Digital Literacy in Cambodia



By David Kattenburg

Justice is tough. One of the biggest challenges facing the joint Cambodian-U.N. Khmer Rouge tribunal — now in the midst of its second round of trials against the leaders of the 1975-79 genocide in which an estimated two million Cambodians perished — is translating Khmer-language testimony into English and French for foreign judges and lawyers. Khmer is a supremely complex language. Few are capable of translating it simultaneously.


Then there was the task of transcribing Khmer testimony, as it was spoken, so that Cambodians can read it. How would you do that on computer? Khmer looks like Sanskrit. There aren’t enough keys on a standard Latin keyboard for all the Khmer language’s unique characters and sounds. It takes three or four keystrokes to render a single letter or vocal element. That’s not all. Khmer script moves up, down, left and right along five lines. To type Khmer on a standard QWERTY keyboard, one must improvise.

A Khmer unicode is needed. Unicodes are internationally approved glossaries that assign a number to each character. Latin unicode drives English or French-language keyboards. With the support of Canada’s International Development Research Center, a computer software engineer named Sok Chea Huor and his colleagues have developed a Khmer unicode for typing Khmer.

Word processing is just the start. If you can type Khmer, you can put it on the Internet. You can digitize Khmer content and broadcast it. You can promote digital literacy in the countryside, where many can’t read and horizons beg to be raised. This is the aim of iREACH … Informatics for Rural Empowerment and Community Health. The IDRC has been supporting this project as well. Listen up.

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