13 November 2009

A Lost Language

The S’aoch language-, which is a cousin, several times removed, of modern Cambodian- is now only spoken in one small Cambodian village in the southern province of Kampot. Within that village only 10 speakers can claim fluency and so it is inevitable that the S’aoch language will be gone within a generation.

The Khmer Rouge banned the speaking of S’aoch during their regime, which of course hastened the demise of a language already struggling from the inevitable integration of new generations into the mainstream of the Cambodian economy and its society. And it didn’t help that S’aoch means ‘skin infection’ in modern Cambodian. This probably reflects the low-estimation that Cambodia’s Khmer majority held for speakers of S’aoch.

S’aoch is an ancient language; no one can say just how old but it’s certainly from pre-Angkor days. One French researcher has transcribed 3,500 S’aoch words in an attempt to preserve some of its history; a history that surely is fascinating as one small society continues its survival whilst surrounded by another, all-dominant one.

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