Instant Message exchange with a Khmer girl…

I lost and recovered my old cell phone — there was this whole mini-drama.  I might tell that story sometime.

But the phone clerk who sold me the new phone is very cute, and we’ve been talking.  She invited me to some mountain with her friends, which I know from my students is a favorite Khmer picnic spot.  I’m not sure of the details, as her English is a bit spotty and my Khmer is nascent.

Our IM conversation today:

Conrad: Hey, kid.  How’s it going?

Phone clerk:  I’m doing well.  Thanks grandpa.  I’m working also now.  U have lunch yet?  Thanks for your sms

Conrad:  Not yet.  Lunch at 2 probably!

Phone clerk:  Pls have sweet food.  Sorry u’re so thin.  Pls try to eat a lot to be fat man.  Thank u.  Good luck

Conrad.  Respect your grandpa!  Thin is good!

Phone clerk:  It’s so funny.  Thank u.  I will respect my grandpa.  Never mind

In other news, I’ve been hanging out on my guest house’s balcony lately.  There’s only a flimsy plastic lawn chair and a bench.  But it smells nice enough, and the view is good, so I like to go there for a bite to eat or coffee.

This morning I tried studying my flash cards out there with coffee.  There was a thick layer of dust over everything and I had to take the chair into my bathroom to hose it off.  Then the 20-something maid (who I gather is a daughter of the family that runs the joint) came out and stood there looking at me.

She wouldn’t sit down, but didn’t go away either.  So I quizzed her on Khmer pronounciation.  I’m illiterate, as the script is complicated.  But I can copy it, and I do, frequently.  On my flash cards, I write the English word and the Khmer word in their script on one side, and on the other the Khmer pronouciation in our alphabet.  Or as well as our alphabet can come to making Khmer sounds.

So I quizzed her on the difference between “dai,” hand, and “dai,” also.  It turns out that “also” is DAi, while “hand” (or “arm”) is daI.  I wouldn’t have suspected, as it’s one syllable.

The Cambodian script is frustrating because there’s 50-odd standard letters and then a bunch they throw in for good measure.  Many of the sounds have two versions (aspirated or not), and many of the letters have two versions, because you need a mini-version to use as a subscript when two consonants follow each other.  And the vowels are diacritics, usually, so then you need null consonants for when a word starts with a vowel.  And just one null consonant won’t do, because then you wouldn’t know if the vowel was aspirated or not, and so on, so there are a bunch of them.

And the vowels are written around — above, below, to the left and right of — the consonant, and sometimes look a lot like the consonants do.  I pay a lot of attention to street signs, and anything with a brand or place name that would be transliterated rather than translated.  And I’m starting to make some sense of it.  But I’m nowhere near reading.

So where this goes is that I’ve started writing Chinese on the pronouciation side of the flash cards.  You can treat written Chinese as ideograms, and I want to learn to read it anyway…

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Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 12:16 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. going over my head

  2. Your article pefetcrly shows what I needed to know, thanks!

  3. Interested in anything you could sup ply for learning Khmer in the middle of Illinois where there are no Cambodians. I am going in January for a month.


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