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Has Science Discovered God?     Click to watch this FASCINATING, MIND-BLOGGING video with breathtaking images and you learn science in the process!   Read transcript             God in the Cosmos
Veritas Forum at Yale University  [ ... ]



Just because we have always done it that way

Doesn't mean its not incredibly stupid.




. . .





is the Key to Development


Commentary by Theary C. Seng

20 Feb. 2014

Cambodia has thousands of NGOs. A significant number of these focus on education. And they no doubt do good work by building schools and providing teachers, books, school supplies. But these, unfortunately, are surface-level solutions.

We must take a step back and focus on a more basic problem that is largely ignored: the local language.


The key to true development is punctuation. Yes, you read that correctly. Bizarre as it may sound, punctuation is the key to the major issues debilitating many developing countries.

Sarah Yost nicely summarizes the history and reason for the use of punctuation – Punctuation marks are the stitches that hold the fabric of language together, the traffic signals of language, a courtesy designed to help readers understand a story without stumbling, written manners. In short, punctuation is necessary for the development of an advanced language, which in turn is key to transmitting complex ideas. And those are the ideas that are necessary for development!


Written text is important – it is the vehicle for flourishing in all sectors of a country’s development, from formal education to governance to rule of law to reconciliation to business to health, so on and so forth. Complex ideas simply cannot be expressed only through the oral form – they require lengthy sentences and secondary clauses, and the ability to look back through pages. There is a reason that university students in developed countries spend significantly more time in libraries reading rather than in lecture halls listening to professors.

Simply put, there can be no advanced content transmitted without a written language that allows for that transmission. And the content necessary for development certainly is advanced!

I. Context of Cambodia and these Developing Countries

Several attributes contribute to the language deficit in Cambodia and other developing countries.


First, these countries have a fragmented political history. In the case of Cambodia, our political history is disrupted every 20 or 30 years. Since the lost civilization of Angkor, we experienced French colonialism, interrupted briefly by Japanese occupation, followed by the upheaval of independence and civil wars, leading to the republic replacing the monarchy, followed by the four years of near-complete decimation by the Khmer Rouge, followed by 10 years of Vietnamese occupation, before the past 20-plus years of the current fragile democracy of hodgepodge systems. All to say, the discontinuity of Cambodia’s history could not and did not provide the right environment for language development.

Second, these countries have a poor education system, and thus have an extremely limited educated class and members of the intelligentsia tend to be pulled into politics, are killed off or exiled, or are not in the field of language development. Related, the diverse expertise of culture, linguistics and history needed for a committee to develop language rarely exist and certainly do not flourish with political disruption every other decade.

Third, the policymakers in education tend to function in a developed language (English, French, Spanish, Arabic, German, etc), usually English, and thus their entry point into education policymaking is too advanced.

One of the development sectors normally associated with language is formal education. Currently, when education policies in developing countries like Cambodia are developed and implemented they tend to focus on physical infrastructure of schools, books, transportation or access for girls and teachers’ salaries. What is completely taken for granted and amiss is the focus on functionality, comprehension, and ease of reading of the local language.


Understandably so. The local elites who are policymakers tend to be knowledgeable of either English or French, and unconsciously, fluidly use the second more developed language for higher education and refined thinking. In many of these societies, Cambodia being the prime example, it is rare to have an educated Cambodian (or Laotian, etc) who only knows her respective language. Higher education is always reliant on a second, more developed language.

Similarly, the donor representatives of USAID, the European Commission, UNICEF, UNESCO, et al, tend to have multiple advance degrees and be fluent in at least English, French or both. Their entry point to the issue of basic education is within their developed language context of 600 years of punctuation and text development, long enough for all of them to believe that punctuation has always existed.


Fourth, the grammar of these local languages has never been scrutinized to the same degree of developed languages. Or, in the rare occasion when punctuation is lightly raised in the context of the local language, it is quickly and confidently dismissed as contrary to culture or incongruous to that local language. This confident wrong answer quickly ends any further inquiry as no one wants to be insensitive to another’s culture or identity.

And fifth, in Cambodia, like in similarly situated developing countries (oftentimes, associated with a huge NGO community), e.g. Laos or any African country where English, French or Portuguese is not an official language, most of the materials in print have been translated and the quality of translation has been lightly, or never, scrutinized for accuracy, reading fluency and/or comprehensibility.

II. Why Punctuation?

Everyone understands that learning (a combination of education and life experiences) requires broad READING. And it should go unstated that by “reading” we should not have to deal with the mechanics of reading or anything else that disrupts our ease of directly reaching the content. That is how we read in the more developed languages, e.g. English.

