Departmental Bulletin Paper <Articles>The Establishment of the National Language in Twentieth-Century Cambodia: Debates on Orthography and Coinage

Sasagawa, Hideo

4 ( 1 )  , pp.43 - 72 , 2015-04 , Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University
This paper explores the process in which an ethnic Khmer language became the national one in Cambodia, through a discussion of activities and debates concerned with orthography and coinage of the modern vocabulary. The committee for editing a Khmer dictionary established in 1915 consisted of both members who insisted on an etymological style of orthography and those who favored a phonemic style. A Buddhist monk Chuon Nath took the initiative from 1926 on and published the first Khmer-language dictionary in 1938. After the perfection of orthography based on an etymological style in the dictionary, the “Cultural Committee” began to create new vocabularies in 1947. Here again Chuon Nath assumed leadership with his best friend Huot Tat. The Cultural Committee rejected Sanskrit-originated words created in Siam and preferred the Pali language as elements of the modern vocabulary. Keng Vannsak objected strongly to these activities and claimed that the Khmer language had to exclude as many Sanskrit/Pali-originated words as possible in order to expand primary education. In 1967 the National Assembly recognized Khmer as the teaching language in schools, and a new educational magazine Khemarayeanakam [Khmerization] was launched. In the process of editing this magazine, the followers of Keng Vannsak presented another way of coinage that they alleged was much easier, and advocated a new orthography. Even after the civil war, their new orthography continued to be used in education and media. In 2009, however, orthography recurred to the dictionary. Through a study of the vicissitudes of language policies, we can understand the formation and development of Cambodian cultural nationalism. By the early 1960s, Buddhist monks were attempting to differentiate Cambodian modern vocabulary from Thai. Thereafter advocates of Khmerization, who no longer learned the Thai language, aimed at the “purification” and “simplification” of the Khmer language.

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