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Khmer is a non-tonal language; pitch level is not phonemic. This article explains how tones, or pitch contrast, develop in Modern Khmer, especially Khmer as spoken in Phnom Penh. At one stage Khmer was a language with phonation contrast. Later the vowel contrast developed and when the phonation was lost, the vowel became phonemic resulting in a complicated vowel system as seen in Modern Khmer. However, sound change in Modern Khmer is in progress, especially Khmer as spoken in Phnom Penh. Khmer as spoken in Phnom Penh is undergoing sound change; the loss of /r/ takes place in consonant clusters containing /r/ and this loss causes many homophones, so the vowel contrast does not distinguish meaning in some words. Tonal contrast is developing to compensate for the vowel contrast in order to distinguish the meaning. Tones development in Modern Khmer supports a French linguist’s hypothesis, Haudricourt (cited in Errinton, 1976: 170), who hypothesized that Khmer is developing into a tonal language. At the moment, there is 1 pitch contrast in Khmer as spoken in Phnom Penh; it is falling-rising.
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