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Dr. Sylvain Vogel, professor of Sanskrit and linguistics at the Royal University of Fine Arts, and independent researcher on Bunong language. VOA
  • Vogel’s first book about the language translated Bunong grammar into the international phonetic alphabet
  • Lorang thinks that having the Bunong language and culture documented in a written and published form can help prevent it from disappearing
  • Vogel has spent most of the past 25 years studying, researching and teaching, and helping anchor the fledgling rebirth of a culture of scholarship in this Southeast Asian country

US, June 18, 2017: Sylvain Vogel, a native of France, grew up in Alsace-Lorraine speaking French and German. Since then, he’s acquired fluency in English, Portuguese, Farsi, Pashto and Khmer, the language spoken by the majority of people in his adopted country, Cambodia.

Vogel has spent most of the past 25 years studying, researching and teaching, and helping anchor the fledgling rebirth of a culture of scholarship in this Southeast Asian country following the repressive and anti-intellectual Khmer Rouge rule of the 1970s.

A professor at the Royal University of Fine Arts, he teaches — no surprise — linguistics and Sanskrit, which is closely related to Khmer.

Dr. Sylvain Vogel is talking to Bunong people in Mondulkiri. VOA

Passion project

Outside the classroom, he has pursued a passion project — documenting Bunong — since the mid-1990s. A largely unwritten language, it is spoken by members of the Bunong ethnic group, who live in Cambodia’s sparsely populated Mondulkiri province, a place of mystical beauty under threat from modernization and encroachment by the Khmer population and foreign investment.

Earlier this year, Vogel’s scholarship and independent research received a boost when it was recognized by the Fainting Robin Foundation. The U.S. organization supports independent scholars and announced in March that Vogel would be the first recipient of its “distinguished scholar” award.

Most of Vogel’s research over the years about the Bunong language and people was carried out at his own expense, said Peter Maguire, chairman of the Fainting Robin Foundation.

“It was a project that took close to 20 years, with no outside support, with no support or minimal support,” said Maguire, an author and historian who set up the foundation in Wilmington, North Carolina.

“He [Vogel] is a resource that is very important to Cambodia,’’ said Chan Somnoble, one of Vogel’s first Cambodian students, who earned a Ph.D. in linguistics in 2002 from Université Paris Nanterre and is now the deputy director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia and head of the prestigious National Council for Khmer Language.

Dr. Chan Somnoble, deputy President of the Royal Academy of Cambodia and head of National Council for Khmer Language. VOA

First meeting, fluency

Vogel first met members of the indigenous Bunong community in 1994. He became intrigued by the unwritten language and the Bunong’s rich folklore, which was passed orally from generation to generation.

“I knew Bunong is in the family of Mon-Khmer languages,’’ Vogel told VOA Khmer. “As a linguist, I had to learn Bunong to compare Khmer and Bunong.’’

So, Vogel being Vogel, did just that. He gradually immersed himself in the Bunong community and its distinct way of life, staying in remote villages for days and then weeks at a time.

Fluency in yet another language came as he deepened his relationship with the Bunong, and over the years, Vogel found their way of living among the rolling, jungle hills changing.

A governing system centered on village chiefs and local elders gave way to administrative officers and provincial officials. Bunong children were encouraged to attend schools where they spoke in Khmer, learned about computers and studied English.

Dr. Sylvain Vogel, left, professor of Sanskrit and linguistics at the Royal University of Fine Arts, and independent researcher on Bunong language.VOA

What losing a language means

Vogel voiced his concerns over the potential loss of the Bunong language and traditions.

“Bunong language is not used much, the society is changing a lot, so I am afraid that Bunong language will disappear,” Vogel said.

Becky Butler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who wrote her dissertation while at Cornell University on Bunong, agrees with Vogel’s assessment.

“The Ethnologue says it’s developing. UNESCO says it’s severely endangered,” Butler told VOA Khmer. “So I’d put it probably at vulnerable.” She estimates there are about 75,000 Bunong speakers in Cambodia, Vietnam and the United States.

Vogel’s first book about the language translated Bunong grammar into the international phonetic alphabet. It was published in 2006 in French. Vogel has written two other books about the grammar and aspects of oral literature, such as epics, songs and chants, and one book about Bunong culture.

“I think that is tremendously important … because he’s recording the sort of oral tradition, which speaks a lot to who people in the community are and what they believe in their history, and how they see themselves in another perspective on life that might otherwise be lost especially as the older generations pass away,” Butler said.

