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My three favorite Khmer words and what we can learn from them

OMF church planter Will Grover serves in Cambodia – which has meant learning the national language, Khmer. Here he shares three of his favorite Khmer words and what we can learn from them.

Learning a language is more than just learning new vocabulary. It’s coming to understand the culture of a specific people group. When you begin translating, rarely do you ever give a literal word-by-word translation, because typically, different languages use different words for expressing the same idea.

For example, in Khmer (the national language of Cambodia) if you are wanting to communicate, “I’m hanging out with my friend,” the Khmer words you would use aren’t anything close to the words we use for “hanging out.” You would actually combine the words “to walk” and “to play” to create the equivalent of “hanging out.” If I used the literal words for “hang” and “out” the meaning would be completely lost (and sound totally ridiculous to a Khmer speaker). With this information in mind, here are three of my favorite Khmer words and what we can learn from them.

No.3) ចូលចិត្ត (Chol chet) – To like something

This is a very common word that you hear all the time, but if you take a look at the two Khmer words that are combined to create the word “like” you will find something fascinating.

The first word (Chol) means “to enter” and the second word (Chet) means “heart.”

So what you are basically saying when you are communicating that you like something or someone is that thing or person has “entered your heart.” This word has helped me to think a little more carefully about what it is that I let into my heart and being more selective of what I choose to like.

#2) មុខមាត់ (mok moat) – Refers to your honor or reputation

This interesting word introduces a very complex cultural topic known as honor/shame. Many Eastern cultures have a high emphasis on honor and shame which focuses more on one’s place within a community and their different relational ties rather than on the individual.

Instead of focusing on right vs wrong, this particular cultural aspect highlights how different actions affect one’s status within a community. If you’re seen acting poorly, you would be ashamed and feel relational distance, while the flip side would be gaining status (gaining face) and having stronger relational connections.

This word literally translates into “face mouth” pointing out that the face is the part of the body perceived as honorable while the feet would be considered dirty or less honorable. This word can help us better understand why no person could see God’s face in Scripture, due to the fact that his honor and glory are too great for any individual to be able to take in.

#1) ទុកចិត្ត(Tdook chet) – To trust

This final word is similar to the first as it describes the heart. The first word (Tdook) means “to put or to place” and the second word, as we’ve already learned means “heart.” Therefore, the word that translates as “to trust” literally means “to place the heart.”

This is another incredible visual of what happens when we decide to trust someone. We are actually placing our heart with them. This word has helped me think deeper into what it means to actually trust God. Many times I find that I say the words of trusting him, but I don’t actually place my heart with him. Let’s remember that trusting God means action, such as putting your heart into his hands.

I hope you’ve found these three words interesting! Which one stands out the most to you and why?


This post first appeared on Will’s blog, Grover Global, and is reproduced here by permission. 
Photo by Vicky T on Unsplash.

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