Mixed Languages

March 9, 2017
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A lot of people can speak more than one type of language. Except the mother tongue, one might also be able to speak other languages such as dialects and other foreign languages. For me, I can speak three Chinese dialects: Mandarin, Cantonese and Zhejiang dialect. While I experienced an up-and-down mentality because of the intentional blending of language. I eventually realized a truth that was far beyond language itself.

“Li di (Cantonese, for “this” in English) yao hu li bing (Zhejiang dialect, for “gourd” in English) zhen hao chi (Mandarin, for “is so delicious” in English).”

After hearing me say this, my extended family, eight people in total, could not help themselves from laughing mirthfully and incessantly at the dinner table.

We were at dinner, drinking gourd soup. The gourds were so succulent and delicious that I wanted to express my huge enjoyment. Since I was only around five years old at that time and lived in a multi-dialect environment, I involuntarily mixed three different kinds of languages together in one sentence. Because of the weird pronunciation and special mixing, it was really funny.

Afterwards, my family corrected my unconscious mistake. However, at that time, the little me felt very proud of the mixed way of speaking languages because other people would laugh and liked me more. For this reason, I pretended myself to be witty and kept speaking various languages in one sentence on purpose. 

Days had flied quickly, and my habit of blending dialects had irreversibly formed.

“Zu ning gong (Zhejiang dialect, for “the protagonist” in English) hou (Cantonese, for “is very” in English) yong gan (Mandarin, for “brave” in English)”. I, a first-year primary school student, answered a teacher’s question in class loudly.

This was a Chinese language class when the teacher asked us to offer opinions on a reading material. It was a cloudy day. The air in the classroom smelled musty. Several sheds of sunlight arduously sustained their brightness and then vanished quickly. The environment of the classroom became a bit gloomy. I felt that nobody seemed willing to speak, so I wanted to speak out to lighten up the atmosphere. We were required to speak in standard Mandarin anytime in school, but the bad habit followed me and the mix of languages appeared again.
What a huge embarrassment! After several seconds, I realized the awkwardness and my face uncontrollably reddened. The classroom was extremely silent, and the only sound I heard was the quick poundings of my heart. Nobody dared speak a word.

Then, the teacher frowned and said, “What did you just say?”

My punishment was to read a paragraph of text out loud in standard Mandarin. Although it was not that terrible, it still made me feel really bad. I was confused about the different occasions for speaking my mixed language - one was where everybody would laugh and consider me cute, and another was where colloquial or informal expressions were not welcome. Why was that so?

To the grown-up me now, the reason is intelligible: different languages are appropriate for different settings. Family is a warm place full of love where every member cares for each other and mistakes will be forgiven, so my mistake of mixing languages was cute and funny in their eyes. On the contrary, since schools have strict and formal rules that everyone should obey, I cannot violate the Mandarin-only rule by speaking other dialects in class.

However, by intentionally repeating silly mistakes to please others, I failed to be my “true self”: I pretended to seem witty but my “true self” actually wouldn’t do that. My “fake self” in the past was like a clown currying favor. Although it was sometimes successful in evoking temporary laughter in my family, it only achieved a short-run effect and failed to work in other occasions. In this way, I only got a sense of vain pleasure: neither true consideration of wit nor recognition of fair language ability. However, I was so young and naive at that time that I did not realize all this.

Therefore, we should not display a “fake self” again and again merely in order to please others. It was totally unworthy because of its vain pleasure and deeply entrenched habit, which will probably lead to terrible future consequences.

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