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Moore's defense

I am pleased that my essay (PPPost 25 Feb-10 March) seems to have made a strong impact with some Post readers (PPPost 11-24 March). For non-linguists, it often comes as a shock to realize the insidious nature of language as the principal vehicle of ideology. Whilst I am grateful to Senator Ung Bun-Ang and Raymund Johansen for alerting me to some weaknesses concerning the integrity of my essay's argument, their strongest criticisms are quite unfounded.

The Senator needn't have fretted over the methodology and "statistics" used in this research. The essay was drawn from my doctoral thesis and, as I hope most Post readers will appreciate, had to be simplified in summary form to make it accessible to a non-linguistic audience.

As the Senator will know, Macquarie University is quite meticulous about thesis examination, and I was fortunate that my dissertation was examined by three eminent scholars far more experienced and qualified to judge the research methodology than he. None of the three expressed any misgivings about the methodology, sampling techniques, analyses or conclusions.

Moreover, at least three other distinguished linguists have also refereed this work and accepted it as a book chapter published last year. While the Senator's lamppost metaphor is admittedly funny, under the harsh light of day his case for using it here is quite unjustified.

As for Mr Johansen's conclusion that I am an "apologist for despotism", I think it's time he too had a reality check. My essay is essentially arguing two points: (1) the subtle role that language plays in construing our experience and sense of reality; and (2) that Westerners who truly want to understand Cambodia might start by recognizing that unlike many Westerners, most Cambodians do not frame their temporal existence by reference to democracy, rule of law and free markets.

Mr Johansen's letter in particular exemplifies how the West's rhetoric about democracy, rule of law and free markets (as championed by Western media outlets such as The Economist) has become so naturalized in English discourse that it seems to be common sense and therefore, by extension, a universal "given" and unquestionably "good". In fact it is an ideology, one presently espoused so noisily that it is drowning out any other Cambodian world views. As it is evident that these displaced views are not valued in many Western representations of Cambodia, readers are left ignorant and complacent as powerful Western influences challenge and undermine local culture, traditions and values.

Stephen Moore, Phnom Penh



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