Khmer Literacy | Unit 2

In this unit, we focus on introductory to in-depth Khmer grammar. In doing so, we studied two Khmer novel, one of which called Tum Teav about love between two people of different class, and the other is called Melea Doun Chet which is about love between two people of different race and class. These two novels have a very different setting and plots but they all communicate the same thing: class and social status don’t matter in a love relationship.


Back in time, parents in Cambodia usually arrange a marriage for their children to someone of the same class. Love relationships between classes were forbidden because they do not want their children to be involved with someone from a family that is inferior to them. But of course, attraction and love can’t be stopped. At some point in history, young adults start to revel against their guardian to live with someone they truly love, but the result never ends well.


Seeing this problem, a writer of that time wrote a novel called Tum Teav. Tum is the name of the male character, while Teave is the name of the female character. They were deeply in love even though they weren’t supposed to. When the first met Tum was a monk, a religious figure who is to not date or want anything thing more than what they need t to survive. Because of his strong attraction, Tum decided to quit being a monk to reunite and prosper with his girlfriend.


By then, he was almost too late. Teav’s mom had decided to offer her as the mistress of the king of the is wealthy and powerful. Luckily for him, he was there to declare his love relationship with his girlfriend. Awed by his bravery, the king gifted the coupled with a marriage. They were all happy, except for Teav’s mother. She wanted her daughter to marry someone wealthy, so she devises a plan to trick her own daughter to leave her husband and marry someone else by lying to her that she is sick and really want to see her daughter.


Teav did not know about her mother’s plan, went home immediately to see her mom but was captured and forced to marry the next day. To her luck, someone offered to pass this information t her husband who rushes to her home as soon as he receives the letter. When he got there, things did turn as expected, and so the couple ends up dying under their love tree.


The novel ends here to leave space for readers who guardian to reflect and they story and think about what they would do as a parent through considering they rather having their kid being dead by forcing them into a marriage. Not surprisingly, many people who have read this novel which is written in a poem associate it to Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, because they both have a similar story and communicate the same idea.

Khmer Literacy | Round One

In this class, we focused on grammar. For the first few weeks, we worked binding our research and poems (that we wrote last year) into a Khmer poetry book. Because Khmer poems follow a specific structure (we call it the poem foundation), we had to do research on their origin, purpose of use, their rhymes, and ways they can be sang or read out. One of of the poem foundations that I researched is  called “chan-der meas” or simply translate to “golden stairs”. This poem, I believe got its name from its structure because each line in each a stanza increases by one syllable, but due to the limited information on this poem foundation, I was not able to confirm this. Despites the lack of information, I was glad to find just the right amount of information to write about this poem foundation. Below is an diagram I made showing the rhyme pattern in this poem. Note that the lines indicate that the syllables rhyme.  

Now, the tedious work pays off, we finally finish this book and have some copies printed; some were used to present at the Khmer Literature Festival held in Battambag province. As of  now, we are planning to apply for a grant or raise money in some way and use it to publish more copies of our book—Garden of Poems—and distribute them to publics schools in Cambodia to provide students a source of information about Khmer poems that is now losing its popularity.

Beside this poem book project, we learned about Khmer grammar, specifically diacritical marks which are used to indicate the way a word should be read. It was really interesting to learn that some diacritical marks used on Khmer words reveal their origin. For an example words that are adapted from Bali or Sanskrit have special marks) on them to indicate that the sound of an alphabet should not be taken account into pronouncing the word. This is because, when words are adapted from a foreign language to Khmer, we spelled the Khmer version of the borrowed word in a way that alphabets and vowels used represent the all the alphabet and vowels used in the borrowed word. For an example, in spelling the word “post” in Khmer, we have alphabets and vowels that make the “P, O, S and T” sound, but because we do not have ending sound, we use a special diacritical mark to indicate that “T” should not have a sound in the word.