Creating a Language by Committee

A member of the Cambodian Sign Language committee models a sign for the illustrator.

PHNOM PENH – On the white board, nine words in Khmer are listed in blue. In the cool, dim room, members of the Cambodian Sign Language committee are seated at an oval conference table scattered with the various implements essential to their work—iced coffee sweetened by condensed milk, a Khmer-English dictionary, paper and pencils. Papers ruffle on the table as a breeze surges through the barred window, slightly swinging the heavy green shutters.

The list-maker, a hearing sign language interpreter at Krousar Thmey, turns to face the group, pointing at the first word. She then acts out the meaning of the word, using a combination of signs and mime. Another member of the group consults his computer and turns it around to show the others that there is already a sign for the word, a Krousar Thmey sign. Signers from Deaf Development Programme look at each other and nod. DDP does not have a sign for this word so the group votes to use the Krousar Thmey sign.

Over the next three hours, the group deliberates over the nine words, creating signs where none exist. For example, there is no sign for the Khmer word that describes the —> Read More Here


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