Bunong minority children in a remote village, Krang Tes, in Pech Chreada district, which located near the protected forest in Mondulkiri province on March 10th, 2015.VOA

Yun Lorang is a native Bunong and he also worries that his language is deteriorating.

“I am quite worried because language is related to identity,” Lorang, secretariat coordinator of Cambodia Indigenous People Alliance, told VOA Khmer. “In a crowd, they [Bunong people] rarely speak Bunong, they speak Khmer.”

Lorang thinks that having the Bunong language and culture documented in a written and published form can help prevent it from disappearing.

“History is very important for us to recover our own spirit, values and identities,” said Lorang, who lives in Sen Monorom town, the capital of Mondulkiri province.

“The idea of any language dying, I think is tragic,” Butler said. “Language is so intensively tied to who we are. People say that it determines how we see the world.

“I think we all lose something, some knowledge about the human conditions, some knowledge about why people think the way they do, and we lose some aspects of, I think, beauty in the world.”

A rare level of commitment

Maguire has known Vogel for years and spent some time with him in Mondulkiri province. He praised Vogel’s dedication to studying Bunong, a language that has received little attention from established researchers and academic institutions, Cambodian or international.

Vogel also teaches his Cambodian students Sanskrit and general linguistics rather than French because of historical ties between Khmer and the ancient language.

Vogel said not many Cambodian students wanted to study Sanskrit but that “even one” was enough “because more Sanskrit inscriptions may be discovered in the future’’ in Cambodia, he said. “If there are Khmer experts on Sanskrit, they can work with international researchers to translate Sanskrit inscriptions which belong to Cambodia.”

Vogel’s work as a Sanskrit and linguistics professor, whose instruction helped nurture respected Cambodian scholars such as Somnoble, is another reason the foundation recognized him, Maguire said.

“As long as I knew him, he taught linguistics five days a week, and he taught in Khmer,’’ Maguire said. “He didn’t teach in English. He didn’t teach in French. He made a huge effort to learn the language, to learn it well, to learn it grammatically correct, and to learn how to read it and write it. That’s a level of commitment very few scholars have.’’ (VOA)


Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Char Dham Yatra resumed on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

As weather cleared up in Uttarakhand, Char Dham Yatra restored on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

According to sources, road leading to Badrinath has been repaired and helicopter service has also resumed.

Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami visited Dungi village and met families of people who were missing after the landslip incident, and consoled them.

Dhami assured them of all possible assistance. Two people from the village are still reported to be missing.

Pilgrims were seen leaving from Rishikesh Char Dham Bus terminal and Haridwar bus station for the pilgrimage since morning.

As per the state government, various departments -- Devasthanam Board, police are assisting the pilgrims.

Police Chowki Yatra Bus Terminal, Rishikesh, was announcing passenger-information via loudspeaker.

Free RT-PCR tests of pilgrims were being conducted at Rishikesh bus terminal.

Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board's media in-charge Dr Harish Gaur said pilgrimage was on in Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, while for Kedarnath, helicopter service was also available.

Though the weather was cold in all dhams, thankfully there was no rain, he added.

Portals of the temple in Badrinath will close on November 20, Gangotri on November 5, while that of Kedarnath and Yamunotri on November 6.

Uttarakhand floods, triggered by a major downpour from October 17 to 19, have claimed 65 lives so far, 3,500 people have been rescued while 16,000 evacuated to safety.

Seventeen teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), seven teams of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), 15 companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and 5,000 police personnel have been engaged in rescue and relief operations.

The state has already been provided with Rs 250 crore Disaster Fund which is being used for relief works.

To prevent spread of the diseases, the Central and state governments have decided to send medical teams to the affected areas.

Snapped power lines will be restored at the earliest, the government assured.

The state government said that as soon as alert for heavy rainfall was issued, the Incident Response System was activated at state and district levels, and pilgrims were halted at safer places. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Uttarakhand, India, Char Dham Yatra, PushkarDhami, Rishikesh.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The Centre has continued the Naga peace talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) leaders, but negotiations face roadblocks as the Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The sources aware of these developments said that the Centre was hopeful that a successful solution of the six decades-long peace talks would arrive at a logical conclusion, but in the recent statements, Naga leaders have accused the Centre of offering post-solution options.

Sources quoting the stand of Naga leaders said that NSCN's stand was loud and clear that it would not follow the forbidden route to the Naga solution that was linked to foregoing the Naga national flag and Constitution, which is the face of the Naga political struggle and identity.

