Mandarin Was Never Our Mother Tongue. Here’s Why This Matters — Rice Media

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— by Natalie Christian Tan: On 15 June, local musician Gentle Bones responded in English to a Mandarin host at the Singapore Cultural Centre’s Cultural Extravaganza, leading to the publication of a Rice Media thought piece on language and ethnic Chinese identity in Singapore. This came in the wake of record-breaking public protests in Hong Kong, which had prompted observers to discuss the subversive role the Cantonese language has played in the demonstrations.

But what does any of this mean for Singaporeans?

At home, older Singaporean Hokkiens pronounce 结婚 (jiéhūn) with a misplaced ‘f’ and a sharper drop in tone (jiè fēn), and Cantonese people stray from official Mandarin standards by pronouncing 白色 (bái sè) with a telltale low-flat tone dip on the 白 (bái).

These happenings are not mere glitches in our region’s chiselled linguistic landscape; they are reflections of our familial histories and the consequences of our nation-building politics.

For a country as young as Singapore, the words we speak and the memories we pass down between generations are direct results of calculated educational and media policy changes. In our bid to facilitate economic relations between mainland China and Singapore, the Singaporean government worked deliberately to erase our native southern Chinese languages, and replace them with a half-spirited “effectively bilingual” education.

They were successful…

June 30, 2019

Categories: Articles, Culture, History, Language, Singapore

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