Tuesday, 8 July 2008

A change in dominant language

I was sitting on the ground recuperating from my game the other day during my badminton session. While looking around and trying to give my shoulder and neck muscle a good stretch, I saw a shuttlecock nearby. I picked it up and started scrutinising it, a rather random decision. In an equally random decision, I started to count the number of feathers of the shuttlecock…

“One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine… ten… eleven… twelve… … … … sixteen”

A shuttlecock requires 16 feathers to be made.

It was then that it suddenly occurred me… something has changed. In fact, something has changed for quite some time already.

Ya’ know… my parents are illiterate… I grew up in a very Chinese family... I never speak a word of English in my home… when I was in standard 3, a classmate found out that I didn’t know the meaning of ‘thirsty’ and he laughed at me and till today, I still remember his expression when he laughed at me… when I go out with my school friends now, I generally speak Cantonese…

So… when I picked up that shuttlecock and started to count… it should be… “yat…yi… sam… sei… em… lok… chat (need to be pronounced properly)… pat… gao… … … … … sap-lok”

That should be the way!!! Just like how you call the boss to come and “kira” after your mamak session and he will go “une… ren-ne… mu-le… na-le… umpede…” That is what usually happens. Or if you eat at a Malay store and when the boss “kira”… he will go “satu… dua… tiga… tujuh… sepuluh...” This should be the way!!

Even if you go to the famous Stevens’ Corner mamak where the boss speaks perfect Cantonese… you will still hear him whisper…. “une… na-le… sap-de… umpede… ….”… and then he will tell you “sap-lok kau pat” (RM16.80). Right?

Or if you go to a Chinese restaurant and you ask the ‘tau-keh’ for the bill, he will surely go “yat… em… lok… sap-yi… sap-pat… ahhh… twenty-tlee prease” That is what will happen. You will never hear the ‘tau-keh’ go… “wan… tlee… sez… elewang… sexteen… ahhhh… yah-sam kau” (RM23). It’s just bizarre isn’t it?

And certainly, the ‘tau-keh’ will not go “satu… empat… enlam… lujuh… sapuloh… samilam-bras… ahhh….. yah-sam kau” (RM23). Just won’t happen isn’t it?
So why do I, a true breed Chinese and when I start to count… I go “one… two… three… four… five” instead of “yat… yi… sam… sei… em…”? Why?

Truly, the dominant language in me has changed. I may be able to speak Cantonese fluently amongst my friends but deep in the root of my sub-conscious brain… if possible, I will tend to speak English first before Cantonese.

So how do you count? One two three? Or yat yi sam? Or satu dua tiga? Or une ren-ne mu-le? What is your dominant language?

59 comments:

day-dreamer said...

I go yi er san si a.k.a 一二三四... Haha.

Klaw said...

I tend to think in English, but I consciously count in Cantonese. That's because single digit numbers are always 1 syllable, double digit numbers are nearly always 2 syllables.

What I am trying to say is, counting in Cantonese is more efficient for me.

e.g.
2984 - yi chin gau bat bat sup sei (7 syllables)
2984- two thousand nine hundred and eighty four (9)
2984 - dua ribu sembilan ratus lapan puluh empat (14)
2984 - Duex milles neuf cent quatre-vingt quatre (8)

iamikel said...

i usually go with one two three... still remember how ppl laugh at me because i could not speak hokkien well.. even my own family members..

-=SiN=- said...

I got to agree with klaw on the syllable.. it makes no sense trying to make 2 sound out of a single digit... hahaha..
english/hokkien/kantonis/finger..

Tsu Lin + + said...

When I do mental maths, ie multiplication & at the stores counting disocunts and price (hehe), it is definitely mandarin. It is WAY faster (than counting in english), plus, I was simply educated in a chinese school. :)

Angie Tan said...

It's English...

Mom was an English teacher and she made us recite our times table in English although our home was in dual-language... i.e. Cantonese/English.

