All over the world groups of people speak a same language and may sound completely different from each other. This also applies to Cambodians: some of them speak fast, some speak slowly; others use slang. That depends on the area they live in – and lately very much on their age. Many young Khmers speak their own language using accents from countries far away from the area they live in.
Cambodia opened its home market to the rest of the world in the early nineties. With it came the need to communicate with foreigners in different languages and many Cambodians sat down and began to study hard. English, especially, became popular. One has to say though that in the beginning, pedagogic techniques ranged from either questionable to non-existent.
With even greater ambition than in the early nineties, young Cambodians study foreign languages today, mainly English. That, however, softened their voices and slurred their pronunciation, giving older Khmers a hard time to understand the young generation. This problem becomes even more imminent when young Khmers had the chance to go abroad as an exchange student. Not only language is affected by change but also style and behaviour.
Sometimes, young Khmers change so much that they find themselves to be very different from their older Khmer friends. Well, and when they are on cloud number nine with a Western sweetheart they may forget that they are Khmer all together.
The question coming up now is why studying a foreign language changes so many young Khmers in the way they speak and behave? A possible explanation is that they want to show-off, letting everybody know how well they speak a foreign language. Another explanation is that many young Khmers inconsiderately adapt to Western ideas – however obscure and foul they may be.
By just saying “Yes” and “OK” to everything foreign, Cambodian ways of life, tradition and ideas get neglected.
A simple example is the way a young Khmer would address participants of a workshop or a national or international meeting: “Sour Sday Neak Teang Ars Knear!” translates to a simple “Hello everybody!” An informal salute like this disesteems the presence of older people and this therefore disrespectful.
Acknowledging differences in age and also position however is a vital aspect of the Khmer culture and should not be given up just like that. How hard could it be to just say: “Som Korop Lok Loksrey Deal Mean Watamean Nouv Tineas” which translates to: “Dear respected ladies and gentlemen who are present here today!”
Consequently, youths are facing the difficulty of communicating with possible working places and government. Unintelligibly there are parents that don’t allow young Cambodians to learn their own Khmer language at all.
Ironically, children of Chinese and Vietnamese origin who came to live in Cambodia whether legally or illegally make efforts to speak Khmer well. If they were born and raised in Cambodia they mostly speak Khmer fluently, making efforts to use proper accents and phrases.
This should remind Khmer youths who have started to neglect their mother tongue and cultural identity of the aphorism by Krom Ngoy said who said: “Komdeal Neaksrae Trokol Aeng Khmer Komprae Krolas!” “Don’t look down on the Cambodian peasants, because you are Cambodian yourself. Keep it real!”