by Chua Wei Ling
Ah, the Lunar New Year is creeping up once again. For some of you, the break for a couple of days would be a excellent holiday to have – for others, it’ll be a dread, because it’ll probably not be a holiday but an interrogation of sorts, especially with all the inquisitive aunties and possibly, concerned grandparents who have yet to see you for ages and hence would bombard you with as many questions as possible. Worse, if you can’t understand nor answer the questions, what are you to do then?
The demise of dialects isn’t a new topic, in fact with the abolishment of dialects in mainstream media after the 60s, the comeback wasn’t until the late 2000s when Taiwanese serials began playing on TVs and spurring the annual seventh month getais to follow suit singing Hokkien songs. These days, they have evolved to sing songs from most dialect groups, including Cantonese and Teochew.
Most teens these days can barely speak a word of their dialect too, as their parents would be the ones growing up in the age where English take precedent over all other language, and Mother Tongue is merely a second language. As such, with English being used as the main language for communication, it is no wonder that the culture of dialects are dying here amongst the youths.
Speaking of dying, besides dialect, the other language that takes a beating is our Mother Tongue. Interestingly, as a nation that boast having citizens who are at least bilingual, stop any youth along the road these days and ask if they do read novels in their Mother Tongue or even write them these days and chances are, no one does it – but they do read English novels (minimally too…).
However, we digress. Coming back to the topic of dialects, while it may seem like it’s no loss to not understand dialects, since all you are probably going to use it for is during the Lunar New Year holidays, but going beneath the surface, did you know that dialects can actually help you, especially if you are an avid traveller? Take for instance Teochew – if you can’t seem to communicate with anyone in English or Chinese in Thailand, and know not a word of Thai, chances are the Thai-Chinese there will understand Teochew if you speak to them in it. In Taiwan, you can also use Hokkien, albeit their dialect and ours are slightly different, but you would be able to communicate with no problem at all, especially if you are in the sleepier parts of the central or southern regions.
By now, hopefully you are itching to go pick up on one or two dialects. If that’s the case for you, you’re in luck, because there are currently crash courses being conducted by The Father Tongue for youths between 18 – 35 years old. With the help of the clan associations and community centres, along with the National Heritage Board, you’ll be able to pick up some helpful terms in the hour long lessons.
The current lesson dates are as followed: