Khmer Language Publishers Work to Strengthen a Weak Market

Whenever book pub­lishing in Cambodia is discussed, editors mention the weak market that makes publishing Khmer books a risky business.

This is why book publishing has so far been the domain of international-aid organizations and NGOs in the country.

In the last few months, however, two enterprises—Funan Pub­lishing and Angkor Bookstore and Publishing—have quietly ventured into the field, planning to produce quality work that can sell at affordable prices. But their long-term goals have less to do with making money than stimulating Khmer literature and scientific knowledge in Cambodia.

Funan Publishing on Thursday  launched its book “Everyday Khmer,” for English-speaking people to learn Khmer. But next month, the publishing house will release “the first Khmer manual on linguistics ever published,” said Jean-Michel Filippi, the publishing house adviser.

The result of a two year ef­fort, the book will introduce linguistic principles through texts translated into Khmer by a team under the direction of Filippi and Sylvain Vogel, linguists from the Linguistic Society at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. De­signed as a scientific work, “it will not be an easy book to read, but accessible to students,” said Filippi.

Other Funan projects include a dictionary of Khmer pronunciation, which will note the difference between standard and Phnom Penh Khmer, and will include an introduction with explanations in Khmer, French and English.

Why such specialized books? To help develop a Khmer-language basis for scientific theory and research in Cambodia, Filippi said.

Currently, Cambodians have to master foreign languages to study in countless fields because there often is no Khmer equivalent to de­scribe scientific concepts and techniques, he said. Even in the 1960s, most Cambo­dian intellectuals and scientists used French terms.

“It should take about 10 years for the vocabulary” in Khmer to develop, said Filippi. Of course, foreign languages always will be necessary for international ex­changes in research, he added.

Funan Publishing also intends to create a poetry series. “While English literature since the 18th century and French literature since the 19th century are based on novels, in Khmer the essence of literature is poetry,” said Filippi. “The language is filled with poetic forms.”

Last month, Funan released its first poetry book, “Neati Lathi Procheathiptai,” or democratic mo­ments. It is published in Khmer and in French—the French title is “Cambodia in voice over”—by a Cambodian us­ing the pen name of Nanta­rayao Sampu­tho. The texts speak of to­day’s poverty, describe the ex­haus­tion and despair of having to work outdoors every day in sweltering heat, and wonder why poor people remain poor in democratic systems.

Plans are to republish Khmer poetry books no longer available, the work of young Cambodian poets and foreign-language poetry, Funan director Mom Poeuv said.

Late last year, Sao Meng Long, owner of Bannakea Angkor, or Angkor Bookstore, published in Khmer the “Anthology of Khmer Literature in the 19th Century” and “General Overview of Khmer Literature,” which were written by Khing Hoc Dy, researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

“In 2002, I met my old school friend Mr Sao Meng Long, a former teacher from the 1960s,” said Khing Hoc Dy in an e-mail interview. Since Sao Meng Long specializes in literary and educational books, the two friends agreed to publish Khing Hoc Dy’s books on Khmer literature that had been publish­ed only in French—foreign publishers find Khmer-language books too chancy a market, Khing Hoc Dy said.

“I decided to publish these books because, nowadays, students and researchers ask for them,” Sao Meng Long said. With the number of universities increasing, the book market has expanded, he said. In addition, government employees increasingly conduct research and are looking for books, he said.

Khing Hoc Dy actually gave Sao Meng Long the Khmer translation of his books. “He does not think of money; he just wants Cambodians to read more and have more books to read,” Sao Meng Long said. This made it possible to produce books with glossy, heavy, color covers, and sell them for $2.50 and $2 respectively, he said.

“In June, I will bring my friend three more books on Khmer literature to be sold at low prices,” Khing Hoc Dy said.

This year, Sao Meng Long also published a Khmer book of re­flections in poetic prose by Phuong Phisarom. With the Pali title of “Aknatta,” or non-ego, the book talks of being human and the suffering this entails; of children being born so that life continues when their parents die; and of rising above human frailties through learning and meditation.

“I will be happy to publish [educational and cultural] books if au­thors bring me their manuscripts,” as long as they are not on political subjects, Sao Meng Long said .

Printing quality and costs have improved over the last few years, said Sao Meng Long. Still, printing remains complicated and expensive in the country; printers sometimes lack equipment or overextend themselves, Mom Poeuv said. This, and the yet-established market, may make these Khmer language publishing houses rarities for some time to come.


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