The Khmer Language - A Tool For Boredom 🤫 Our Secret Family Language In Suriname

in ASEAN Hive2 months ago (edited)

▶️ Watch on 3Speak

Greetings all, @Sreypov has always been a bit shy to get on camera, so I thought I would do a Khmer-English video telling a little bit about how we use the Khmer language to stay entertained in public here in Suriname.

A Totally Secret Language

You see, my family and I are the only 4 speakers of the Cambodian language in all of Suriname. We know this because the immigration department has never processed any Cambodian passports in the history of this country. There are a handful of Vietnamese and Thai people here, but we have yet to meet them. There are many ethnic Hmong in French Guiana too, but as far as Suriname goes, Khmer is a completely secret language. For this reason, we usually speak only Khmer when in public, and even though we may be surrounded by hundreds of people at times, we can have a totally private conversation.

Whether it be commenting on how rude someone was, a youth wearing their pants below their butt, or any other general foolishness we witness, we use the Khmer language to discuss it openly, and I must say it's quite liberating. In Cambodia everyone speaks Khmer and there is broad understanding of English, so we have no secret family language there. Considering the millions of tourists each year that visit Cambodia from all over the world, probably no language is truly secret, especially in the capital, Phnom Penh.

Laughter is the Way

Our time here has been a constant struggle, and although I handle external stresses somewhat well, two years of living as stranded migrants has taken a toll on even me, an otherwise resilient person. I try not to let it show, and do my best to give my daughters comfort through positivity, and of course, laughter, sacred laughter.

So, how do we stay sane? Laughter truly is the best natural medicine, and I truly believe that. I do whatever I can each day to make sure I see all my family members laugh and smile several times, even if it means farting in a store and talking about it loudly in Khmer while holding a can of coconut milk and pretending that is the thing I am discussing with @sreypov. This will usually bring her to tears, and then I know my work is done.


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Monkey B



Growing up my best friend was Cambodian and I spent so much time at his house. Khmer is a magnificent language and although I don’t understand it at all, it’s an interesting thing to hear and see written. One word I do remember is for rice, at least to him. Bai or bye is how they pronounced it and I loved the way his mom made rice!

Some of my favorite food is Cambodian food, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a city that had a significant population of Cambodian people and I ate at the restaurants often. Some fantastic food! I loved their tapioca ball smoothies, the name they call it escapes me but they are awesome!

I hope to someday be in a similar situation as you. I know Italian is close to Spanish for many things but I want to get to the point with my family that we speak fluently in Italian when we are out in public as a way to guard our conversations a bit more. It would be really cool to do something like Cambodian! Languages are a side passion for me!

Very cool, Khmerican I assume. So I guess you grew up in California, Rhode Island, or Massachusetts. The Khmer communities in the USA are only sizeable in 10 or so places.

You still remember "baay," that's cool. "Nyam baay niv?" is "Did you eat rice yet?" In a colloquial sense, when Khmers ask each other this question, it just means "How are you?"

Funny you mention Italian, my partner in Cambodia for nearly 4 years was Italian, and I spent that time trying to learn it because her English wasn't good. She became fluent in English and I became fluent in Khmer, and we drifted apart. In my mind, Spanish and Italian is all jumbled together. In Ecuador I realized I speak Spanish as an Italian would, unable to correct my pronunciation.

I teach Khmer online as a side hustle, but used to teach it formally back in Cambodia, even at a university once. Very cool that you grew up around Khmers. !ENGAGE 95

Massachusetts indeed! I didn’t realize that one of the cities in mass, not where I grew up, was one of the biggest populations of Cambodians I think on the east coast. That was cool to learn!

Nice to see it spelled, I know it’s sound but didn’t know the spelling. It’s interesting to see the different statements that mean things in different situations like that. Sort of similar with Italian to say ciao for hello and goodbye, though not as elaborate as that lol.

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I thoroughly enjoyed that. Sreypov's voice is so sweet and I love her beautiful smile. You guys at least are having moments of fun when you can. What else can you do in your situation.

I remember when Marc and I were in Bangkok. We spoke German in some cases where we were certain that they wouldn't understand. Marc was the one that felt a little funny about it and I had to assure them they didn't understand. But when I was younger at a new job with a German family, they were certain I didn't understand when they said in front of me that I was a dumb head. I didn't say anything.

