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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Jarai language at risk as literacy falls in R'kiri communities

Jarai language at risk as literacy falls in R'kiri communities

DYING LANGUAGE

Jarai is an Austronesian language distinct from the Mon-Khmer languages spoken by the Khmer majority and other highland groups in the region. It is distantly related to Bahasa Indonesia, Tagalog and the language of Cambodia's Cham Muslims. 

Lacking qualified teachers and working to help their families survive,

many young Jarai are losing touch with their mother tongue

ETHNIC Jarai community representatives in Ratanakkiri province are concerned that their traditional language may be lost, saying that written literacy in Jarai has declined to the point of extinction amongst local villagers.

Romam Film, a representative from Kong Yu village in O'Yadao district, said all those able to write Jarai had now passed away, adding that the loss of written literacy would make preservation of the spoken dialects more difficult.

"No one in my village can write the Jarai language, and I am very concerned that our language will soon end, even in speech," he said.

 

I am very concerned our language will soon end, even in speech.

The Jarai community in Cambodia - which numbered around 15,000 in the 1998 census - is isolated from the 315,000-odd Jarai who live across the border in Vietnam, complicating the teaching of the scripts used to write the language.

Although linguists have created hybrid scripts to reproduce the Jarai language - it lacks a native script of its own - the more popular Vietnamese-based script differs from the Khmer-based variant used within Cambodia.

Romam Film said most of people in his village still used the Jarai language as the everyday language of communication, but that none were now learning the language in a formal setting.

"Now we do not even have anyone to teach the Jarai language to the young generation," he said. "We only have one informal teacher in the village, and they teach the Khmer language."

Sev Twel, Kong Yu's "informal" Khmer teacher, said he has taught Khmer for three or four years in the village. He would prefer to teach Jarai, but is hampered by his inability to write it.

Another concern, he said, were the long hours worked by the community - including the children. Of the 50 children in the village, only four or five attended his informal classes. "They are all busy with helping their parents in the rice fields and farms and looking after their cattle," he said.

Romass Meak, 35, a Kong Yu villager who has four children, said none of her children were attending any school, and that all were busy helping support the family by taking on itinerant day jobs.

Romam Film  said that a few NGOs were helping out his village, but that they focused on issues aside from the preservation of the Jarai language. "In order to preserve our Jarai language, we need help from other organisations," he said.

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