tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
[personal profile] tevere
The new year didn't start particularly auspiciously, with a death in the family. It was my maternal grandmother, but we've never been close-- my mother disliked her, so the only memories I have of her is as an undifferentiated part of the Cantonese-speaking adult presence on the other side of the lazy susan during yum cha and family gatherings. I'll fly back next week for the funeral, home again two days later, and I suppose that will be that.

I always get annoyed when people say, snidely, "You can't even talk with your grandparents?" as if my inability to speak Cantonese is a personal moral failing. You want to know why I can't speak it? Why is because my Chinese-Malaysian mother was raised in a post-colonial society in which English was the language of privilege. She was educated in English, which her parents believed would give her better opportunities. She was forced to go to university overseas, because Chinese were systemically denied places in the Malaysian higher education system. She married a white man, and settled permanently in the west. When she had children, she was told by western educators that raising them bilingually would result in a lesser command of both languages, and if she knew one thing, she knew that if you were to succeed in the west you had to speak perfect English. When her children occasionally asked her to try speaking Cantonese to them, so they could learn, she'd say, "What do you need that for, here?" Mandarin, on the other hand, was useful, the acknowledged language of the future, so that was taught, but only later.

So it's not that I'm lazy, I have no respect for my culture. I don't have the language of my grandparents because it was withheld from me for my own good by parents who otherwise strove as mightily as they could to give me every educational opportunity.

I remember the first time I went to Hong Kong, I was startled and delighted by how it sounded like home-- a bone-deep familiarity that was, nonetheless, still completely incomprehensible. And now, over time, as I gradually learn more Mandarin, Mandarin has become familiar and (occasionally) comprehensible, and the sounds and characters of Cantonese increasingly alien.

I casually mentioned to a Cantonese-speaking friend that perhaps I'd like to learn one day, at least enough to get that lost sense of familiarity back, but she snorted and said bluntly, "You're too old. Mandarin, maybe, but Cantonese? Adults can't." True or not, I do know deep down that I'll never learn; I have a hard enough time keeping my current languages in my head, and of the Chinese languages Mandarin is more useful.

In the not-too-distant future, everyone in my family who can speak Cantonese will be gone, and I guess that will be that, too.

Date: 2014-02-01 11:53 pm (UTC)
yiduiqie: (Default)
From: [personal profile] yiduiqie
plus ELEVEN MILLION is how i feel about the sentiments in this post. i spoke maybe a dozen sentences to my maternal grandmother in my whole life (before she died). part of that's how difficult as a family we find conversations; a huge part of that is my inability to speak cantonese beyond understanding when i'm told to do something.

Date: 2014-02-02 03:27 am (UTC)
vi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] vi

Date: 2014-02-02 09:24 am (UTC)
isilya: (Default)
From: [personal profile] isilya
Ahh, white douchebros reprimanding me for losing touch with my heritage! Fuck off, douchebros!

Your mother wasn't wrong about the importance of perfect English, though I think current theories lean towards bilingual upbringings delaying but not diminishing primary language skills.

I wonder if there's a smaller Cantonese-speaking population in Adelaide, because growing up in Perth, I actually thought that Mandarin was much rarer than Cantonese (lol when I was very young, I thought it was a dialect).

Date: 2014-02-02 02:23 pm (UTC)
pulchritude: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pulchritude
I can relate to this so much. Just today, one of my aunts told me I should stop trying to learn my own topolect and just speak Standard Mandarin because it shows that I'm of a higher class. It made me really sad, but lol, I hope to find a husband whose topolect is the same as mine, so.....XD;;;

Date: 2014-02-02 08:48 pm (UTC)
jhameia: ME! (Default)
From: [personal profile] jhameia
I tend to resent the fact that Mandarin is the only Chinese lingo available to me most of the time to learn, and even when I tried back in Malaysia it was always through memorization--I discovered much later, after taking an Intro to Arabic class, that the memorization of passages taught by most Chinese tuition teachers in Malaysia simply doesn't work for me as a language-acquisition style. And I would much rather learn Cantonese.

So, yeah, that's another reason to not know the dialect of our ancestors... Mando has become the supreme dialect, the only one worth teaching, so it's harder for adults like us to learn the dialects of our ancestors =( I told my dad if I ever have a child I'm going home so they can have exposure to SOME dialect...

Date: 2014-02-03 07:21 pm (UTC)
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)
From: [personal profile] oyceter
I'm so sorry =(. I barely said anything to my maternal grandmother the entire time I knew her because her Mandarin and my Mandarin weren't very good, as she primarily spoke Cantonese and I primarily spoke English. Every time my relatives on my mom's side would get together, I wouldn't be able to understand anything. My mom says it's because my dad (whose parents are from Zhejiang province) didn't want her teaching me and my sister a language he didn't understand, which I find VERY WRONGHEADED.

Date: 2014-06-03 05:09 pm (UTC)
delfinnium: (Default)
From: [personal profile] delfinnium
that was exactly my experience, except my dad said that he wouldhave taught us Hokkien and maybe even cantonese from Penang, but my mother didn't want to hear a dialect she didn't understand (She doesn't like his family). She wouldn't even teach us her dialect either - she was very proud of her recieved pronunciation accent she'd learnt in New Zealand, and a lot of us sibs grew up without knowing any Mandarin or topolects.

What we DID learn, we picked up from school. my sister eventually got very good at Mandarin out of sheer bullheadedness and deciding to go to a Chinese girls school in Singapore for secondary school and junior college and deciding to read and watch Chinese drama serials.

I only ever got better at Mandarin after I first decided to read Chinese novels (They are a PAIN and it's embarrassing and frustrating) and now my labmates in the uni are all from mainland China, I actually now speak Mandarin with a Mainland China accent, but my vocab is still crap and I only know enough Hokkien to make my Singlish sound less... fake. :|

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