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Talking heads learn to speak

Radio and television journalists covering the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s cremation ceremony in February will need to familiarise themselves with the “royal language”, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said yesterday.

To that end, the ministry is organising a course for live presenters, tentatively scheduled to take place in mid-January.

“We have our own officials in our ministry who have experience with this,” Kanharith said. “And we will co-operate with royal officials in this training for using the right words,” he said.

The language, according to former Sihanouk aide Prince Sisowath Thomico, is an entire vocabulary dedicated to regal affairs dating back centuries.

It’s necessary when addressing royalty and when members of the royal family speak to each other, Thomico said.

“In Cambodia, we have many types of languages: familiar, cultural, the language that we use for monks, and the language we use for royalty,” he said. “Different words for objects are used by royalty, different words are used for action. To eat, for example, in ordinary language, is nham, and in the royal language you would use saeuy.”

Not using the proper terms, he added, would be “awkward”.

“It would not be wrong by itself, because the words have the same meaning, but it would be a sign of disrespect.”

Taking part in the course is a prerequisite for journalists working the live coverage of the weeklong ceremony.

“We know they don’t know much about the royal language, and we don’t blame them. So we have to meet and teach the royal language,” said Mao Ayuth, secretary of state at the Ministry of Information.

The cremation ceremony will begin with a citywide procession on February 1, three days before the actual cremation.

On February 5, the day after the cremation, officials will collect the ashes. On the sixth, they will scatter some in the Mekong, and on the seventh, a portion will be brought back to the palace.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JOE FREEMAN

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