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4/21/2008

Dialect teaching - Going forward or backward?

I was brought up as a dialect speaker. I still feel the same sense of intimacy when conversing in my dialect with another of the similar kind. In the name of culture and roots and connection with Ah Ma and Ah Kong, some want to bring back dialect officially. The idea is seductive. Mandarin is a little alien and a little uncomfortable to many. The key question is whether we should go back to dialects. We have come so far, after the initial resistance and pain, to have Mandarin fully established among the young. The days of the old hags are over, or numbered. I too will be over in no time. Any attempt at this stage to reverse the direction will be a big waste of effort. For before the dialect is acquired, the old generation of old hags will be gone and the new generation of old hags will be Mandarin or English speakers. There will no longer be any anguish for not being able to communicate with Ah Kong and Ah Ma. Mandarin and a standard Chinese script have done immeasurable good to a huge country like China, a country that is so diverse in culture and ethnicity. Imagine what would China be like without an official language. Maybe they will have to adopt English as the common language. Do not underestimate the power of language. English is the lingua franca of the West. It has slowly evolved and become a language of choice in science and technology, in trade and commerce, and in diplomacy. Most important, it allows the world to speak to one another. Do we want to dilute our effort in having one common language for a group of diverse Chinese just because we want to talk to a few old hags at home? Think very carefully. Think with the head and not the heart. My heart says yes to dialect. My head says no. OK, it is only for a few in schools. An elective subject for those who want. Can we afford the resources if every 3 person want to learn their mother tongue? If we are going ahead with this experiment, we must be prepared to give in to the request of all racial groups who are emotionally attached to their mother tongue. My personal choice, let's don't turn back and undo all the things that have been done. We will create a bigger mess. Talk cock sing song is ok. When talk cock and sing song are taken seriously and implemented as official policies that will affect the whole people and the future generation, let's be more careful.

10 comments:

Matilah_Singapura said...

> The key question is whether we should go back to dialects <

That should always be an individual decision. And no "policy" should ever be allowed in.

The problems began when the PAP cult-leaders banned dialects and forced an "official" language on people. And they were very clever in generating fear: "Speak Mandarin or else you'll be left behind".

Motherfuckers in Hong Kong are laughing so hard their balls are chaffing.... until only recently, Honkies have been proudly speaking, fighting, joking, dealing, threatening, insulting, writing, acting, singing, swearing, greeting—i.e. communicating in Cantonese.

And were the Honkies "left behind" because they didn't speak Mandarin? No. The fuckers became one of the richest places in THE WORLD.

Step out one night and visit a Canto-pop club... where a lot of the young kids go. Do a quick mental calculation f the business's cash-flow. The numbers are respectable. The basis of the business: DIALECT.

redbean said...

cantonese in hongkong was and still is the lingua franca. nearly everyone speaks cantonese, including kweilo and indians.

mandarin is quite different in singapore. so are all the dialects. no one is in the same dominant position as cantonese in hk. try a hainanese talking to a khek or to a hock chia, or a heng hua etc. it is like chicken and duck.

dialect speaking, i agree, should be a personal choice. but for common usage, it is better to stick to a common language. by now the younger generations are quite comfortable with mandarin. the older generation will be here no more. history tomorrow.

Matilah_Singapura said...

Human beings have always figured out ways of communicating with each other-- without the need for "official" govt policy.

It doesn't matter whether people of different dialects understand each other or not. If they want to communicate, they'll do what they've always done: either learn each other's language, or use a "common" language. Language, like culture and markets are spontaneous orders.

Govt interference needs to get the fuck away from this.

Freedom of Speech also encompasses choosing the language to wish to use, for yourself. (whether or not people understand you is another story)

Anonymous said...

Apart from Hong Kong, I am sure the Japanese did not abandon their language for English wholesale, but look at them. Were they left behind? Same with the South Koreans. Incidentally, dialect is also the only way to understand a tribes culture.

redbean said...

i don't think any country will give up their own language. the closest one can get to is india when english is the semi official language, or is it the official language?

in tiny singapore, if we are going to accept the different dialects, my goodness, just the chinese and indians alone will turn us into a mess.

there is a difference between individual interest and group or state interest. individually, everyone wants to be what they are, to be different or belong to some groupings. from the nation's point of view this will be a nightmare.

countries develop as a people with a language to communicate with each other. the enormosity of china and india with a huge diversity of people and language/dialect pose a great challenge compare to a more homogenous country like japan, england, france or germany.

we are so small and an artificiality with people from all over the places. one language is already impossible. to include dialects into our official form of communication, whew?

it is better to go for a single or lesser language than to accentuate the differences and pander to every little tribe's preference for their own uniqueness. it is a sure sign of trouble.

Matilah_Singapura said...

People come to their own decisions when they are left alone.

There should be no central planning when it comes to language.

Human beings have to solve problems--that comes with being human. There is really no such thing as an "authority" who presumes to know what is "best" for "society". Because for one thing, there is no such thing as "society".

Many years ago some jerk-offs decided that it was in the human race's "best interest" to speak the same language, so these "geniuses" invented Esperanto.

Today, we know Esperanto is well and truly dead--only a few language geeks get into it.

The "General Market" will accept and reject what it needs or doesn't need. All markets, are DEMAND driven.

Therefore people will adjust themselves, as they have always, to find ways of solving day-to-day problems--like communication.

The human species has progressed from hunter-gatherer communities to a huge interconnected global village--WITHOUT central planning. People don't have to "give up" their (non-conflicting) cultural beliefs and practices to be part of this diverse global community.

Most Anglo-phonic countries have a huge chunk of their population who are mono-lingual, for example. Yet they still manage to trade internationally and produce vast amounts of wealth.

The free market also provides many opportunities for learning new languages. It can be done very cheaply now with mp3s and cd-roms. No big deal. You can learn foreign language basics is a short time for very little money a week or two before you travel to your exotic destination.

Notice here that no government is involved. People simply decide what is best for them, and take the necessary action.

Matilah_Singapura said...
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Matilah_Singapura said...
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Anonymous said...

In the old days people of different dialect groups stay together in kampongs but each speak their own dialects, but over time each group were also able to learn to speak the others' dialect. I agree it is a matter of adjustment.

For example, some foreigners are learning Mandarin when they want to do business in China and the Chinese are picking up English when they want to do business with the West or work in offices or factories set up by foreigners.

But of course, in Singapore, when they want to get rid of something not on their agenda, they will advance all kinds of wonderful reasons to support their arguments. And when they want to do things which they in fact detest decades ago, like FI and casino, they also give all the wonderful reasons to do so. It is understandable.

redbean said...

those were the days when time is aplenty. somehow we have time to do many things, including looking at the stars and making babies.

we are now caught in a very hectic pace of life and i think we can't afford to spend too much time socialising with neighbours. everyone is in a hurry.

dialect should be left to the individuals to pursue at their own pleasure and time. it is something very emotional and sentimental.