Language, Culture and History: Towards Building a Khmer Narrative

Author: Raj Nath Bhat (Banaras Hindu University, India)
Speaker: Raj Nath Bhat
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


Genetic and geological studies reveal that following the melting of snows 22,000 years ago, the post Ice-age Sundaland peoples’ migrations as well as other peoples’ migrations spread the ancestors of the two distinct ethnic groups Austronesian and Austroasiatic to various East and South–East Asian countries. Some of the Austroasiatic groups must have migrated to Northeast India at a later date, and whose descendants are today’s Munda-speaking people of Northeast, East and Southcentral India.

Language is the store-house of one’s ancestral knowledge, the community’s history, its skills, customs, rituals and rites, attire and cuisine, sports and games, pleasantries and sorrows, terrain and geography, climate and seasons, family and neighbourhoods, greetings and address- forms and so on. Language loss leads to loss of social identity and cultural knowledge, loss of ecological knowledge, and much more. Linguistic hegemony marginalizes and subdues the mother-tongues of the peripheral groups of a society, thereby the community’s narratives, histories, skills etc. are erased from their memories, and fabricated narratives are created to replace them. Each social-group has its own norms of extending respect to a hearer, and a stranger. Similarly there are social rules of expressing grief, condoling, consoling, mourning and so on. The emergence of nation-states after the 2nd World War has made it imperative for every social group to build an authentic, indigenous narrative with intellectual rigour to sustain itself politically and ideologically and progress forward peacefully. The present essay will attempt to introduce variants of linguistic-anthropology practiced in the West, and their genesis and importance for the Asian speech communities. An attempt shall be made to outline a Khymer narrative with inputs from Khymer History, Art and Architecture, Agriculture and Language, for the scholars to take into account, for putting Cambodia on the path to peace, progress and development.

Keywords: Austroasiatic, Sundaland, Cambodia