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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - In defence of French

In defence of French

I don't understand such a harsh attack against French language in Kampuchea (your

paper, February 1993). It reminds me of similar attacks, so frequent in Canada, against

French speaking Quebec. Why are Anglophobes so upset when they hear French spoken

outside France?

To any Khmer reading your paper, the furor of this attack says clearly that they

should speak English, not French: "I love you, brother, but ... speak my language!"

Exactly as so many Canadians say to Quebecers: "We can live together in the

same country, brother, but, speak like me,... think like me!" "Speak white!"

so said that Anglo boss to his French Canadian employee.

If a journalist or tourist is not deaf, it is easy for him to hear French spoken

so fluently by so many Khmers; nearly all the Ministers (and their opponents), the

executives of Public Services, Public works and private Companies; the great majority

of teachers (from University to Primary schools) and public servants; and so many

shopkeepers, cyclo-drivers, etc.

Without any provocation, I have been addressed to in French by so many ladies wishing

to help me in the market while trying to speak Khmer (!) and, for instance, by that

ice-seller, or that cyclo-driver who had seen my smile to a young lady wearing a

lotus leaf as a hat, or that peasant who after worshipping Buddha in one Angkor temple,

suddenly saw me resting in the shade, that judge in Siem Reap wishing to rent me

a room in his guest-house...and so on.

Of course English is a useful mean of communication, and people wishing to travel

or make business in the world should learn it -so is Chinese, or Spanish. Of course,

since UNTAC came, so many children in the streets of Phnom Penh wave their hand to

you saying "Hello". But why would oblige these people to forget the link

they already have with Occident, with Science, with Economics, with Medicine, etc.

When I see these Khmer men and women speaking English with so much difficulty-knowing

already French fluently-just to pleased and be understood by these English speaking

NGO or others who came to "help Cambodian people", I think it should be

the opposite way: people coming to Kampuchea to help are not supposed to add one

difficulty over the others, but should use and develop every resource, every tool

the Khmer people have, one of them being French language.

Do you that even the Russian and the Vietnamese used French, at least partly, to

teach in Kampuchea? Another example: the Russians published in French their handbook

for repairing the Volga cars they sold in Cambodia!

I cannot believe that English speaking people would still be so imperialist!

- Ch. Tillen



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