Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 06/01/2009. Students learning sign language gestures for the words "I love you" at Krousar Thmey school (Photo: Vandy Rattana)
By Laurent Le Gouanvic
Ka-set in English
Click here to read the article in French
Click here to read the article in Khmer
Together with the French Young Deaf Institute (IJS), the NGO Krousar Thmey set up an ingenious digital dictionary for Khmer Sign Language learning, a smart way of making the most out of the Web's multimedia possibilities.
Swift and agile fingers in motion, elevated by an invisible pair of wings, will simulate the light flight of a dragonfly, when a punching gesture quickly followed by the fine quiver of a undulating hand will accurately represent fireworks... This online digital Khmer sign language dictionary was recently set up by both Krousar Thmey, the Cambodia-based foundation assisting deprived children, and the French Institut des Jeunes Sourds (IJS, Young Deaf Institute, located in Bourg-la-Reine, France) offers internet users the possibility to browse through a surprisingly poetical world. However, its objective goal is not to promote poetry, but truly to allow Internet 'surfers', through a handy, entertaining and educational tool, to have access to hundreds of words in Khmer, French and English and their equivalent version in Khmer sign language, demonstrated in short video clips. The project is a first in Cambodia and comes as an ingenious and smart feature on the web, where one can already find an extensive list of online Khmer dictionaries.
From Abbreviation to Worry
Created along the same template as the one used for the digital French Sign Language lexical glossary set up in 2000 by the Institut des Jeunes Sourds in Bourg-la-Reine, the Beta version of the digital Khmer Sign Language (KSL) dictionary was launched on the web in December 2008 and already comprises some 130 terms, classified in alphabetical order, from “Abbreviation” to “Worry”, and will gradually be expanded.
The project, mainly intended for the Cambodian deaf and hearing-impaired young adults looked after by the NGO Krousar Thmey but also for the wider public thanks to its availability on the Internet, was supported by several partners, who opted for the “Less is More” minimalist concept, as stressed by Nicolas Anquetil, teacher of Arts and Design at the IJS and main technical idea-man behind the project, on his blog.
Easy as pie and a mouse-click
The original aim, Nicolas Anquetil describes, was to create something simple along the lines of minimalism, a widely-spread concept among web designers, to allow any user, even “devoid of competence in the field of computer technology”, to feel as comfortable with the tool as possible.
The lexical interface proposed by the IJS was designed to both integrate the specificities of the Khmer language and facilitate the use of this application in Cambodia, by Cambodians. It can be installed on any PC thanks to a CD-Rom version and then be accessed through a browser without the need for a network connection. Besides, video-clips and sound were optimised for easy online use and do not require a broadband connection.
In a few clicks, a drop-down menu allows Internet users to choose a term in alphabetical lists provided in Khmer, French or English, and discover its “translation” into Khmer Sign Language, an adaptation of the American sign language (ASL) for use in the Cambodian language and culture. Each term is associated with a video sequence showing a young man or woman demonstrating the appropriate signs to be used in KSL, while a voice-over pronounces the word in Khmer. The official sign is illustrated by a small drawing, showing the different movements to follow. The Khmer-KSL page also provides a definition of terms and examples of contexts in which a word or expression can be used.
A way of discovering a language and a culture
This new tool reflects the vast amount of work that the NGO Krousar Thmey, now proposing education for deaf and mute children, initiated back in 1994. Internet surfers without any particular insider knowledge, whether they be familiar with Cambodia or not, can discover there an extremely rich and universal language deeply rooted in Khmer culture.
For instance, neophytes will take much delight in learning how to say, in Khmer Sign Language, expressions such as the figurative “banana ” , the emblematic “solidarity ”, the jaw-clapping “crocodile ” or the more than scary “reputation ”, which, without making that much of a “racket ” speaks for itself in signs...
This application, full of promise in its development, proves to be an easy and useful way to make the most of the numerous possibilities offered nowadays by the world of multimedia.
Many other Khmer language dictionaries are available on the Net
- The very good dictionary directory Lexilogos offers a substantial choice: a modern Khmer dictionary, Cambodian-French dictionaries, among which the versions elaborated by Jean Baptiste Bernard (1866) and Joseph Guesdon (1930), and a glossary of terms listed by topics, with sound , providing altogether advice on grammar, Khmer scripts and lessons of Phonetics.
- A group of Cambodians from California set up with the help of young students from Phnom Penh a digital English-Khmer dictionary available to all for free.
- A Khmer-French-Khmer dictionary published and also available for free on the website Angkor Planet on which users will also be nicely surprised to discover colourful representations of an imaginary Angkor...