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Cham Inscription at Po Nagar Temple
Diglossia and Standardization of written Eastern Cham
Origins and Development of the Cham Script
Social Status of the Cham Script


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Writing systems that use this script (2)

  • This inscription is from Po Nagar temple, Vietnam, dated to the year 965 AD. It is now housed in the National Museum of Vietnamese History. The full inscription (of which this is only a part) says, "In circa 703-706 Caka-Cham calendar (781-784 CE), King Satyavarman erected a linga to Shiva and made his nephew King Vikrantavarman.
    In 887 Caka-Cham calendar (965 CE), King Jaya Indravarman I erected the new statue of the deity Bhagavti (Uma) in stone to replace the missing one that was made in 840 (918 CE) in gold."

    Source wikimedia
    CopyrightNot indicated
    LicenseCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Allows modification and redistribution
    ContributorSteph Holloway
  • Eastern Cham speakers, as well as being bilingual in Vietnamese, use two varieties of Eastern Cham; a High (H) and a Low (L) variety. These exhibit significant phonological differences. L is used on colloquial contexts, and is not regarded by speakers as having high status. it is not normally written. H mostly exists in written form, as well as being used in religious or formal ceremonies. A large (relative to the size of the community) body of literature exists written in Eastern Cham H, mostly comprised of stone inscriptions, religious texts and epics. Because not all speakers achieve full competence in H, a variety of syntactic and phonological forms have been codified over the years. The Committee for the Standardization of the Cham Script was created in the late 1970s to standardize the script. Since that time, the Committee has proposed a number of changes to Cham orthography, which have met with varying degrees of acceptance.


    Diglossia, Bilingualism, and the Revitalization of Written Eastern Cham. Marc Brunelle. University of Ottawa 2008. hosted at

    ContributorScriptSource Staff
  • The Cham script is Indic in origin, the result of contact between Indian traders, warriors and priests, and the Kingdom of Champa, which controlled parts of Vietnam from the 2nd century until 1832. Once a large and powerful empire, the Cham Kingdom came under increasing attack from Vietnamese, Khmer and Mongol forces, until all but one principality had been annexed to Vietnam or Cambodia.

    As a result, large numbers of Cham began migrating to Cambodia about 500 years ago, and in the intervening period both the language and the script diverged. Eastern Cham (spoken in Vietnam) is written in a more rounded script, whereas Western Cham (spoken in Cambodia) uses more angular letters.

    Most surviving manuscripts related to religious practices, myths and legends, and epic poems. The script was also - and to some extent continues to be - widely used for inscribing magical formulae on amulets. It is suggested that the script may once have performed more mundane functions also, although no such texts exist any longer.

    Traditionally, boys were taught the script by rote from about twelve years of age. The Cham zodiac was taught alongside the script. Despite Cham society being matriarchal from the 7th to the 15th centuries, girls were generally illiterate.

    In both Cambodia and Vietnam the script is seen as a significant part of Cham cultural identity, and knowledge of Cham writing carries considerable prestige. However, by the mid 20th century it was not being widely used for any practical purposes.

    In the 1970s the Vietnamese government launched a project to allow minority language education at the preschool / primary level. By this time however, young people's knowledge of Cham was declining, and in addition, spoken Cham language had diverged so significantly from the language used in traditional texts that study of the script was hampered. The Committee for the Standardization of the Cham Script was created in 1978 to standardize the script.

    In 1990 a new set of Cham primers was produced which included some reforms to the script so that it better represented modern spoken Cham. For example, sounds which had been underrepresented (the same letter was used to represent more than one sound), were represented more accurately by modifying some letters. Spelling conventions were also modified to mirror speech more closely.

    Further changes to the script have been proposed since the 1990s, although these have not yet been as widely accepted by more traditional groups in the user community.


    Doris Blood, The ascendancy of the Cham script: how a literacy workshop became the catalyst. 2008. in International Journal of the Sociology of Language 192 p45-55 (c) Walter de Gruyter

    CopyrightWalter de Gruyter
    ContributorScriptSource Staff
  • Young Cham speakers are educated primarily in either Vietnamese or Cambodian, and as a result the Cham language is changing quickly. More and more loan words are being integrated into colloquial Cham vocabulary, with the effect that the spoken language has departed from the language used in many older Cham texts. In turn, interest in Cham literacy, and therefore Cham literacy itself, was declining until the 1970s.

    Since that time there has been a resurgence in interest in the script, primarily as a consequence of a government-approved minority literacy program, which led to the Cham script being used in primary education. This came about at the request of the people, who actively campaigned for the language to be taught in the Cham script rather than a roman transcription. Young people in particular demonstrated a renewed interest in learning the script, although adult literacy classes also took place. Both boys and girls are now being educated in the script. Recent reforms to the script, intended to facilitate education, have led to bitter disputes within the Cham community as to the role of the script.

    The script has religious significance both among the (predominantly) Hindu Cham population in Vietnam, and the Muslim population in Cambodia. Priests from either religion are presumed to be literate in the script. One of the major religious uses of the script today is the inscription of sacred formulae on amulets worn by both Hindu and Muslim Cham.

    In addition, the script has traditionally performed a storytelling function. Many homes still pass down stories written in the traditional script from generation to generation. The history of the Cham Kingdom was also documented, allowing modern-day scholars to study the subject. In 1977 Pierre-Bernard Lafont, a linguist who spent many years studying the Cham language, compiled a bibliography of manuscripts written in the Cham script, consisting of over 250 pages.

    Although the script is highly respected, the issue of revitalization vs. preservation is hotly contested by speakers of the language, which somewhat hampers efforts to establish and propagate a standardized version which everyone is willing and able to use. As a result, in practical terms, the script can be said to be in a somewhat unstable position.


    1. Doris Blood, The ascendancy of the Cham script: how a literacy workshop became the catalyst. (2008). in International Journal of the Sociology of Language 192 p45-55. (c) Walter de Gruyter 2. Marc Brunelle, Diglossia, Bilingualism and the Revitalizatio

    ContributorScriptSource Staff



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