However, in Cambodia as with the other developing countries, at least three major obstacles hinder our reading.

First, these populations have to untangle the mangled language in order to decipher the content. NO ONE can be made to enjoy reading if the mangled language frustrates and confuses them, giving them headaches from the burden and work of having to decipher and fight the printed page before they can get to the content.

Second, these populations have to read poor translations, not the original text. Oftentimes in places like Cambodia where there is a disparately large aid community that functions in English or French, most of the reading materials were not first produced in the local language but are the result of translation. Thus, the content is another layer of morass because of the messy or incorrect translation.

Third, these populations tend to experience deep trauma which impedes reading. The migraine headaches from trauma disturb and disrupt any initiating of a reading habit. I remember the sharp, persisting migraine headaches I encountered as a child whenever I’d pick up a book to read.


Relatedly, reading requires quietness and solitude and oftentimes traumatized people are afraid to be alone with their own thoughts.


Moreover, when these populations live in loud, crowded conditions without adequate space or lighting for reading, then the reading habit is difficult to take hold, even if books are readily available.

III. History of Punctuation

In light of the above-mentioned environment working against reading, it is even more of an imperative that we get the language developed, the first entry point toward developing a culture of reading.


And we start with punctuation. For us who function in English or a more developed language already employing the full array of punctuation, we take it for granted that punctuation came with the language from time immemorial. However, punctuation also had a beginning and had to be adopted and adapted into the various languages.

According to The Core Blog punctuation itself – literally, the act of adding “points” to a text came into being in the third century BC, when Aristophanes described a series of middle (•), low (.) and high points (˙) denoting short, medium and long pauses. The word space came centuries later, “when monks in medieval England and Ireland began splitting apart unfamiliar Latin texts to make them easier to read.”

Punctuation further developed dramatically with the rise of the printing press, the single greatest development in the history of written language. The introduction of moveable type, and the subsequent burst of printed materials, highlighted the need for a complex system of punctuation. Printed books, paired with globalization, meant that books traveled and punctuation was adopted into Hebrew, French, English, and other developed languages.

The takeaway here is that punctuation has not been around forever. But languages adapt, and developed languages adapted to incorporate punctuation. Khmer must do the same.

IV. Punctuation leads to Flourishing

Cambodians with means or an opportunity to rely on another language rely on their second language for knowledge.

But for the MAJORITY of Cambodians who do not know a second language on a functional or advanced level, they have to fight the printed page and mangled language (of misspelling, of "creative" texting-style punctuation, or just run-on phrases) to get even a scant piece of knowledge.

Imagine only knowing English, and English being stuck in the place that Khmer is now. Do you think you would enjoy reading? Do you think you could understand complex content if you could barely make sense of the text itself?

I deeply believe EVERY CAMBODIAN can be habituated to love to read if given INTERESTING reading materials in correct, clear translations (if translated, which currently the majority of published materials are) that have PROPER, CONSISTENT, SUFFICIENT PUNCTUATION.

This, not simply more schools, is the key to education reform and development. As Stanford University professor Sean Reardon says, “The more we do to ensure that all children have similar cognitively stimulating early childhood experiences, the less we will have to worry about failing schools. This in turn will enable us to let our schools focus on teaching the skills — how to solve complex problems, how to think critically and how to collaborate — essential to a growing economy and a lively democracy.”

It is easy to look past the problem of language, simply give children books, and expect that this will lead to development. But that is skipping an integral step. First, THE CAMBODIAN LANGUAGE NEEDS A COMPLETE OVERHAUL. And that starts with PUNCTUATION.

3rd Commentary in Series A Language in Crisis




. . .





Sam Rainsy: "Yuon" is not pejorative

Theary Seng visits the National Library to look up the word "Yuon", 10 Aug. 2013

See Theary Seng's entry on Facebook, 10 Aug. 2013




CNRP's Impressive



What has not been given much ink in the traditional press is HOW IMPRESSIVE the CNRP has been in guiding the MASSIVE crowds of deeply aggrieved protesters (from poverty, from landlessness, from election fraud, etc.) in NON-VIOLENT protests FOR MONTHS! Since July 2013 till recently, hundreds of thousands of aggrieved Cambodians took to the streets in PEACE... (The violence, which the CPP ALLEGED as started by garment workers, only started on the eve of the highly contested big January 7 day celebration, after Hun Sen went to consult Vietnam.)

