Jarai language



Jarai (also spelled as Jrai, Cho-Rai, Chor, Djarai, Chrai, Gia Rai, Gio Rai, Jörai, and Mthur) is a Chamic language in the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family (Ethnologue). Jarai is spoken by approximately 318,000 Jarai people, predominantly in the Highlands Gia Lai province of Vietnam. It is also spoken by about 20,000 people in Cambodia, by over 3,000 people in the U.S. and Canada, and by a few small Jarai communities in Europe. Jarai’s closest relatives are Chru, and several varieties of Roglai, which are spoken primarily in Vietnam, but also in the United States.



It is difficult to find reliable data about the status of Jarai, particularly in Vietnam. However, it seems that it was taught in at least some primary schools in the Central Highlands of Vietnam until many minority language programs were eliminated in the 1990s. Presently, very few schools teach the Jarai language. Although most Jarai children in Vietnam and Cambodia are able to speak the language, many are unable to read and write it effectively. Jarai is used for daily conversation as well as social, political, and religious events. Jarai Christians use the Jarai language in increasing numbers since they are encouraged to read, write, sing, and pray in the Jarai language. As more and more Jarai are intermarrying with the Rade and Bahnar, the Jarai language is being increasingly used by these ethnic groups as well. The Jarai language spoken in North America is in danger of disappearing in the future, since Jarai children are learning English, rather than Jarai.



There are several main regional dialects of Jarai. Some of them may have significant overlap, and there may be dialects that have not yet been identified.

  • Tơbuan
  • Cheo Reo
  • Hơdrung
  • Arap
  • Hơbâu
  • Sesan
  • Chuty
  • Pleikly
  • Gơlar
  • Hroi

In general, the further apart two dialects are separated geographically, the more difficult it is for speakers of those dialects to understand each other. Some vocabulary differences are relatively small: for example, the Cheo Reo dialect uses the term rơmô ‘cow’, whereas the Hơdrung dialect uses the term for ‘cow’. Other vocabulary differences are more significant, even within a single dialect: in the Cheo Reo dialect, Buôn Anu village uses the term ung ‘husband’, while ‘husband’ in Plơi Rơngôl is rơkơi.




Sound system

Like most other western Austronesian languages, Jarai does not have tones. However, other features of Jarai are not so typical, e.g., its strong ultimate stress, relatively large vowel inventory, and 4-way distinction among stops, all distinguish it from most other western Austronesian languages. The following overview is based on Jarai as it is spoken in Gia Lai province of Vietnam.



Jarai has nine vowel phonemes, i.e. sounds that distinguish word meaning. Some vowels are distinguished for length in stressed syllables. However, long and short vowels are often undifferentiated in rapid speech.

  • /ɛ/ = e in bed
  • /ə/ = a in tuna
  • /ɯ / = has no equivalent in English
  • /ɔ/ = o in bog. It is only slightly rounded, and sometimes might have no rounding at all.



Jarai has 25 consonant phonemes, as shown below. There are no consonant clusters.

Stops voiceless plain
voiceless aspirated
voiced plain
voiced glottalized
Fricatives voiceless
Affricates voiceless
  • /ʔ/ = sound between the syllables in uh-o
  • /pʰ, tʰ, kʰ/ = aspirated stops produced with a puff of air upon release, e.g., English port
  • /ˀb, ˀd/ = have no equivalent in English; they are produced with a partial closure of the glottis (vocal cords) during articulation of these sounds. In Jarai, /ˀb/ and /ˀd/ are sometimes analyzed as implosives.
  • /ˀdʲ/ has no equivalent in English

Stress & word shape

Jarai words typically consist of one or two syllables. For all two-syllable words except compounds, stress falls on the final syllable, and the first syllable is very weak. In fact, the vowel in the first syllable of a disyllabic word never by itself distinguishes that word from another. Two-syllable compound words have strong stress on both syllables.


Voice quality effects

Jarai has two modal voice effects: normal voice, and breathy voice which is often accompanied by lower pitch. Jarai’s plain voiced stops /b/, /d/, and /g/ cause the following vowel to be breathy-voiced, and it is possible that sonorants such as /m/ may as well.



Like other languages on the Southeast Asian mainland, Jarai is strongly isolating, with no inflectional morphology such as tense or aspect, markers on verbs or plural markers on nouns which are usually indicated by independent words or inferred from context. There is very little derivational morphology.



  • Nouns are not inflected for case or number. To indicate the plural form of a noun, separate quantifiers are placed before the noun.
  • Each noun is part of a noun class. A noun’s class is not indicated by its morphology but instead by the classifier preceding it when it is modified by a numeral.
  • Possession is indicated by a possessor noun phrase or pronoun following the possessed noun, as in sang H’Bia ‘H’bia’s house’ (sang ‘house’; H’Bia is a Jarai female name) or čing ama kâo ‘my father’s gong’ (čing ‘gong’; ama ‘father’; kâo ‘me, I, my’). Notice that the possessor noun phrase or pronoun do not have a special form as they do in English, which uses ‘s to indicate possession.
  • Noun phrases have the following structure:


Possessive noun phrase
Head noun
abih ‘all’ dua ‘two’ appropriate for the particular noun class marks the general noun class to which the specific noun belongs, e.g., boh ‘fruit’ adjective or relative clause e.g., father’s marker of relative distance of the noun from the speaker or hearer

Of these elements, only the noun is obligatory.



