The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Learning Cham

Having gotten comfortable with my proficiency of the Vietnamese language, and finding myself with a little bit of free time after finishing stage one of another new guidebook for DK Eyewitness, I decided to tackle the Cham Language. The Cham are the dominant minority in Binh Thuan and neighboring Ninh Thuan provinces. Their ancient kingdom of Champa would have been the fourth country of Indochina (after VN, Laos and Cambodia) if a few battles had ended with different outcomes.

Cham has turned out to be rather easy to learn. Like Vietnamese, it's all monosyllabic, except for pesky little pre-syllables. The only problem is that the alphabet, an evolution of sanskrit, is entirely unique--and most Cham speakers are entirely illiterate in their own language. I'd assumed my Cham friends were all at least fluent speaker, but as it turns out, they are not. They grow up speaking Cham at home, but later they are sent to school where all instruction is in Vietnamese-only. Most of my friends seem to be only 60%-80% proficient in their native language. Adding to the complication, there are no language textbooks, phrasebooks, dictionaries or listening materials in print, so I have to ask a variety of friends to help fill in the blanks. Still it's a fun challenge and the process of learning is much the same way I learned Vietnamese.

I guess it won't take long to become a leading expert though...

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