Dictionary of Kammu Yùan Language and Culture

Jan-Olof Svantesson, Kàm Ràw (Damrong Tayanin), Kristina Lindell and Håkan Lundström

  • Published: 2014
  • Pages: 448 pp., 10 maps and c. 300 illustrations
  • Series: NIAS Reference Library
  • Series number: 6
Worldwide
ISBN Hardback: 978 87 7694 116 1, £100
  •  A unique reference work detailing Kammu life, language and culture.
  • First comprehensive dictionary for any SE Asian minority language.
  • Encyclopaedic entries contain a wealth of linguistic and cultural information, and much on plant medicine.

By retaining their orally based culture through to the present day, the Kammu of northern Laos and adjacent parts of Vietnam, Thailand and China have long been recognised as a repository for much that has been lost or ignored in the literate cultures of their lowland neighbours. Many studies of Kammu folklore, music and society have been published as a result. Arguably, its crowning achievement is finally to appear.

Ostensibly, this is a dictionary of the Yùan dialect of Kammu but the reality is far more: a vast, encyclopaedic reference work that details not only some 13,000 words but also describes all aspects of Kammu life, including rites and ceremonies, implements, plants and animals. The richness of this detail is largely based on author Kàm Ràw’s personal knowledge and experience as a Kammu hunter, swidden farmer and shaman. The result is an essential reference work that not only details the life, language and culture of the Kammu but also offers a rich insight into the worlds of minority peoples elsewhere in upland Southeast Asia and southern China.

author image not supplied

Kàm Ràw (1938–2011) grew up in a Kammu village in northern L

Kàm Ràw (1938–2011) grew up in a Kammu village in northern Laos. He came to Sweden in 1974 to work in Kristina Lindell’s Kammu project. Under his Lao name Damrong Tayanin, he was the author or co-author of several books on Kammu folktales and the traditional Kammu lifestyle.

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by Mathias Jenny
From journal:
Orientalistische Literaturzeitung

"(…) a concentrated overview of the Kammu world, rather like an encyclopedia."

"(…) the DKY is a nearly perfect tool for anthropologists and linguists interested in Southeast Asian cultures and languages and will hopefully serve as an example for future dictionaries to be produced of the languages not only of Southeast Asia."

"(…) a concentrated overview of the Kammu world, rather like an encyclopedia."

"(…) the DKY is a nearly perfect tool for anthropologists and linguists interested in Southeast Asian cultures and languages and will hopefully serve as an example for future dictionaries to be produced of the languages not only of Southeast Asia."

by Mark J. Alves, Montgomery College
From journal:
Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 9

"This 462-page culturally focused dictionary is a highly valuable resource to both linguists and anthropologists interested in the Kammu people specifically, but also the indigenous groups of mainland Southeast Asia."

"Not surprisingly, this dedicated team has assembled not just a dictionary but essentially an encyclopedia of Kammu language and culture."

"This 462-page culturally focused dictionary is a highly valuable resource to both linguists and anthropologists interested in the Kammu people specifically, but also the indigenous groups of mainland Southeast Asia."

"Not surprisingly, this dedicated team has assembled not just a dictionary but essentially an encyclopedia of Kammu language and culture."

"Overall, this is a tremendous contribution to mainland Southeast Asian linguistics and sociocultural studies, and it will undoubtedly help researchers deepen understanding of the Kammu language and culture, neighboring ethnic groups and languages in Southeast Asia, and traditional cultures more broadly"

by Paul Sidwell, Australian National University
From journal:
Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 16, No. 2

"This handsome volume is modestly titled a dictionary of language and culture. It is really more an encyclopaedic account of the Kammu Yùan language and society, which is otherwise quickly assimilating into mainstream Lao rural culture. The data presented includes some 13,000 words and 300 line drawings, as well as extensive commentary on cultural, botanical and faunal details.

"This handsome volume is modestly titled a dictionary of language and culture. It is really more an encyclopaedic account of the Kammu Yùan language and society, which is otherwise quickly assimilating into mainstream Lao rural culture. The data presented includes some 13,000 words and 300 line drawings, as well as extensive commentary on cultural, botanical and faunal details. Especially welcome are the illustrations explaining references for body parts and architectural terms which are often difficult to translate or gloss effectively into English or other languages of scholarship.

(…) The book is surely a late example of something that is as endangered as its subject matter: an inexpensive and extensively informative hardback academic monograph, the product of four decades of meticulous research.

(…) Overall, the Dictionary of Kammu Yùan Language and Culture is a very welcome […] compilation of decades of important academic work by the Kammu project team based at Lund, and a welcome addition to the cannon of Austroasiatic linguistic reference literature."

by Gisa Jähnichen, Universiti Putra Malaysia
From journal:
Asian Ethnology 73/1–2, 2014

"The advantage of this dictionary by Svantesson, Kàm Ràw, Lindell, and Lundström is the purposeful approach to culture as the background and outcome of language.

"The advantage of this dictionary by Svantesson, Kàm Ràw, Lindell, and Lundström is the purposeful approach to culture as the background and outcome of language. Its unique feature is that the main body of knowledge derives nearly entirely from one single individual and the sum of his understanding of various aspects of life gained within a limited time frame of thirty-four years. Kàm Ràw, born in 1938 in northern Laos and emigrated in 1972, is undoubtedly a versatile and reliable representative of his culture, and his qualifications are manifold.

(…) interesting and detailed information is given in the key areas of the dictionary. The rich appendix, which includes maps, geographical names, a comprehensive index of songs, prayers and sayings, measures, plants, animals, village life, and concluding with an English index, is undoubtedly worth studying. The dictionary might be of special interest to those who are involved in various types of fieldwork, onsite data collection, and academic approaches to cultural description. Last but not least, the dictionary is the product of a scholarly team that pursued their long-term goal without compromising the outcome, and thus it will be very welcomed by readers."

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