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Meaning of Yuon (1)

If Yuon means barbarian, why do Khmers call themselves Yuon?

To most Cambodians, Yuon means Vietnam or Vietnamese. We have never regarded Yuon

as barbarians or an uncivilized race or nation. The word Yuon has been used by Khmers

for generations, since the contact between the two nations, Khmer Empire and Daiviet.

To most Khmers, the word Vietnam or Vietnamese is new. Most literature in Khmer early

20th century used the word Yuon rather than Vietnam or Vietnamese.

Unfortunately, some Westerners who are new to Cambodia pretend to know everything,

including the meaning of Khmer words even better than Khmers. Those Westerners dare

to explain or interpret the word Yuon as barbarians. They argue that the word Yuon

comes from Sanskrit word yavana, meaning foreigner, barbarian.

It is to be noted that the Cambodian-English Dictionary published in 1977 by the

Catholic University of America Press has been widely used by Westerners to learn

the Khmer language. On page 787, line 15 of the left column, there is an entry of

the word Yuon with a brief explanation in brackets that "(poss. rel. to S. yavana

foreigner, barbarian)".

As can be seen in the brackets, the explanation says that the word Yuon possibly

relates to Sanskrit, meaning foreigner or barbarian. This is just the unclear and

subjective conclusion of the authors of the book and cannot be found in other dictionaries

of the Khmer language. The unclear and subjective explanation or interpretation of

the word Yuon by those Westerners not only destroys Khmer language, but also confuses

the world about Cambodians.

The most authoritative dictionary of Khmer language, published in 1968 by the Buddhist

Institute under the supervision of Buddhist Supreme Patriarch Chuon Nath, clearly

explains about the meaning of Yuon. On page 955 the word Yuon has the following meaning:

"Yuon (noun) ethnic people from Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina. Examples: Tonkin

Yuon, Annam Yuon, Cochinchina Yuon. In ordinary language, Tonkin Yuon are often called

Hanoi Yuon, Annam Yuon are called Hue Yuon, Cochinchina Yuon are called Prey Nokor

(or Saigon) Yuon."

To Khmers, the word Yuon has no negative meaning. The word yuon has been used to

name villages, Buddhist temples, canals, people, etc. In Koh Thom district, Kandal

province there is a Buddhist temple called Wat Po Yuon. Will this temple mean the

temple of barbarians? To Khmers, Po Yuon means the bo-tree of Vietnamese and nothing

else.

Along National Route 1 in Kien Svay district, Kandal province, there is a canal called

Prek Yuon, meaning canal of Vietnamese. Many Khmers are named Yuon. Are Khmers who

have the name of Yuon barbarians ? No one on earth would name him/herself barbarian.

Some Westerners have arrogantly changed the name of geographic locations or landmarks

in Cambodia. They have renamed Monivong Bridge to Vietnamese Bridge, Tuol Tumpoung

Market to Russian Market. This is not acceptable for Khmer people. Those particular

people who just understand a few Khmer words arrogantly pretend to be scholars of

the Khmer language. The real scholars of the Khmer language are the Khmer people

of all generations since the existence of Khmer nation .

Therefore, please, stop victimizing the Khmer language and destroying it for political

purposes. The word Yuon has been used by Khmers for generations before the Khmer

Republic, Democratic Kampuchea.

If the word Yuon means barbarian, it is the Vietnamese who should protest the use

of word Yuon by Khmers, but we have never heard the Vietnamese or Vietnamese government

officially protest the use of word Yuon.

- Sok Sisovan - Phnom Penh

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