Comrade Duch’s Chinese Name.

A reader wrote to say “I was curious about the name of a Khmer Rouge leader who died yesterday, so I ended up writing a post about it”; the post, What was Khmer Rouge executioner Comrade Duch’s original Chinese name?, is exactly the kind of philological/linguistic excavation I enjoy, so I’m passing it along for those who have similar interests. Here’s the conclusion:

One character that came to mind was 耀 iău [iau˧˥] or iŏu [iou˧˥], meaning ‘radiance’, as can be found in the name of the Singaporean politician Lee Kuan Yew whose Chinese name was 李光耀 or Lí Kong-iāu in Hokkien. Sure enough, when I searched for 江玉耀, I immediately found a number of results confirming that this was the original Chinese name of Kang Kek Ieu, including the following excerpt from an English-language abstract:

One such killer who fits this description is Kaing Kek Iev (កាំង ហ្គេកអ៊ាវ, aka. 江玉耀Jiāng Yùyào, or more famously, “Comrade Duch”) …

So there you have it—the original Chinese name of this Khmer Rouge war criminal was 江玉耀, pronounced Kang Ge̍k-iău [kaŋ˧ ɡek̚˦ iau˧˥] or Kang Ge̍k-iŏu [kaŋ˧ ɡek̚˦ iou˧˥] in Teochew and Jiāng Yùyào in Mandarin. In Sino-Korean it would be 강옥요 Gang Okyo.

The nom de guerre usually romanized Duch or Douch is written ឌុច Dŭch in Khmer. The pronunciation would be [ɗuc~duc] where the final consonant is a unreleased palatal stop [c̚], although it appears that in many similar words the vowel may be a bit lower (e.g. ជុច chŭch [cʊc] [cɔc] according to the Khmer Pronouncing Dictionary). The sound d in Khmer seems to be variably pronounced as an implosive [ɗ] or the regular [d], with the latter favoured in educated speech. A reasonable approximation in English would be to rhyme it with ‘look’ as [dʊk]; it would be inappropriate to pronounce it like ‘Dutch’.

But it’s a lot of fun seeing the process of deduction; I recommend clicking through for the whole story. Thanks, Jongseong!


  1. Very nice to see a multilingual blog!

    Interesting that the press came up with the pseudo-Chinese 康克由, the result of having a writing system that does not, unlike Japanese and Korean, offer a simple way to write words phonetically, as Victor Mair would be quick to point out. (There is, of course, bo-po-mo-fo, but that’s just about dead outside of Taiwan. And pinyin would work, too, but it wouldn’t be acceptable in a text like a newspaper article — whether due to “convention” or just “appearances”.)

    I’m sure it’s a pleasant-enough name in Khmer, but whenever I see Saloth Sâr it reminds me of Lord of the Rings. If anything “Saloth Sâr”, as pronounced in English, sounds even more evil than “Sauron”.

  2. Thanks, Bathrobe!

    I do wonder about the pseudo-Chinese 康克由 Kāng Kèyóu. 克 is a character that is used frequently in transcription of foreign names into Chinese characters, usually to represent an original [k] sound or similar as in 伊拉克 Yīlākè for Iraq or 乌克兰 Wūkèlán for Ukraine. But here, it is used to represent the entire syllable ‘Kek’ or ‘Guek’. This only really works if you consider Sinitic varieties that (unlike Mandarin) conserve the final [k] of 克 from Middle Chinese khok such as Teochew khiok and especially Hokkien khek which is one of the literary pronunciations of 克. So I’m guessing that 康克由 is not a solely Mandarin-based transcription of the Khmer name.

  3. That is to say, whoever came up with 康克由 may not have been a Mandarin speaker. Where was the news reported? If it was Hong Kong-based reporting, 克 for Ge̍k sounds reasonable.

  4. The transcription 康克由 has been in use for many years. The earliest definitively dated use I could find was in an Epoch Times article from 2004.

