I don't understand such a harsh attack against French language in Kampuchea (your
paper, February 1993). It reminds me of similar attacks, so frequent in Canada, against
French speaking Quebec. Why are Anglophobes so upset when they hear French spoken
To any Khmer reading your paper, the furor of this attack says clearly that they
should speak English, not French: "I love you, brother, but ... speak my language!"
Exactly as so many Canadians say to Quebecers: "We can live together in the
same country, brother, but, speak like me,... think like me!" "Speak white!"
so said that Anglo boss to his French Canadian employee.
If a journalist or tourist is not deaf, it is easy for him to hear French spoken
so fluently by so many Khmers; nearly all the Ministers (and their opponents), the
executives of Public Services, Public works and private Companies; the great majority
of teachers (from University to Primary schools) and public servants; and so many
shopkeepers, cyclo-drivers, etc.
Without any provocation, I have been addressed to in French by so many ladies wishing
to help me in the market while trying to speak Khmer (!) and, for instance, by that
ice-seller, or that cyclo-driver who had seen my smile to a young lady wearing a
lotus leaf as a hat, or that peasant who after worshipping Buddha in one Angkor temple,
suddenly saw me resting in the shade, that judge in Siem Reap wishing to rent me
a room in his guest-house...and so on.
Of course English is a useful mean of communication, and people wishing to travel
or make business in the world should learn it -so is Chinese, or Spanish. Of course,
since UNTAC came, so many children in the streets of Phnom Penh wave their hand to
you saying "Hello". But why would oblige these people to forget the link
they already have with Occident, with Science, with Economics, with Medicine, etc.
When I see these Khmer men and women speaking English with so much difficulty-knowing
already French fluently-just to pleased and be understood by these English speaking
NGO or others who came to "help Cambodian people", I think it should be
the opposite way: people coming to Kampuchea to help are not supposed to add one
difficulty over the others, but should use and develop every resource, every tool
the Khmer people have, one of them being French language.
Do you that even the Russian and the Vietnamese used French, at least partly, to
teach in Kampuchea? Another example: the Russians published in French their handbook
for repairing the Volga cars they sold in Cambodia!
I cannot believe that English speaking people would still be so imperialist!
- Ch. Tillen