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Monday, December 20, 2004

The Lost Dialects

The hierachy of languages and dialects in my family is as follows:

Grandfather: Speaks Mandarin and Hokkien.
Father: Speaks Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, English and Malay.
Me and my siblings: Speaks Hokkien, English and Malay.
My kids, my nephews and nieces: Speaks or will probably speak only English and Malay.

Grandpa, a migrant from China, spoke his mother tongue fluently but his son's generation, ie my father is the best. He learned Mandarin and Hokkien from grandpa, picked up Cantonese and Malay at work (dad is a retired police officer) and learned English from his own children.

As Malaysian Chinese we are very fortunate indeed to be multilingual. I still remember going on a holiday trip to Hong Kong with dad when I was younger. The Taiwanese spoke Mandarin and Hokkien, The Hongkees spoke Cantonese and they were amazed at dad who not only spoke Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese but English and Malay as well.

But our generation is losing it. I feel really sad about not understanding and being unable to read Mandarin. I have been trying to teach myself but its hard to learn a language. At the most, I can probably read some signs and understand some conversational chinese but am still unable to read the papers. They only taught one mandarin class in primary school and I remember us girls would "ponteng" (skip) classes to climb a tree in our school yard. What a waste!

What about our children? Its even worse. None of my nephews and nieces speak hokkien and my children are heading towards that direction too. When my sisters want to say something to me within earshot of their kids, they say it in Hokkien because the kids do not understand. They can say just very simple things like "Lu chiak pah ah boi" (Have you eaten?), "Chiak pah liao" (Eaten). When they do speak these sentences they have this "mat salleh" slang (spoken like a foreignor) .....

I tried to teach my toddler a few Hokkien words but she too said it with a "mat salleh" slang. Its hard to teach them a second language when it is not spoken at home. My husband is Hokkien but he doesn't speak it. His cantonese is almost as bad. According to him, he speaks "bahasa cina" ie a rojak (mix) of Hokkien, Cantonese, Mandarin and Malay. So we converse in English. The other couples in my family ie my siblings all converse with their spouses in English too even though they may both speak the same dialect, I have no idea why. But of course this conversing in English with spouses among our generation is sometimes a result of "inter-dialect" marriages.

Its the same with our culture. We're losing it. I do not understand nor celebrate correctly the various cultural celebrations. My knowledge of our own chinese cultural celebrations died along with my mum. I have no idea when or why certain celebrations take place accept for what I read. Most of the time, I only know about a coming celebration from colleagues, the papers or when they start selling the food associated with the celebrations at the mall. My way of celebrating is to eat without fully knowing the significance of the celebrations.

For the sake of my children, I will have to read more about these celebrations, blog about it and celebrate and educate my children about their culture less it gets lost. Don't want them to end up as "orang cina celup" (literally translated to mean "dipped Chinese" or better explained as "gold plated jewellery" and not "pure gold" as they should be.)

I mentioned I was going to blog about our cultural celebrations as a way to teach myself before teaching my children (the teacher has to learn too) but just came across 5XMom's blog on the Winter Solstice Festival. She has come up with nice pictures too! Hehe. One less homework for me to do. Just link to her. I didn't even know that that celebration was coming up so soon. I've really lost it...... :-(

Adding more info on the Winter Solstice Festival for my future reference. Here's another blog on it and here's the recipe to make the kuih ee (glutinous rice flour balls).

Information Improvisation:

These days for those lost friends that can't be found anywhere, there are people search sites online where its easy finding friends that you may not have seen or spoken to in hears. Most people find that people searches are very successful.


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