And the PEACEFUL aspect had been conditioned by the opposition CNRP in their intentional, strategic TRAININGS, days before the initial protests AND THEIR CONTINUAL EMPHASIS on NON-VIOLENCE at EVERY PRESS CONFERENCE, at EVERY MASS PROTEST I've attended. It wasn't just empty rhetoric of "non-violence"; the CNRP strategically showed films on Gandhi and introduced Martin Luther King, Jr. and other peaceful protests from history to the larger public.

But some of the non-Cambodians have pricked their ears to and anticipated the use of the word "Yuon", the only Khmer word they know. Cambodians, almost unanimously over the years since UNTAC in 1991 when the word metastasized into a "pejorative," have been futilely defending its use as the only Khmer word we know for "Vietnamese".


We've been dismissed outright, with no space to speak of the real serious violations of rights and territory over the years, where countless villagers have been displaced and massive territory has been de facto annexed.


In their world of self-righteousness, quick, cheap moral one-upmanship, there's no space for other voices.

The reactions of both the Cambodians and the self-righteous non-Cambodians have not been helpful.

1. Cambodians, we do need to raise our language from low culture to high culture. Generally, our language is ghetto language of referring to children and some adults as "veer" / "it". We need to equally clean up our language with not only in reference to non-Cambodians, e.g. the Vietnamese and the Thais, but also with each other, e.g. women. Across the board, we need to raise our language culture to a higher level.

2. Non-Cambodians, our history is more than than April 17, 1975 to Jan. 7, 1979. We existed before April 17, and we existed and continue to exist since Jan. 7. Our life, as is your life, is fluid. You also need to reassess on how you have been conditioned to think about us, oftentimes in the most patronizing ways.

I am glad that now the understanding is BEGINNING to take hold that the word "Yuon" is not pejorative by some of these non-Cambodians, but the damage has been done, now moving into a new stage where Sam Rainsy and the whole population of Cambodians are still racists and "disingenuous" because we dare to articulate outside the non-Cambodian understanding of our existence.


- Theary C. Seng, 18 Jan. 2014




. . .



Conversations after the screening with director John Pirozzi, producer Andrew Pope, legendary photographer Roland Neveu and a few others involved with the film...(Theary's apartment, 7 Feb. 2013)

Youk Chhang, the CPP, strikes again! This time in successfully striking out Mu Sochua from the final version of the film screened last night at Chaktomuk Theatre.

At this screening (pictured) at my apartment almost one year ago in Feb. 2013, John Pirozzi mentioned how Youk demanded that Mu Sochua's interview be taken out; John (and we all agreed then) stood his ground and said her comment was relevant and offered a perspective not yet articulated.

I cannot adequately express how disappointed I am, especially having been a strong supporter of this film from the very beginning since 2004, when I assisted with setting up with many interviews, translation, e.g. Prince Sirivuth Panara's interview took place at my then apartment on the riverfront, and since in providing feedback and comments to the several versions I've seen over the years.

Throughout the 8-9 years I've known this film in production and of the many versions I've seen, it also struck me raw the strong emphasis in the final version screened last night of the contested January 7 as the day of liberation.

As always is the case in Cambodia, when beauty (as this film was) is captured by the CPP, it's politically bastardized.


Screening of another version of Don't Think I've Forgotten I saw in 2010 when in Manhattan for the RFK Center's gala.


- Theary Seng, Sunday, 12 Jan. 2014



Don't Think I've Forgotten premieres

in Phnom Penh !!


Chaktomuk Theatre, Saturday, 11 Jan. 2014



This MOVIE which is PREMIERING in Phnom Pen THIS SATURDAY will be THE most important film on Cambodia ONLY AFTER THE KILLING FIELDS. My friend John Pirozzi -- director and DP -- has put heart and soul into this project, a labor of love of 10 years! Cambodians are privileged to be the first ones to view the film before the rest of the world. GET YOUR TICKETS. - Theary, 9 Jan. 2014

. . .


Theary Seng, guest of Al Jazeera English INSIDE STORY on the significance of JANUARY 7

to be aired on 7 Jan. 2014, 11 P.M. Phnom Penh time


. . .


How is the National Assembly Formed?


What the Law Says


I am sorry, but on this issue of legality of the current CPP-formed National Assembly and the CPP-formed Government, it is PRIMA FACIE (on its face) UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

The legal analysis quoted by the media, e.g. Phnom Penh Post, has been REALLY, REALLY SHODDY and EXTREMELY ELEMENTARY on this matter.

For those who care, please read HOW IS THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FORMED? -- my legal brief on the Constitutional provisions, Constitutional Council's decision and spirit and intent of the matter, focusing particularly on the 1993 formations.