    克 is pronounced hak¹ or haak¹ in Cantonese, so it doesn’t really fit ‘Kek’ or ‘Guek’. Lockhart is transcribed as 駱克 Lok³hak¹ in Hong Kong, for example; the character is also found in the name of the Hong Kong film director Tsui Hark (徐克 Ceoi⁴ Hak¹).

    Maybe the transcription 康克由 was coined in Taiwan by someone familiar with Taiwanese Hokkien.

  5. @Jongseong, your Tinder linguist articles are great! A really cool way to look at minority language – I can already think of a few I would try searching for if I had Tinder. Do Svan/Megrelian speakers indicate as such in Georgia? Are there Métis/Cree/Ojibwe-speaking Tinder users active in Canada? Does anyone besides David have their profile in Kusaal? 😉

  6. Thanks, pc! Sadly, minority languages are mostly invisible on Tinder. You would be hard pressed to find anything even in national languages like Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, or Swahili that have the misfortune of sharing the stage with an even more dominant international language like English.

    I did collect some interesting data about language use in Norway concerning the use of Bokmål, Nynorsk, and local dialects, but never got around to writing it up.

  7. I saw belatedly that The New York Times, The Washington Post and others gave the pronunciation of Duch as “Doik”. This seems to be the result of a slightly lowered vowel in Dŭch that I mentioned as well as the use of [jk] for /c/, cf. Vietnamese ach [ăjk̟̚] (Hanoi)/[ăt̚] (Saigon), though in the case of Vietnamese orthographic final ch seems to be usually analyzed as /k/.

  8. I’m sure it’s a pleasant-enough name in Khmer, but whenever I see Saloth Sâr it reminds me of Lord of the Rings. If anything “Saloth Sâr”, as pronounced in English, sounds even more evil than “Sauron”.

    In Khmer, Saloth Sâr is សាឡុត ស Salŏt Sâ, which would be pronounced [saalot sɑɑ] according to the transcription convention used in Headley’s Khmer-English Dictionary. So there is no ‘r’ sound in the original. Like ‘Park’ (Korean surname) or ‘Myanmar’, the spelling ‘Sâr’ seems to be targeting a non-rhotic English pronunciation.

    But French was the dominant European language in Cambodia and Pol Pot himself studied in Paris, so why the phantom ‘r’? I can’t confirm if ‘Sâr’ is the spelling he actually used in France, but the information I can find written about him in French does indeed use the spelling ‘Sâr’ or ‘Sar’, where the ‘r’ would be pronounced by French speakers.

    Maybe the reason is that Khmer itself is non-rhotic, at least for Central Khmer which most Cambodians speak (Northern Khmer, spoken mostly in Thailand, is the rhotic exception, preserving coda /r/). Central Khmer speakers drop coda ‘r’ and would pronounce សរ Sâr and ស identically as [sɑɑ] (both are apparently used as surnames, though in Saloth Sâr’s case it is a given name). I wouldn’t even be surprised if the name was meant to be spelled សរ Sâr originally—there seems to be a fair amount of variation for the spelling of personal names in Khmer.

    But there are other cases of phantom ‘r’ in romanizations of Khmer that can only be explained as targeting a non-rhotic English pronunciation, such as Sorn Seavmey for ស៊ន សៀវម៉ី Sôn Siĕv-Mei or Vorn Vet for វ៉ន វេត Vân Vét. The use of ‘or’ to evoke non-rhotic English [ɔː] is much more common in Thai (e.g. Chulalongkorn).

    Most romanizations of Khmer do indicate orthographic ‘r’ (e.g. Khmer, Angkor) but there are cases where the ‘r’ is commonly dropped. អូរ or which means ‘stream’ or ‘pond (dialectally)’ and is a common element in place names is usually rendered ‘Ou’. This is also the element in Óc Eo, the name of an archaeological site in Vietnam, which is the Vietnamese rendering of Khmer អូរកែវ Or Kêv.

  9. Thanks, that’s great information! (I continue to resent intrusive r’s that cause names to be wrongly pronounced.)

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