Paul Sidwell, Project Director
Doug Cooper, Co-Director
Long before the rise of the great Funan, Dvaravati, and Angkor empires, Mon-Khmer languages were the lingua franca of mainland Southeast Asia.  They are as key to interpreting Asia’s cultural, political, and economic history as Greek, Latin or Gothic are to understanding Europe, both in their own right, and for their influence on and by the neighboring Sino-Tibetan, Austronesian, and Tai-Kadai language families.

Today, nearly 150 Mon-Khmer languages are still spoken in a vast region that stretches from India to China, and covers Burma, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Vietnam.  They include the national languages Khmer and Vietnamese, and the official state languages Wa and Mon in Burma, and Khasi in India.  Elsewhere, many Mon-Khmer languages are highly endangered, found only in isolated commun­ities.  But wherever they are found, Mon-Khmer speakers are separated by modern political divisions, and know little of their shared linguistic and cultural histories.
Supported by an initial NEH grant (2007-2009), the Mon-Khmer Languages Project uses modern comparative analysis and proto-language reconstruction to link a century of painstakingly gathered data, join them to innovative on-line search tools, and make the results accessible for research, reference and education.  Assisted by leading scholars in the U.S., England, Germany, Australia, France, Singapore and Thailand, the project has already established its basic digital infrastructure at, where it benefits historians, anthropologists, linguists, epigraphers, and lexicographers world-wide.
the Mon-Khmer languages database makes language reference materials freely available.  We have compiled datasets for each of a dozen major Mon-Khmer branch divisions, and now seek funds to provide at least one lexical dataset for all of the more than thirty MK sub-branches.

the Mon-Khmer etymological dictionary puts the data in historical context.  We have built its backbone with etyma from the Mon-Khmer Comparative Dictionary (Shorto 2006), and now seek support to extend the backbone, adding datasets for established branch/sub-branch reconstructions.

the Mon-Khmer languages website supports collaborative Mon-Khmer language research, and dissemin­ates language data.  We seek funds to develop new knowledge as we tackle the remain­ing branch-level reconstructions, and to create inno­vative teaching screencasts that use our tools.
The project has led the field’s revitalization, assisted by unprecedented collaboration and resource-sharing by our colleagues worldwide.  Our contribution to education, research, and the humanities continues to grow as we approach our goal of fully documenting the Mon-Khmer languages:

NEH, NSF, and others support extensive programs for documenting endangered languages.  Mon-Khmer Languages Project data aid researchers studying all of the region’s many hundreds of individual languages, and its five major language families.
analysis of modern SEA languages is weak; even the most formal works rarely go beyond citations of Pali and Sanskrit word origins.  The MKL project makes a major contribution to modern references for Thai, Khmer, Vietnamese, and other languages.
thousands of Mon, Khmer, Tai, Burmese, and Cham inscriptions, dating back to the 4th century, provide a first-hand account of Southeast Asia’s classical era.  The MKL project dramatically improves our ability to accurately interpret epigraphic texts.

a complete picture of the Mon-Khmer languages can help answer longstanding questions about human language everywhere; for example, development of breathy or creaky voice registers in Africa, and their relationship to tonogenesis – tone distinctions – in Asia.
the imprint of language on language does not lie; it is far more reliable than founding myths and chronicles written centuries after the fact.  The MKL project helps reveal ancient patterns of human migration and cultural contact in this crossroads region.
education and Southeast Asian studies in the U.S. MKL project data is being integrated into the US/ED-funded SEAlang Library project, providing basic resources needed for teaching, research, and collaboration among the eight Title VI-funded Southeast Asia National Resource Centers.