Readers of Cham script becoming extinct

The Cham script is falling in danger of becoming unreadable within a few decades as the mainly-Muslim Cham community in Cambodia have adopted to Arabic scripts.

Cham Writing Founders Under Malay, Arabic
VOA News, 13 January 2010

Emiko Stock, a French anthropologist who has studied the Cham, a minority Muslim group in Cambodia, for the past decade, said only a few elder Chams can still read documents written in the Cham language.

“Now there are just a few old Cham literates left,” she said, “so it is a great concern that in the next five to 20 years, there will probably be no one who can read or understand poems, history or other documents in Cham.”

Cham illiteracy could result in the loss of Cham tradition, history and culture as a whole, said Stock, who speaks Khmer fluently.

Cham scripts are still in use by Cham people in Vietnam, who are mostly Hindu. Cambodia’s half a million Cham, who fled the fallen kingdom of Champa in today’s Vietnam, tend to use Arabic rather than Cham.


Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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