asian languages. SEALANG and RWAAI are two websites that contain useful and important material about Mon-Khmer languages.

  • Huffman, Franklin E. 1986. Bibliography and index of Mainland Southeast Asian languages and linguistics. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    A virtually complete and easy to use bibliography of Mon-Khmer languages up to about 1983. In spite of its title it includes Nicobarese, Khasian, and Munda. It also indexes reviews and many unpublished conference papers.

  • Jenny, Mathias, and Paul Sidwell, eds. 2015. The handbook of Austroasiatic languages. 2 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Consists of three long introductory chapters dealing with typology, Classification, and historical reconstruction; an overview of Munda; and twenty-one Grammar sketches covering all Mon-Khmer branches.

  • Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society. 2009–.

    Continuing the Papers from the annual meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, JSEALS mainly contains papers from the annual conference of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society, but is also open for other contributions.

  • Mon-Khmer Studies. 1964–.

    This is the only journal devoted primarily to research on Mon-Khmer languages. Since 1992 it has been published by Mahidol University (Thailand) and SIL International (USA).

  • Papers from the annual meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society. 1991–.

    The proceedings of conferences 1–11 (held 1991–2001) were published by Arizona State University, Tempe, and 12–16 (2002–2006) by Pacific Linguistics (Australian National University, Canberra). After that it was superseded by the Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society.

  • RWAAI.

    RWAAI (Repository and Workspace for Austroasiatic Intangible Heritage), maintained by Lund University, provides storage facilities for Austroasiatic materials, parts of which are openly available.


    A collection of projects about Southeast Asian texts and languages, including Southeast Asian Linguistics Archives and the Mon-Khmer languages project.

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