Search

Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bilingual education aims to preserve minority tongues

Bilingual education aims to preserve minority tongues

Bilingual education aims to preserve minority tongues

081125_03.jpg
081125_03.jpg

Some of the oldest indigenous languages in Southeast Asia may soon

become relics of the past, but bilingual education programs could

reverse the slide

Photo by:
PHOTO SUPPLIED

Participants at a conference on minority language preservation held at the Royal Academy of Cambodia in Phnom Penh on Monday.

THE languages of Cambodia's indigenous minorities - some numbering no more than a handful of native speakers - are under threat of extinction, prompting government efforts to bolster bilingual education in minority areas.

"A separate language contains the information, ideas, philosophy and beliefs that have been developed by communities for hundreds of years," said Austroasiatic languages professor Gerard Diffloth at a conference on minority language preservation held at the Royal Academy of Cambodia on Monday.

"When a language disappears, it is exactly as if a very special library was burned down, and nothing remains.... It is a disaster for all humanity."

Most of the Kingdom's highland minority languages belong to the Austroasiatic language family, an ancient group of Southeast Asian languages that also includes modern Khmer.

"The other languages - Thai, Burmese, Austronesian - came later," Diffloth said. "This is the original Southeast Asian family of languages."

But he added that some of these historic languages, such as Chuang, Chu-ung and Samre, are no longer being learned by younger generations.

"[The Chuang] language is almost dead already," he said. "Five old ladies remember the way it was when they used to speak it, but it is no longer spoken every day ... [and] none of the children speak it."

Royal Academy President Sorn Samnang said the only way to reverse the tide was to create scripts that allow minority languages to be recorded and easily  passed on to younger generations.

"Indigenous people do not have written languages," he said. "So we have started teaching them how to write what they speak in the Khmer script."

To this end, the Institute of National Language, with support from NGOs and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is conducting bilingual education programs in indigenous communities.

"Learning how to write indigenous minority languages in Khmer ... is a bridge for the indigenous people to continue higher education at public schools," said Iv Chan, director of the Institute.

He added that the programs were operating in Ratanakkiri among the Tampuon, Krung and Prov communities, among the Phnong in Mondulkiri, and among the Kuay populations in Kampong Thom and Preah Vihear.

"Hundreds of minority people have participated in the training," Iv Chan said.

RECOMMENDED STORIES

  • Breaking: PM says prominent human rights NGO ‘must close’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Interior Ministry to investigate the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and potentially close it “because they follow foreigners”, appearing to link the rights group to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's purported “revolution”. The CNRP - the

  • Rainsy and Sokha ‘would already be dead’: PM

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday appeared to suggest he would have assassinated opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the disputed 2013 national elections. In a clip from his speech

  • Massive ceremony at Angkor Wat will show ‘Cambodia not in anarchy’: PM

    Government officials, thousands of monks and Prime Minister Hun Sen himself will hold a massive prayer ceremony at Angkor Wat in early December to highlight the Kingdom’s continuing “peace, independence and political stability”, a spectacle observers said was designed to disguise the deterioration of

  • PM tells workers CNRP is to blame for any sanctions

    In a speech to workers yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen pinned the blame for any damage inflicted on Cambodia’s garment industry by potential economic sanctions squarely on the opposition party. “You must remember clearly that if the purchase orders are reduced, it is all