  • Personal pronouns are marked for person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and number (singular, plural):

1st person

2nd person

3rd person


kâo ih ñu


gơmơi [excl]
(ƀing) ta [incl]
(ƀing) gih (ƀing) gơñu
  • 1st person plural pronouns in Jarai distinguish between inclusive and exclusive. The inclusive form (ƀing) ta includes the addressee, while the exclusive form gomoi does not.
  • The 3rd person singular pronoun does not have gender distinction, i.e., between he and she, nor does it distinguish between human and non-human. The 3rd person singular is seldom used to refer to animals or material objects.
  • There are three demonstrative pronouns, indicating proximity to the speaker: proximal anai ‘this’, medial anŭn ‘that (nearby)’, and distal adih ‘that (yonder)’.



  • Verbs are not inflected. Tense can be inferred from context, be indicated by a separate word, or by stating the time when something happened or will happen. Aspect can be indicated with a separate word.
  • Although there are some terms that can be used to indicate past, present, or future tenses, Jarai speakers rarely use them.
  • Jarai uses the word glak (or hlak in some dialects) for progressive aspect.
  • Jarai has a causative prefix pơ-, as in pơčem ‘feed’ (from ‘cause’ + čem ‘eat’).
  • Some dialects in Jarai have a reciprocal prefix pơrơ-, as in pơrơčŭm ‘kiss each other’ (from pơrơ- ‘each other’ + čŭm ‘kiss’). Some verbs can be changed to nouns by adding the nominalizer tơlơi, as in tơlơi adôh ‘song’ (adôh means ‘sing’).


Word Order

Word order in Jarai is Subject-Verb-Object. The order of core constituents is relatively fixed. Variation in the order generally signals a pragmatic intention such as topic or focus.



Much of Jarai’s vocabulary is inherited from Austronesian, with borrowings from Vietnamese, French, English, and other Austronesian languages. Jarai contacts with surrounding ethnolinguistic groups speaking various Tai and Mon-Khmer languages have also resulted in borrowing of grammatical features and lexical items into the language. Here are some examples of borrowed words in Jarai:

Borrowed from
karawat ‘tie’ French cravate ‘tie’
yu ‘parachute’ Vietnamese ‘parachute’
pơrmĭt ‘permit’ (used in the U.S.) English permit (as in learner’s permit)


Below are a few basic words and sentences in Jarai.

Hello Kơkuh!; Hê!
Goodbye Nao hiam ‘go well’ (said to the person who is leaving)
Dô̆ hiam ‘stay well’ (said to the person who is staying)
Thank you Bơni
Please Rơkâo kơ ih
How are you? Ih hiam drơi jan mơ̆?
I am fine. Kâo hiam drơi jan mơ̆n.
Yes Ơ; Ư
No Ơ-ơh
Mother Amĭ
Father Ama
Parents Amĭ ama


Below are the numerals 1-10 in Jarai.




Prior to the 1920s when the French introduced the current Jarai orthography, the language was not written. Jarai language materials were mostly written in Jarai and French to teach primary school students to learn both languages.

The first dictionary in the Jarai language was written by R. Nicolle, published in 1940. In the 1960s and 1970s, most of the Jarai language materials were written by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics in cooperation with the Ministry of Ethnic Minorities in the Republic of South Vietnam. Subsequently, bilingual Jarai-Vietnamese materials have been written by Jarai educators working with the current Vietnamese government.

Jarai is written with an adapted version of the Latin script. The alphabet contains 40 letters. The script is written from left to right in horizontal lines. There is a relatively close correspondence between spelling and pronounciation. Although there are some disagreements on the presentation of the Jarai alphabet, the alphabet below has been used by various linguists and by Jarai writers.

Aa Ăă Ââ Bb Ƀƀ Čč Dd Đđ Ee Ĕĕ Êê Ê̆ê Gg Hh Ii
Ĭĭ Jj DJdj Kk Ll Mm Nn Ññ NGng Oo Ŏŏ Ôô Ô̆ô Ơơ Ơ̆ơ
Pp Rr Ss Tt Uu Uu Ŭŭ Ưư Ư̆ư Ww Yy


Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Jarai:

Atŭt 1
Abih bang mơnuih-mơnam tơkeng rai rơngai laih anŭn mơdơ̆-mơđơr amăng tơlơi pơpŭ-pơyôm hăng tơlơi dưi. Ƀing gơñu tŭ hơmâo tơlơi pơmĭn hăng tơlơi thâo djơ̆-glaĭ laih anŭn brơi ngă kơ tơdruă amăng tơlơi khăp ayŏng adơi.
Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.



Language Difficulty

questionHow difficult is it to learn Jarai?
There is no data on the difficulty of Jarai for speakers of English.