The Naga leaders have also said that the Centre has been using divisive policy and flattery in the name of finding the Naga political solution when the matters heated up.

When the Centre resumed the peace process in September this year and sent the former special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) A.K. Mishra as the Ministry of Home Affairs' emissary to the rebel outfit's chief negotiator and general secretary T. Muivah, he assured him (Muivah) that the peace talks would be initiated under the original framework signed in 2015, a source in the Naga rebel group said.

"Here we are talking about the Naga national flag and Yehzabo (Constitution), the two issues that are holding up the Naga solution under the ongoing Indo-Naga political talks in Delhi.

"The chequered history of the Indo-Naga political issue is clear enough before us, with accords and agreements that were never meant to be implemented in letter and spirit", an important office-bearer of the rebel outfit said while criticizing the governments' stand.

Accusing the Centre, he further accused the Centre of persuading the Naga people again to accept whatever is being offered to hurry up the Naga talks.

On the invitation of the Centre, the senior leaders of the NSCN-IM including T. Muivah arrived in the national capital on October 6 this year to hold another round of talks with the Centre.

Both, the Centre and the Naga leaders had indicated their keenness on resolving this long pending issue by the end of this year in an amicable manner.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma, who is also chairman of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had been actively involved in the resumption of the peace talks and taking it forward to a logical conclusion.

Soon after the transfer of Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi, who was appointed as the Centre's interlocutor for the Naga peace talks on August 29, 2014, to Tamil Nadu, the peace talks resumed on September 20 in Kohima when the Centre representative met the Naga leaders and invited them to visit Delhi for further rounds of peace talks.

The NSCN-IM and the other outfits entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India in 1997 and over 80 rounds of negotiations with the Centre have been held in the past in successive governments. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Nagaland, India, Constitution, Politics, Flag.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

India-England test series will now be played next year from July 1 at Edgbaston Stadium

The series decider for the Test series between England and India will now be played at Edgbaston from July 1 next year, said the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday. India is currently leading the series 2-1 before the fifth Test at Old Trafford was cancelled hours before the start due to concerns over COVID-19 outbreak in the tourists' camp.

"The fifth match of the LV= Insurance Test Series between England Men and India Men has been rescheduled and will now take place in July 2022. The match, which was due to take place last month at Emirates Old Trafford, was called off when India were unable to field a team due to fears of a further increase in the number of Covid-19 cases inside the camp," said an ECB statement.

"With India leading the series 2-1, the concluding fifth match will now take place from July 1, 2022, at Edgbaston, following an agreement between the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)," added the statement.

ECB also said that due to the rescheduled Test, the white-ball series between England and India will now start six days later than originally planned. The T20I series will begin on July 7 at Ageas Bowl with Edgbaston and Trent Bridge hosting the second and third matches respectively on July 9 and 10. It will be followed by the ODI series starting on July 12 at The Oval followed by Lord's and Old Trafford hosting the second and third ODI on July 14 and 17 respectively.

"Ticket holders do not have to take any action as all tickets will remain valid for the equivalent rearranged matchday at their host venue. Host venues will communicate the new fixture details to ticket purchasers and the options available to them, including the timeframe for requesting a refund if they are not able to attend the new match day," further said the statement.

"We are very pleased that we have reached an agreement with BCCI to creating a fitting end to what has been a brilliant series so far. I'm very grateful to all the venues involved for the cooperation they've shown in allowing us to reschedule this match. I'd also like to thank Cricket South Africa for their support and understanding to allow these changes to be possible," said Tom Harrison, the CEO of the ECB.

"We would like to apologise again to fans for the disruption and disappointment of September events. We know it was a day that so many had planned long in advance. We recognise that accommodating this extra match means a tighter schedule for the white ball series. We will continue to manage our players' welfare and workloads through next year while we also continue to seek the optimum schedule for fans, players and our partners across the game."

"I am delighted that the England-India Test series will now have its rightful conclusion. The four Test matches were riveting, and we needed a fitting finale. The BCCI recognizes and respects the traditional form of the game and is also mindful of its role and obligations towards fellow Board Members. In the last two months, both BCCI and the ECB have been engaged in discussions and our efforts were aimed at finding a suitable window. I thank the ECB for their understanding and patience in finding an amicable solution," said BCCI Secretary Jay Shah. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: India, Britain, BCCI, Test Match, Cricket.