When a group of curious people gather, ideas and creation burst. My community, which contains 8 young, innovative, and diverse high school students, created our own language in Grade 10 and developed it into one of the symbols of our “squad.” Our language has a rather casual grammar, and creativity is one of the key characteristics of its composition. Basically, the “HFI Dialect” is a melting pot of words from Mandarin, Cantonese, English, and, particularly, a tone of Chinese northeastern dialect. We intentionally pronounce words in a nonstandard fashion: saying “ci le ma” instead of “chi le ma(‘Have you eaten’), and “sui jiao” instead of “shui jiao (‘Sleep’).” Besides the change in pronunciation, we add a suffix of “er,” which is a unique sound in the northeastern dialect, after words we seem reasonable. In order to exaggerate the weirdness of our tone, we sometimes insert English interjections, such as “oh my god” and “I mean.”
Therefore, a typical conversation in “HFI Dialect” appears like this:
“Hey Jiujiu (English), ci wan fan-er ma? (northeastern dialect of ‘hey Jojo, are you going to have dinner?’)”
“Bu. I mean (English) wo yao sui jiao. (northeastern dialect of ‘Nope, I mean I am going to sleep.’)”
“OH MY GOD (English), bu ci fan (northeastern dialect) is not good. (‘Oh my god, it’s not good to skip your dinner.’)”
“o ji la (Cantonese), but wo hao kun. (Mandarin of ‘I know, but I am too tired to eat.’)”
At first, we consciously mixed these special traits from languages we speak; however, as time went, the intention became habit, and by now “HFI Dialect” jumps out of our mouths in daily conversation, unless we carefully shift the button of language to standard Mandarin when we talk in formal situations. The original purpose of creating this language — to make language fun and to add joy to our boring school life — seemed to fade away, and we didn’t realize that the meaning of “HFI Dialect” has changed, until we were stopped on the street and were criticized for our behavior. When we were waiting for our lunch outside of school and chatting loudly in our dialect, one passerby stopped and asked if we came from Dongbei, the collective name of provinces in northeastern China. Without thinking too much, we answered jokingly in our dialect, “Hai a (Cantonese), wo men si Dongbei da nong cun-er de (northeastern dialect of ‘yes, we came from rural Dongbei countryside’),” hoping to make this stranger laugh. Unexpectedly, the man seemed to become mad and said, “Our language is not the thing you can make fun of, and you don’t have the privilege to discriminate against my hometown.” That’s the first time I was considered “discriminative” by a stranger, just because of my use of language. Later that night, I thoroughly considered if our mixing of language was proper, and if we were actually offending people speaking the languages we mixed.
I recalled the time we started to combine different languages. When my friend first greeted me in a weird northeastern tone (jokingly), I laughed at her and commented her “rustic.” After that, however, due to the peculiarities of northeastern tone and its funny suffix of “er,” I also began to speak in this tone. Under our influence, the rest of our squad members also intentionally talked in this manner. Every time we “invented” new combinations of phrases using different languages, we laughed and considered them “non-mainstream,” which is debasing in Chinese culture. From that time, dialects in northeastern tone were connected with the image of a person coming from countryside; withe the prevalence of such value, compared with us, who were all born in big cities like Guangzhou and Beijing, people using these dialects seemed to be “inferior” and were justified subjects to play jokes on.
That night, I lost my sleep after recognizing that we were indeed offending people from the other side of China, and our lack of understanding of their languages drove us to the crime of discrimination. Moreover, our self-assumed intelligent combination of northeastern dialects and other languages, like English and Cantonese, is in fact disrespectful for all of these languages. Without knowing their essence, we distorted their meanings and usage, making them playful and misrepresenting. I am regretting that language, which was created to convey ideas and promote positive relationship between cultures and regions, became a tool of discrimination and, to some extent, verbal violence. More terribly, everything went unconsciously; before that passerby’s warning, I never realized that we were being discriminative and misusing the proud dialects of people from northeastern China.
Sadly, through careful consideration, I found that such phenomenon was so prevalent that the seed of discrimination germinated from the very young state of our minds. When I was young, in almost all the Chinese TV shows I watched, all characters coming from rural areas spoke in northeastern dialect, the one similar with that in the “HFI Dialect.” That’s the reason why my squad members could imitate its tone fluently, while we never technically learned it. From early childhood, we were told that rural people spoke northeastern dialects, building up a stereotype that would influence our language and behaviors in the future.
No language is inferior to other; rather, they are the proud representation of culture from different regions. Being respectful and responsible, I decided to stop using “HFI Dialect” even in the smallest conversation until I could truly understand the essence of northeastern language and culture. I will fight with the seed of discrimination by changing my way of talking and thinking; and I want to say thanks to that passerby for helping me to escape from the trap of verbal discrimination.