Funnily though.. I'm trying to learn Mandarin and automatically, I try to think in Cantonese before I spit out barely usable Mandarin... LOL!!!

However, I find myself dumbing down my English so that my colleagues can understand what I'm saying. It's a conundrum coz I've got to bring up my level of English again when I speak to my ang moh colleagues... Hmmm... (@_@)

rainbow angeles said...

that's a good observation! i count in mandarin.. feels a bit 'difficult' counting in engrish liddat haha.. one to ten still ok cos one syllable.. after ten, more syllables for engrish numbers heh..

sugarbaby said...

for most of the time, i count in cantonese ..maybe since i was a little child, my mum taught yat yi sam....yat pak..hahha~ quick and accurate!! if count in mandarin..yi er san si...omg..always got wrong answer...@@"

lol~

Miss Pharmacist said...

Cantonese... But i am not chinese educated... Weird me! Anyway is faster as what Klaw has said...

Bee Ean said...

Count in hokkien most of the time.

khengsiong said...

For me it's a mix - sometimes Chinese, sometimes English. Weird huh?

When I was studying in secondary school, the teachers brainwashed us into believing that "all Chinese must speak Chinese (Mandarin)". I used to despise those people called "banana men". Today I mostly write in English. How much I have changed...

Huei said...

aiyo..i terbalik liao! i'm english ed..everythign was all in english......until i went inti

EVERYONE SPOKE CHINESE! now my boo speaks chinese..n hardly anyone i know speaks english..so now i sound like an ahlian when i speak england T_T

but i still pick english as first priority..if i know that someone speaks english. thats y i choose english with my boss..cannot lah..now i sound like i come from chinese school

missironic said...

I'll go..ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, etc.
English has always been my dominant languange..well, bsides BM..but still i find counting in BM abit tedious..bcoz the pronounciation longer? hehehee..but u surely wont finding me counting in chinese! unless of course..im trying to be funny...hahahaha....

myop101 said...

english lo...

doesn't matter if the dominant language changes. the main thing is you do your maths right!

:P

myop101 said...

btw, with Astro giving their viewers an option to view their favourite programme in english, BM and mandarin, you should not be surprised when Count Dracula suddenly speaks fluent BM and Mandarin....:)

giddy tigress said...

I'll go:
un deu trois quart cinq six sept....

nah...just pulling your leg la....
I will naturally go:
One two three four five...

especially so since I am in the midst of teaching my son his numbers :)

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

as a malaysian, im truly campured..

1 day its canto, the other day, english and when i feel like it malay..

infact i cant seem to speak fluently in canto any more..always cant find the right words..

Seaqueen said...

Hahah!! English will always be my first counting language. Ask me to count in Foochow is a total loss. Which is supposed to be my mother tongue. Shamful huh?? Hahahh!!

cwonglw said...

wow....i never realised about these! i mean, it's always been there but just never realised abt it...ekekeke...i think mine is mandrin! ahaha...

HuntressMoon said...

depends.

if at the mamak, i count in tamil and tell them the amount to show them they can ef with me on the pricing.

chinese then i speak chinese.

malay, i speak malay in respective dialects.

but my first language is english and i speak my french and tamil better than my cantonese.

Daniel said...

im just like u, Zewt. Brought up in a typical Chinese family but now i tend to think n even speak English =)

jam said...

You are a true breed Chinese, but you speak Cantonese, not Mandarin?

sooky said...

That's a funny picture and caption! :P

I'm a true blue Cantonese (from my parents up to my maternal and paternal grandparents they are all Cantonese) so it's definitely "yat yi sam sei" for me...

I know of a family who speaks Cantonese at home. But the parents decided to speak to the toddler son in Mandarin so that he learns that as his dominant language. They were surprised though when the son started to speak, he actually speaks in Cantonese...

CK said...

good question.
jam, chinese doesn't mean mandarin. it can be cantonese, hakka etc. mandarin is the official language of china and not chinese.

