Goodness gracious me!

Regular listeners to the afternoon show on TraxxFm (1-4pm) would be familiar with this song with Sophia Loren as the patient and Peter Sellers as a doctor, an Indian one at that with a peculiar Indian accent. Then, there is S.H. Tan who had a hilarious anecdote about a Chinese fruit seller at Petaling Street and a Malay customer. Furthermore, some of you may know the Malay stand-up comic, Datuk Jamali Shadat, who shot to fame when he emerged 1st runner-up in Bakat TV 1970 (or was it 1971?) . He would have the audience in stitches, speaking in all kinds of accents from the various communites in the country. And of course, there’s the one-time very popular TV sit-com, “Mind Your Language”. Remember “Mr. Blown” (pronounced Bla – uan)? All in good fun, I would say…and definitely not intended to offend or insult any sector of the population, but some people saw it fitting to impose a ban on the speaking of Malay in any other accent.  Anyway, that is not the concern of this post.

Despite being an English Language teacher before, I, for one, would not insist on R.P. or the Queen’s English even though there are people who would speak as if they are gargling with marbles or the mouth is stuffed with mashed potatoes. Some students (young upstarts!) would do that, probably because of their home environment or for other reasons known only to them. I would let them speak that way as long as they were comfortablle with it AND as long as they did not make any structural or grammatical errors. Then I would snap their heads off, barking, “You speak like you’ve been living overseas all your life and you don’t even know the simple tenses???”

Whatever it is, there can be no denying that in many cases, a person’s mastery of a language may be affected by his/her mother tongue. Here in Sibu with the predominant Foochow population, it comes as no surprise that there is some negative interference when it comes to the speaking of the English Language. In Form One, the poor kids have to wrestle with Shakespeare’s “Life’s Brief Candle”…and imagine them having to recite, “Thu..mo..lo…, thu..mo..lo.., thu..mo..lo..” which in Foochow, means “No more, no more, no more!”

And what do you think they mean when they appear at the door and ask, “May I khang nging, please? (“Khang nging” in Foochow means “to see”), I would retort, “Khang nging no miang?” (What do you want to see?) The truth of the matter is they want to COME IN but somehow, they have a problem saying “come”. A college lecturer suggests that in their dialect, every word ends with a vowel (mouth open) so they cannot handle a word for which they have to close the mouth at the end. As for ending words with “ng”, the lecturer says that a look at their surnames may explain the whole thing – Wong, Ting, Ling and so on.

Unfortunately, as their English teacher, I had to try and rectify the problem and I assure you it was no easy task. However, I would think that language is for communication and once communication is established, what does it matter? Only when communication breaks down, therein lies the problem like this story that I heard some time ago.

The English would pronounce “no” in a manner that it sounds something like “nau” while Asians would just say ‘no’ as the spelling dictates.   So once, there was this Chinese pilot; as his aircraft was approaching Heathrow Airport, he contacted the control tower saying, “Lequestin permission to rand?” The runways were congested, so the guy at the control tower replied, “No! No!” The pilot heard, “Now! Now!” and landed…..