It's impressive that you and the kids are so bilingual. It always amazes me to see a white guy speaking fluently in an Asian language. We have a friend in Thailand that is a tall white American who lived there for ten years and when he speaks fluent Thai I am blown away. I'm half Thai and can't speak it.

Poor Monkey B and the trauma of getting chased by a dog. I can relate. It has happened to me.

Hugs from Canada.

Funny, yeah German is not a language I would gamble with, I've seen plenty of Thais speaking fluent German and Dutch, and those Germans tend to travel a lot, and countries in turn learn the basics to cater to tourism. It is funny that I still don't like to see or hear myself speaking Khmer, and I honestly feel it's not a beautiful language to listen to, but man friends disagree with that.

I've always thought Russian and Spanish were beautiful languages to listen to, but haven't had much luck with either one yet, but I can fumble way through a conversation. Thai has always intimidated me because of the tones, just like most other SE Asian languages, but Khmer doesn't have tones.

The best I can do is speak Khmer with a Thai accent, and my Khmer friends find it very amusing. You never know what's going to happen when recording, Monkey-B has some trust issues with this sketchy chihuahua mix that lives nearby.

Lots of love from Suriname, I leave you with a video of Italy's Bob Dylan, who made a hit song based on what English sounds like to Italians.

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This gives me a flashback to the time when I was comfortable with Indian,Javanese,Chinese,Spanish and my self created alphabet for "encrypted" messages.
Morse code came to mind too...I had a classmate with whom I could communicate in morsecode. You can imagine the temptation to use it while taking tests :)

ps: you stole my gig. Farting in stores and blaming whoever is with me is my And an occasional "nuqDaq oH puchpa e" for when I'm in my favorite store :)

Morse code would surely be a secret language in today's world, kids aren't interested in stuff like that anymore. I should record the things we say in public some time, very inappropriate stuff. Let's go cropdust a store together sometime. !ENGAGE 45

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Awwwwwwwwwwww! It is so nice to see you two together! Your stories are so funny 😍

Thank you, Pov has a really good sense of humor, I just hope she eventually warms up to the camera. For now Monkey-B is the family video star. !ENGAGE 20

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My first time in Asia my gf and I used Spanish as a secret language quite successfully until a local guy in the market in Laos busted out in some perfect Spanish. Turns out Cuba and Laos had a communist government program in which he had gone to university in Cuba. Pretty amazing moment haha.

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As I was reading this I was thinking how many people speak Spanish and cater to Spanish tourists around the world. Hopefully you weren't making fun of anyone when you got busted. I thought you might get a kick out of this, from an American show on Comedy Central. Khmer lady keeps saying she wants to go and die.


I remember that in my family we had a somewhat secret language, since we added the word to each word. . gua . . in the middle of for prayer and well only we understood, hahaha greetings

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Funny, I tried to make some secret languages with friends as as kids, but we never developed more than 20 words before we forgot everything and had to start from scratch.

having a secret language is a big plus! Super impressed that you became so fluent. You must have studied a great deal to get that way.

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Shamefully I accidentally learned it while intensely studying Italian so I could communicate better with my partner at the time. I did work exclusively with Khmers and Filipinos that were fluent in Khmer, and my social world was fully Khmer, so I guess it was bound to happen.

After 4-5 years of accidentally learning I began to take it more seriously when I started teaching it myself. It was a way to escape the monotony of ESL classes, and a new challenge teaching a second language to non-native speakers.

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By the way Justin, if you don't mind me to ask! Why did you leave Cambodia?

We wanted to get legally married, but I didn't meet the required $2k per month income there for a foreigner to marry a Khmer citizen. We didn't need to get married though, as there are zero benefits or legal changes when married in Cambodia. I still couldn't own land or become a citizen, even register my own automobile, but as my kids don't have my DNA, it will be a barrier of legal protection against Pov's ex in case should something ever happen to her and I was left alone with our daughters in Cambodia.

Oh I see! Life is just too complicated sometimes! And now you are stuck in Suriname because of COVID? Or other reasons as well?