Friday, March 20, 2009

Speaking aloud

I am ambivalent about the 'Jiang Hua Yu' campaign (Speak Mandarin Campaign), now in its nth year (I have lost count). MM Lee Kuan Yew is again at it, probably the best spokesman Singapore has to encourage people to speak Mandarin. He has been so successful that I know not a few non-Chinese who speak Mandarin, and I have a son who refuses to learn and speak any dialect, except Mandarin. I thought that since he is born into a Cantonese clan, he should speak Cantonese. After all, when I gave him his name, I deliberately transliterated it in the Cantonese form - phonetically. This was so that he would remember that he is a Cantonese. But he does not want to learn Cantonese, and he doesn't understand it when spoken within earshot of him. He has lost an integral part of his historical being.

I think, rather, the challenge in the Speak Mandarin Campaign is not about speaking less dialect. Few speak dialect any more. The battle today is with English, as MM has suggested. Between the 2, English seems to be a favourite of the majority, even in MM Lee's family. Can anyone be blamed how we all turned out? Not really. It is after all social engineering and you have to tweak the screws here and there once a while to make sure that the desired balance is maintained. The problem is, our younger generation doesn't want to learn Mandarin, though it is an obviously important language, given China's ascendency in the last 20 years or so.

But even as English and Mandarin are engaged in a see-saw battle of the tongue, I would rather that my son learned how to speak Cantonese. It is a family thing, you know, and goes beyond nation building...

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Yes ... me too!

I moved to Australia 3 years ago. Every time I see kids talking to their parents in Cantonese in Chinatown, I am full of envy.

My 9 yr old son can't speak the dialect, despite that my whole family uses it at home!

But I have not given up hope. I started renting those TVB drama serials for him. He particularly liked those stephen chow and jackie chan movies, in cantonese and is slowly picking up bits and pieces.

When you are living overseas, you will realise that dialects are more important than Mandarin. Dialects pull you closer to each other, even for the mainland Chinese.

MM's experience does not count because others put him on a pedestal. No one really wants to be 'kang ki nang' with him. Most only want to con him of his money.