This legal brief has been tweaked a few times, but here's the most recent version:



Demonstrating with Suong Sophorn, immediately behind Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, 23 Oct. 2013


Hanging out with friends after a long day at work, 28 Oct. 2013

. . .


The Final Performance of

Eccc (pronounced "icky") the Clown

My LIVE interview with Al Jazeera at the Eccc the Clown's

(Thursday, 31 Oct. 2013)


Today (Oct. 31), I was reminded again how people WANT me to be the "classic victim" of the Khmer Rouge who they can relate and be superior to--dress in a certain way, act in a certain way, speak in a certain way--the victimized victim, if you will, even if they would never consciously admit or articulate it in those ways.

Because a "victim" should be pitied, not be their equal, and certainly not their social superior in education or any other status indices. Sorry, not going to happen with this "victim".


Continue to expect the stilettos and the dark shades!


For more photos and captions, go to my Facebook pages.



Cambodia Trial Ends, Court Looks to Future

Al Jazeera | 1 November 2013

'Political interference'


"The court is necessary, but here it’s not sufficient, it’s deficient, mainly because of political interference," Theary Seng, a human rights lawyer, told Al Jazeera. "The court process is controlled by the current government, which includes former Khmer Rouge, the prime minister, the president of the Senate and the president of the National Assembly. And the list goes on. It’s resulted in donor fatigue, senior resignations and has created this limping court that, to me, is a sham." A former civil party to the court - her parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge - Seng withdrew from the process two years ago.

. . .

Feature-length Documentary Film on Nuon Chea's Defense Team

Theary being interviewed by Dutch film crew working on a feature documentary on Victor Koppe, Nuon Chea's defense lawyer (Phnom Penh, 2 Nov. 2013)

* * *



Christian Classics Ethereal Library


MANY free downloading of complete books -- the CLASSICS !

Including my two all-time favorite novels: The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment!




. . .

The Country that Stopped Reading



Education through Imagination:


A Closed Mind is a Beautiful Thing to Lose

Theary C. Seng, June 2007

Read. Read. Read.

A critical component of the development of the imagination is reading. We Khmers need to read, read, read and read some more. When we read, we prepare ourselves for any and all opportunities which otherwise would pass us by. The Chinese have it right it defining 'success' by combining the character for preparation (internal individually determined) with the character for opportunity (externally determined).

The majority of Khmer live in a harsh reality of abject poverty, crimes and abuse. More than ever we need to keep in mind that reality can be 'beaten with enough imagination'. Imagination, then, is the gateway to wisdom and change, and ultimately to personal and social development.

. . .


Losing our mother tongue

Opinion by Soprach Tong

The Phnom Penh Post, Feb. 9, 2013

Some young people seemingly pretend to be unable to speak their mother tongue...

But when writing in Khmer, which is their native tongue, no one seems to care about accuracy. Even if the dictionary of Patriarch Chuon Nat is installed on their computer, they never bother to open it...

"Khmer citizens must know the national language clearly, in both oral and written form, to ensure it survives."



. . .


Rare reading materials in the Khmer language that have been edited for clarity and easy comprehension!

With the scarcity of available reading materials in the Khmer language in electronic form where I can edit to raise my larger point of the NEED FOR USE OF PUNCTUATIONS, I am glad I can illustrate using the Khmer Bible.


If you ONLY know English, and this is how you have been habituated to read English, how far would you go in your education?


For the KHMER reader, click here and read this chapter from the book of JOSHUA.

(The verse numbers are acting as a punctuation, but without them, the chaos would be UTTER CHAOS.)

For the ENGLISH reader, click here and read this chapter, but imagine there are no proper nouns (no capitalized words) and no punctuations except for the full stop.

The vocabulary (translation) is very good -- as it done by a committee with checks and rechecks, unlike most of the other translations being produced in the whole of society. But without commas and other punctuation, is the Khmer chapter clear and understandable?


This is how Cambodians read the Cambodian language. For Cambodians with means or an opportunity to rely on another language, after they're stuck with the Cambodian language (which is very early on), they rely on their 2nd language for knowledge.


But for the MAJORITY of Cambodians who do not know a 2nd language, they have to fight the printed page and mangled language (of misspelling, of "creative" texting-style punctuation, or just run-on phrases) to get even a scant piece of knowledge.


. . .


Politics and the English Language

Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief
that language is a natural growth
and not an instrument which we shape
for our own purposes.

- George Orwell


. . .




