Letter to the Editor: ‘Yuon’ May Be Incorrect, but Not Offensive

In a description of my political activities under the title “The Provocateur” (July 7), the article’s author, Ben Paviour, points to my using the term “Yuon” for “Vietnam” or “Vietnamese,” a word that—he says—“can have racist undertones.”

Letter to the Editor

This is not the first time that similar remarks have been made by foreign journalists and observers, who then infer—from only our using this word “Yuon”—that opponents to the Hun Sen regime have developed racist inclinations.

Since 1979, following the invasion of Cambodia by the Vietnamese communist army, the word “Yuon,” previously a neutral term commonly used by ordinary Khmer (or Cambodian) people for centuries—at a time when the word “Vietnam” was not created yet—has become politically incorrect.

I urge our foreign friends who do not speak the Khmer language to learn to make the difference between “offensive” and politically incorrect.

As for me, to avoid any misunderstanding, I use—in my speeches and writings—the words “Yuon” and “Vietnam” interchangeably. But sometimes, doing that with old Khmer expressions would sound rather odd, notably in contexts where there is no substitute for “Yuon.”

Those who speak the Thai language, in which the word “Yuon” has also been commonly used for centuries, would understand my comment.

To close—once and for all—this mainly foreign-entertained controversy, we should simply refer to the most authoritative Khmer dictionary published last century under the direction of the Venerable Samdech Chuon Nath, the most respected modern Khmer

scholar. In that dictionary, the word “Yuon,” as I said above, is explained as just a neutral term commonly used by ordinary Khmer people, without any negative connotation whatsoever.

[Editor’s note: Chuon Nath’s dictionary was first published in 1938. A 1967 edition defines “yuon” as the “people of Tonkin, Annam, Cochinchina,” referring to the northern, central and southern regions of Vietnam under French colonial rule, respectively.]

I think this letter could help educate some foreign journalists and observers who have been wrongly influenced by the CPP government’s propaganda wanting to depict political opponents who are vigilant about Vietnam’s recent aggressive policies as having racist inclinations, which is just untrue and unfair.

Sam Rainsy Former CNRP President 

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