When it comes to addressing members of the royal family, Cambodians need a lesson in their own language, according to Minister of Information Lu Laysreng.
“The Ministry of Information has noticed that there is widespread misuse of, and confusion about, the royal terminology,” he said in a news release. “This affects the venerable Khmer tradition and customs.”
In an interview Sunday, he added: “Many people, from government officials to members of the news media…have been misusing these terms.”
The Khmer language includes an array of words to indicate status and respect. Not only must the ruling monarch always be addressed with an honorary term, every royal action must be prefaced by the reverential terms “preah” or “preah reach.”
The English equivalent of a properly addressed sentence would be something like: “His Majesty the King Norodom Sihanouk made a royal donation today.” Leaving out “royal” would be incorrect—and rude, officials say.
In addition, a different vocabulary must be used to describe the actions of royals. When a king eats, for instance, the verb is “saoy,” whereas commoners “nam” or “houp.”
Cambodians have few occasions to address royalty and have never properly learned to obey the complicated rules of royal respect, officials say. A local Khmer-language newspaper editor said he is not accustomed to using royal words because “I don’t work for the Royal Palace.”
“I often misuse these words,” the editor said. “Sometimes I mix up the words for monks”—who have their own terms of address—“and the words for the King.”
But mastering the ins and outs of courtly speech is essential, Lu Laysreng said .
“To uphold Khmer culture…we must show respect for His Majesty the King and the Queen, who protect the people like a cool shade,” the statement quoted him as saying.