Khmer Dictionary Updated After 56 Years

The Khmer Dictionary 1967-1968 (left) and the updated Khmer Dictionary 2022 (right). Photo: The Royal Academy of Cambodia

PHNOM PENH – The Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC) on Sept. 25 launched the ‘Khmer Dictionary 2022’, marking the first update of the Chuon Nath Dictionary since its last version was published in 1967.

The new dictionary edition has been published in 700 copies and is now available in electronic formats in apps for Android, IOS and Windows.

The Khmer Dictionary Organization Committee updated Nath’s previous version in a move to conserve the Khmer language but also to add all the new words that have appeared over the last six decades, said Hean Sokhom the committee chairman and the president of the National Council of Khmer Language (NCKL), at the launching event on Sept. 25.

“Languages always evolve. That is why updating the dictionary has to be done continuously. The committee received full support from the government for the project, which is a new [chapter] in the history of national linguistics after the first dictionary [was created] in 1915,” he added.

While the committee had set to keep the dictionary’s original format and listing of words, it edited some parts

The committee had set a technical goal of updating the dictionary to keep the original format of the dictionary, but it edited some parts and more than doubled the number of terms in it. While the existing dictionary had only around 18,000 words, the updated version now consists of 44,697.

Minister in Charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers Vongsey Vissoth encouraged the National Council of Khmer Language and the committee to conduct and update the Khmer dictionary regularly and to urge all educational institutions, the public, development partners, and private sectors to promote its use. He also called for constructive feedback to keep improving it in the coming updates.

The Committee said the updating process is not complete, even though the 2022 edition is fully usable.

“The RAC will continue its work and will finish the preparation of another traditional Khmer dictionary next year,” Heang Sokhom of NCKL said.

It took four years, from 2018 to 2022, for the Committee to complete the update of Chuon Nath’s 1967 Khmer dictionary, which remains the reference in the field since its creation in 1915.

The Khmer Dictionary Organization Committee is chaired by Heang Sokhom, the president of the National Council of Khmer Language (NCKL). The two vice chairmen are Sorn Pov and Chuor Keary. The committee also includes more than 60 supreme advisors, advisors and members who are experts in linguistics, literature, history, and economics.

The Khmer dictionary has been updated five times before: the first update was in 1938 (Part I) and 1943 (Part II), the second in 1952 (Part II), the third in 1958 (Part I) and 1962 (Part II), the fourth in 1962 (Part I), and the fifth in 1967 (Part I) and 1968 (Part II).

Chuon Nath, who was a member of the original committee granted royal order to compile a Khmer dictionary in 1915, was credited as the founder of the dictionary. Born in 1883 and ordained monk in 1904, he was the head of a reformist movement in the Khmer Buddhist Sangha, which cultivated a strong Khmer-language identity and culture, giving rise to the notion of Cambodian nationalism while Cambodia was part of French Indochina.

Meng Seavmey contributed to the story.

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