4-Part Series of Commentary to

The Phnom Penh Post

Re-posted on KI-Media and Facebook Accounts

Sent to 1,500 on Email List-serve


Part I


(edited version published in The Phnom Penh Post, 16 Aug. 2011)


Part II


The Written Khmer: The Problem

(edited version published in The Phnom Penh Post, 17 August 2012)



Part III


The Written Khmer: A Few Questions

(anecdotes of the problems on the ground posed in list of questions, forthcoming)



Part IV


The Written Khmer: A Few Recommendations

(a few initial recommendations of the way forward, forthcoming)



Venerable Chuon Nath's Dictionary

and other Authority

(the learned monk of the 20th century is the strongest authority on all things educated, in Khmer)

Venerable Chuon Nath with King Norodom Sihanouk



Language and National Identity

by Dr. Stephen Heder

(a chapter on Cambodia in a book published by Oxford University Press)


. . .


សេចក្តីប្រកាស ជាសកល ស្តីអំពី សិទ្ធិមនុស្ស

Universal Declaration of Human Rights


This version is from a couple of translations published by the UNOHCHR (booklet, webpage) which I have edited mainly with regards to spacing and punctuations for easier comprehension.

On occasions, I have corrected translation inaccuracies.

– Theary C. Seng, Phnom Penh, 30 Nov. 2012


. . .

The Khmer Bible

Version with Proper Punctuations/Formatting

Theary Seng Version

As the Khmer Standard Version of the Bible, 2005 is extremely well translated in terms of word choice/vocabulary, and recently made available in electronic form on the internet, and because I am already very well familiar with the stories and books of the Bible (reading, re-reading them since I first became a Christian at the age of 9 years old--32 years ago!), I am editing the KSV 2005 with proper, consistent, and "new" punctuations as well as reformatting it for clarity and easier comprehension.

I am starting with books and portions of the Bible which contain ideas and concepts which are already familiar, even if the non-Christian Khmer reader may be surprised to find the source as the Bible, e.g. the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Sermon on the Mount, Gospel of Luke and of John, Letter of James, etc.

Both Christian and non-Christian Cambodian readers will be able to appreciate these edited books of the Bible in Khmer, mainly because they rare reading materials available in the Khmer language that are clear and understandable. For the non-believing Khmer readers, take these edited books of the Bible as good literature, which they are (plus more, for the Khmer believers!).

In all instances, I have changed to the correct spelling of ឲ្យ (from អោយ, which is incorrect).


Samdech Sangh (Venerable) Chuon Nath Dictionary (1967) and another dictionary before 1977 have ឲ្យ. Dictionaries of 2004, 2007 have ឱ្យ.

ឱ្យ​ is an accepted form of ឲ្យ. However, the introduction page of Samdech Sangh Chuon Nath dico (1967-1968) edition - note No. ខ៣, he also indicated that while this form is correct, we should not use: ឱយ or អោយ.

Writing អោយ (which is INCORRECT) is akin to texting in English luv . It is common practice to write informally text or email messages "I luv you" but it doesn't make "luv" the correct spelling of "love". The principle also applies to writing Khmer properly.

I am also changing the spelling of សម្រាប់ (correct) from សំរាប់ (incorrect).

When the dictionaries are in conflict without a reasonable explanation, go with the strongest authority, Ven. Chuon Nath dictionary of 1967 which has សម្រាប់ as the correct spelling (as well as the Dictionnaire Détaillé des Homonyses et des Paronymes, 2007).

(សំរាប់ is found in 2 later dictionaries published during great political instability when there were no infrastructure: Cambodian-English of 1977, during the Khmer Rouge genocide, American University Press, and Oxford English-Khmer of 2004, only one year after UNTAC left.)

I am currently having my staff at CIVICUS Cambodia typing two basic books on the history of Cambodia, already translated but lacking proper punctuations, so that I may edit them and make them freely available online for the public.






Must be free of the burdens

of having to fight the printed page

and mangled language.



Is the beginning of effective DIALOGUE, of quality EDUCATION, of RECONCILIATION, of Cambodian FLOURISHING (PEACE with JUSTICE, or SHALOM).


* * *

Theary Seng Commentary, Phnom Penh Post, 16 Aug. 2011
Commentary by Ms. Theary C. Seng, The Phnom Penh Post, 16 Aug. 2011

Commentary by Ms. Theary C. Seng, The Phnom Penh Post, 17 Aug. 2012








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January 7; Kramanation; 47; Kampot Vegetable Sellers; No more selfies; Facebook Profile Name Change

Theary C. Seng, 11 January 2012
Chaktomuk Theatre, Phnom Penh, January 2010

January 7 is indeed a significant day for survivors of the Khmer Rouge. It arrested the macabre convulsions that would have swallowed all of us into a hellish hole if the [ ... ]


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