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Rhetorical grammar

Rhetorical grammar

The Editor,

I would not presume to comment on the substance of the latest communiqué

from the Politburo of the esteemed (or inestimable) CPP. The form ["Past, present

and future: the CPP view", PP Post, Nov 7-20] however does invite some comments.

The erratic grammar, often leading to near-incomprehensibility, is strangely coupled

with the absence of spelling errors (except for the intriguing "Khmer Rogue")

and with a fair sprinkling of rather recherché words and turns of phrase.

This suggests that someone has a computer with a spelling-checking programme - perhaps

they could provide a copy of this programme to some English-speaking(?) journalists,

though that would not allow them to decide between homonyms, those horrible "principle"

and "principal", "capital" and "capitol" and the like.

It further suggests that English in Cambodia is still to some extent the pidgin it

was in the good old days of "London" (or was its "Oxford"?) Street,

when as Ieng Sary remarks elsewhere in the paper, there were fewer cars and other

signs of ill-acquired wealth. It is far easier to pick up the odd piece of officialese

flotsam, or other semi-posh or buzz words, than to be able to construct even a relatively

simple sentence.

The rhetoric of the early past of the text is also hauntingly familiar: it is the

kind of bombast (part traditional, part modern "langue de bois") which

makes it difficult, even for someone like myself who is more familiar with Latin

than with (recent) Anglo-Saxon rhetorical habits, to take what follows at all seriously.

That is why a text, to be understood and accepted by nonspecialists, in a very different

language, not only needs to be properly translated, but also to be so to speak "transrhetorised",

"transcultured". In 1989 I was asked by a prominent Cambodian official

to give a ministry document (in French) an aroma of butter, instead of the unmistakeable

odour of prahok it had. Certainly the text you are printing lacks the necessary perfume

of lard (or the lack of perfume of canola oil).

One last point: a to me novel use of the much overworked word 'genocidal'. Why indeed

wouldn't an alliance with the part of what used to be very officially called the

"Pol Pot-Ieng Sary genocidal clique" be a "genocidal alliance".

The alliance with a "neutral party", or a "Buddhist" one would

presumably lead to a "neutral alliance", a "Buddhist alliance",

etc. An alliance with a "democratic" (though hardly a 'Democrat') party

would be highly desirable, as it would be ipso facto a democratic alliance! Or is

it being suggested that Ranariddh was planning (if that verb can be coupled with

that name) a new genocide? Of course, if I was ethnically Vietnamese, I would hardly

welcome any victory, electoral or otherwise, of those, or any of the numerous other

rabid racists who grace the Cambodian political scene.

- Philippe Hunt, Brussels. [The Post shares responsibility for the uniqueness

of the published version of the CPP communiqué: we did put a spell-check through

the text, removing (most) errors, but - loath to lose the flavor of the document

- we made only minimal corrections to the grammar. "Khmer Rogue" was, alas,

our mistake - Ed.]

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