Tuesday, 3 August 2010

In defence of our Chinese dialects, again

Two months ago, I happened to write something in defence of the usage of our Chinese dialects at home. Here is an excerpt:
Mandarin may be the unifying tongue for the Chinese people in China and of course, it is important too that the Chinese Malaysians know the unifying language of their ancestors but for heaven's sake, learning this language should not be made at the expense of our own heritage here in Malaysia.

Our forefathers came to Malaya to make better lives for themselves. They toiled hard and while they assimilated well into this land, they never forgot or shed their own local dialects.

The dialects still have an important part in play in our Chinese Malaysian culture and is an integral part of our heritage. That's what makes it so rich and fascinating. That's what makes it so unique here too, a melting pot of dialects within such a small country. We should be proud of our ability to understand the dialects and never give them up.

Who would have known that the very essence of the use of dialect is creating turmoil in China itself? I have just learnt that hundreds of people, possibly thousands, have been protesting in Guangzhou for about two weeks already. In Hong Kong, about 200 demonstrators marched to the city's government headquarters.

Reason for these protests? A political advisory body in Beijing proposed that local television stations in Guangdong province switch from Cantonese to Mandarin for prime-time shows before Guangzhou hosts the Asian Games in November. This led to rumours that the Chinese government was planning to weaken or even abolish the Cantonese dialect.

With Cantonese being the mother tongue for an estimated 70 million people across Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province in China and widely spoken by overseas Chinese communities, this had raised grave concerns and suspicion, and forced the people there to protest over the need to protect their mother tongues.

I can only hope that the Chinese here in Malaysia can take the cue from what's happening in China to ensure that their own dialects are protected as well.

It is a big mistake if we think that Mandarin alone can unify the Chinese ethnicity here. Of course, we don't need to do like those people did by protesting or attending rallies. A simple act to propagate our cultural heritage and identity by using dialect at home and within our communities will be enough.

It will be an irreversible error to let the Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hainanese, Hockchiew and other local dialects disappear from common usage. For the sake of our children, let's save our dialects. It will be a far richer experience for them.

No comments: