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Voicing Concerns over Potential Loss of Bunong Language and Traditions in Cambodia

Sylvain Vogel
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)


  1. Lovely article! Quick correction though: Sanskrit and Khmer aren’t even remotely related to one another, as the article states in the introduction. Sanskrit is an Indo-European language, and Bunong is a Mon-Khmer language. Khmer has borrowed many words from Sanskrit over the years but the two aren’t related to one another as far as anyone can tell; if there is a relationship at all between them, it is so distant in history that it is completely undetectable to historical linguists.


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Angkor Wat: History behind Cambodian Hindu temple


Angkor Wat: World’s Largest Hindu Temple

In this article, we will discuss about the “History behind Angkor Wat Hindu Temple“, which is the world’s largest Hindu temple located in “Cambodia” – southeast asian nation.


Angkor Wat: Lost in the woods for over 400 years, the discovery of Angkor Wat, the largest Hindu monument literally shocked the world. Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s famous temple is a place full of still unexplored history, myth and legend.

Discovery & History of Angkor Wat – World’s Largest Hindu Temple

  • Angkor wat denotes Cambodia’s unwrapped mystery of civilization that for centuries looked like it never existed. The hidden temple was a stuff of legend until 1860 when a French naturalist, “Henri Mohout”  accidently came to that place during his expedition. He saw the ruins of Angkor Wat. But why did the civilization collapse? How did they make this sophisticated temple with no modern technologies? What must have happened?  It’s the high time to uncover these hidden secrets.
  • Angkor, the capital of last Cambodian empire was home to millions of people over 800 years ago. The powerful empire covered South East Asia including Vietnam, Bay of Bengal and North West China. Built in the 12th century, Angkor Wat is among the wonders of the world. Even today, this world’s largest hundu temple or religious monument has a huge complex stretched at about 200 hectares of land. While entering the main temple a vast gate gives an impression that you have reached the temple, however, you realize that the main temple still is 400 yards away. The expansive nature of temple is seen to be believed.
  • Angkor Wat is also known as the city temple as it was surrounded by urban areas (long back before disappearing). When built,  it was dedicated to representing Hindu god, “Lord Vishnu”. There is a 213 feet high central tower(temple) encircled by 4 small towers representing Mount Meru, a celestial home of god based on Hindu mythology. It took 50,000 workers to build this extraordinary temple, that was completed in the year 1145.
  • This huge temple can be compared to Egyptian pyramids in the context of the strength. Compared to the construction of modern European temples which require almost 300 to 400 years, Angkor Wat was completed in only 32 years. How did they do? The answer to this question lies inside the temple. There is a carving in the main temple which gives clues to the mystery of building this huge temple without any modern technology. The story carved in the stones speaks: a lever used to push big stone blocks one over another to assemble it perfectly. This shows Angkor Wat was planned, assembled and then carved.
  • The surface of this masterpiece is covered with carvings that display the Hindu mythological stories originated in India. But how did the stories from India arrive in Cambodia? The answer is “Indian Traders”. The Indian traders travelling towards south-east Asia passed their religion, art and architecture to the local people of Cambodia. This way the traders were an important part of spreading Hindu culture in Cambodian Empire.
  • Archaeologists have used sophisticated aerial imaging techniques to look into the past of Cambodia. In 1994, NASA took the first image which shows Angkor Wat was huge and another recent satellite image show collection of hundreds of temples in the area. The modern technology has also thrown light on the extensive water management system of the Cambodian empire which existed those times. This shows the engineering marvels of Cambodians. They constructed rectangular reservoirs and water systems in such a way that the water from Kulen Mountain irrigates the farms resulting in a good harvest. It could have been the work of only advanced and skilled people.

History behind Cambodian Hindu temple

How did the civilization collapse? Hard evidence points towards the failure of Water management system. But the debate is still going on. Surprisingly the temple was never abandoned, a group of Buddhist monks stayed there and aggressively worked to save the religious place for over centuries. This also gradually resulted in the transformation of a Hindu Temple into a Buddhist temple.

In 1992, Angkor Wat was listed as World Heritage site in danger. Subsequently, it was removed from the endangered list, to be included as a World Heritage site. France, Japan and China have helped  in temple restoration project. India’s archaeological department had also chipped in the 1980s. Currently,  German Apsara Conservation project is in place to save the sculptures carved on the stones. Due to the continuous efforts of UNESCO and other nations Angkor Wat has become a major tourist spot with over 2 million people visiting this place every year. (Inputs from Aakash Sinha)(image-Unesco)

Don’t miss articles:

  1. This Ancient Lord Ganesha Temple in Rajasthan Collects 1000 Letters Everyday by Devotees.
  2. Mahalakshmi Temple: Know the Story behind the 300-Year-Old Ancient Shrine.
  3. 13 Beautiful Ancient Temples in India showcase Architectural Brilliance.
  4. Ancient Hindu Temple Changu Narayan in Nepal Possesses Historical Significance.
  5. These 5 Ancient Temples are Believed to be the Oldest in India.

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Temple in Cambodia Raises Sacred Baha’i Symbol which Represents the Relationship between the God and Man

The Baha'i community witnessed this installation of the sacred symbol and offered prayers and devotions during the ceremony

Baha'i Temple
Sacred Baha'i Symbol called Greatest Name. Wikimedia
  • A temple in Battambang, Cambodia has raised a sacred Baha’i symbol to the apex of its dome
  • The symbol is a representation of the relationship that exists between the God, its various manifestations as well as humans 
  • A prayer ceremony took place recently where the Baha’i community of Cambodia gathered to witness their first House of Worship/ Baha’i Temple in the local area

Battambang, August 23, 2017: A small community of Baha’i people gathered in a local temple in Battambang city of Cambodia. The community had gathered to celebrate their first local temple with a holy Baha’i symbol.

On August 20, the Baha’i temple in Battambang had installed a sacred Baha’i symbol on the apex of its dome. The symbol, known as the Greatest Name, was raised as high as 11.8 meters from the ground.

ALSO READ: Fragments of a shattered Faith: Bahá’í Community of Iran

The Greatest Name was drawn by Mishkin Qalam. It symbolizes the relationship between the God and fellow humans. An important milestone was marked as the symbol was installed in the temple.

From the Arabian Caligraphy comes the Greatest Name which comes from “Baha” or glory. The two identical stars in the symbol represent Baha’u’llah and Bab while the vertical line is a symbol of God diverging into various manifestations including human.

The Baha’i community witnessed this installation of the sacred symbol and offered prayers and devotions during the ceremony.

From the Shrine of Baha’u’llah’s sanctuary, the holy dust has been collected and stored in an ornamental box which Shoghi Effendi originally purchased. This box will reside within the campus of the House of Worship and will denote the pure bond between the Centre of Baha’i faith and the local temple.

The Baha’i Temple is also called the House of Worship. The Battambang House of Worship is planned to be inaugurated on the 1st September of this year. This House of Worship, which is the first in the local area, implies a new era of recognition and development for the Baha’i community.

– Prepared by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter @Saksham2394

NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt. 

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Cambodian Girls compete in a Mobile App Competition, Pushes Boundaries for Women in Technology

Cambodian girl coders achieve recognition at a Global Competition

The five Cambodian girls of the app team Cambodia Identity Product, right, stand next to other coders from India and Hong Kong, at Technovation Challenge World Pitch Summit competition at Google headquarters
The five Cambodian girls of the app team Cambodia Identity Product, right, stand next to other coders from India and Hong Kong, at Technovation Challenge World Pitch Summit competition at Google headquarters. VOA
  • We want to increase employment for Cambodians
  • In Cambodia, just 14 percent of students in information technology were women

A group of Cambodian girls who recently traveled to California to compete in a mobile app competition offered inspiration for other girls worldwide to consider careers in technology.

Their pitch in Silicon Valley wasn’t a bid to be the next billion-dollar company. Instead, they want to help their country with a mobile phone application to address poverty.

“Let’s fight poverty by using our app. Don’t find customers for your product, find products for your customers,” said Lorn Dara Soucheng, 12, who led the team that created the app, Cambodian Identity Product.

“We want to increase employment for Cambodians, so there will be a reduction of Cambodian migrants to work in other countries, reducing poverty through making income and providing charity to local Cambodians,” Chea Sopheata, 11, told the judges at Google’s headquarters. Google was one of the program’s sponsors.

To participate in the Aug. 7-11 Technovation global competition, girls around the world had to build a mobile app — and a business plan — that addressed a U.N. development goal. The Cambodian girls picked poverty.

While globalization has boosted the economic growth of Cambodia, especially its tourism industry, it has also created greater economic inequality and competition. The girls think their app can help.

“We want to promote our culture to people from all over the world,” said Lorn Dara Soucheng.

At their young age, no one expects these girls to be able to solve their country’s most pressing issues quite yet. But their presence here highlighted another issue: girls in tech fields.

In the U.S. and worldwide, the number of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) remains low and has even dropped.

In Cambodia, just 14 percent of students in information technology were women as of 2010. It’s a situation some attribute to a lack of equal access to education and a lack of female role models.

It’s hoped that programs like Technovation can reverse that trend.

“For the first time in history, technology can really help girls have a strong voice and help us have a society that has equality,” said Tara Chklovski, founder, and CEO of Iridescent, the nonprofit organization behind Technovation.

These young Cambodian girls have proved how far they can go with technology. Most come from underprivileged backgrounds but had support from teachers, mentors, and family.

Cambodian American Pauline Seng, a program manager at Google, said the young coders have become role models for many other Cambodians, including herself. She didn’t get into technology until she was 23.

“There’s going to be so many people who aspire to reach this stage and also inspire other people to get involved in technology,” she said.

Although the Cambodian girls did not win the grand prize, which went to a team from Hong Kong, they were proud to have made it to Google and Silicon Valley.

After watching the male CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, speaking at the closing ceremony, the girls said they believed the tech giant would one day have a female leader.

“Yes!” they said, in unison.

Whether that will come true or not, they have themselves already become the youngest role models to inspire others, one girl at a time. (VOA)