In the south, the ethnic Sa’och language has fewer than a dozen speakers

A girl from Somrong Leu village, in Preah Sihanouk province. There are fewer than 100 ethnic Sa’och in Cambodia.
A girl from Somrong Leu village, in Preah Sihanouk province. There are fewer than 100 ethnic Sa’och in Cambodia.

In the south, the ethnic Sa’och language has fewer than a dozen speakers

Members of the Sa’och live in Somrong Leu village in Prey Nub district, at the crossroads between the provinces of Kampot and Preah Sihanouk. There are fewer than 100.

Only 10 to 15 can still speak the Sa’och language, which is in the Austro-Asiatic language family along with Khmer and Vietnamese. Languages related to Sa’och can be found among small groups in the central Cardamoms, Siem Reap, Preah Vihear and Thailand. Within the Sa’och language is extensive vocabulary related to fishing and marine life, which suggests that they have long-established links to the sea, from where much of their diet may have traditionally come. Today they eat rice and vegetables.

The first historical mention of a related ethnic group dates as far back as the 13th century. According to anthropologist and linguist Jean Michel Filippi, a Thai admiral captured members of the Sa’och minority in 1835 and took them back to Thailand as slaves. As a result, some still live near Kanchanaburi in Western Thailand.

Photos by Charlotte Pert. Words by Emily Wight.

A Sa’och man collects water in buckets. The community does not live near any healthcare facilities.
A Sa’och man collects water in buckets. The community does not live near any healthcare facilities.
In this village, members of the Sa’och minority live in shared housing due to a lack of land.
In this village, members of the Sa’och minority live in shared housing due to a lack of land.
Only 10 to 15 people can speak the Sa’och language, though some local schools are teaching the language.
Only 10 to 15 people can speak the Sa’och language, though some local schools are teaching the language.
Sorn Kil, 43 (right), works with the United Nations Development Programme. He shares this house with his family.
Sorn Kil, 43 (right), works with the United Nations Development Programme. He shares this house with his family.
The Ministry of Education has allowed the teaching of both Khmer and Sa’och in local schools.
The Ministry of Education has allowed the teaching of both Khmer and Sa’och in local schools.
The Sa’och language is dying out, with fewer and fewer children able to understand it.
The Sa’och language is dying out, with fewer and fewer children able to understand it.

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