HopefulPessimist said...

hmm.. let me think..
technically, i'm chinese and malay, so i should either speak chinese or malay, but the first language that comes to mind when i speak is english. complicated-lah!

gina said...

I count in hokkien at home... and english in office.... come to think about it!

sc said...

cantonese when i count and english when i talk to myself (you know, time when you do a small swear & stuff..) hehe

u-jean said...

i speak hokkien at home but feel more at ease with english. here uni, everyone speaks mandarin. feels like i'm gonna lose my english soon

Anak Merdeka said...

This is a very interesting observation Zewt. I generally converse in Mandarin with my kids since they go to Chinese schools but when I'm upset, I subconsciously revert to English to get my points across! And the kids are so used to this now that they can sense immediately when mom is not in the mood for arguments. :-)

Poseidon said...

I definitely count in one two three. English is my dominant language, as I don't find Mandarin interesting at all. But I do speak to some of my friends in Mandarin as it's THEIR dominant language. But I always mix it or somehow revert to English.

rachel said...

i memorised my times table in mandarin. so, whenever i have to do math, i do it in mandarin cuz i think i m faster in mandarin. when i count,i'd sometimes go 'one two three...' but then when i count in multiples of 2, i'd go 'er, shi, liu, ba.....'
lol

PurpLe~MuShRooM said...

The chinese here did asked me the question, on which language am I most comfortable with when speaking. To me, I always thought of Mandarin or Cantonese. But little did I realised that when they raised the question, they guided me on how I should find out the answer.

They asked me: "When you are quarrelling with your hubby, what language will you use?"

Well when that happens, I usually use English to argue with him, most of the time. Why? I really do not know.

All the while I have been speaking broken mandarin until i came to China, where my mandarin improved tremendously. On the other hand, my Englsih sucks now, damn! Maybe I should argue more with dear Hubby. Hahah!

Chen said...

Most of the time I speak Chinese with my friends, so I consider Chinese as my dominant language. But I count or do mental maths or calculation in English :)

zewt said...

day-dreamer - so u mandarin lor...

Klaw - good reasoning... but sometimes, it's sub-consciously there.

iamikel - so english dominant for u then.

-=Sin=- - yeah... but u do it withtout u knowing... that's how u determine your dominant language.

Tsu Lin - so you're mandarin dominant lah... right?

Angie Tan - hahaha... u will end up speaking mandarin like the H-Kies... ::P

zewt said...

rainbow angeles - it's not about that. i know canto is easier, but i am subconsciously counting in english already.

sugarbaby - good lah.. u have not lost it yet. unlike me... sigh.

Miss Pharmacist - means u speak canto at home lah.

Bee Ean - jik no sa si go lak... hehe...

khengsiong - aiyoo... what kinda sucky school is that? bad lah.

Huei - hahahaha... england gone already lor like that. i guess peers have got a big influence. see... now i become ang moh already.

zewt said...

missironic - so u banana eh? hehehe...

myop101 - hahaha... that's true. so let's use BM now... :P

giddy tigress - parley wu fracais? :P

constant craver joe - hahaha... sounds like me... dangerous lah. next time we meet... canto ok!

seaqueen - u gwai poh already eh?

cwonglw - good observation eh? only in AZAIG.

zewt said...

HuntressMoon - can u tell us all what are u ah?

Daniel - sigh.. bad lah... we must learn back our mother tongue.

jam - canto still can lah.

sooky - hahaha... i guess some things come naturally eh?

CK - that's exactly what i was trying to say... so... what about u?

hopefulpessimist - chinese and malay? another campuran eh?

gina - you're cunt-fused...

zewt said...

sc - means you're canto dominant lor... good good.

u-jean - u die lor... u are gonna lose all your england :P

Anak Merdeka - hahahaha... means your children will only learn half half... good observation eh?

poseidon - can u speak mandarin well though?

rachel - you are like my boss eh... when need to count... suddenly go ... chi chi shi si jiu...

purple mushroom - hahahaha... maybe you should! hahaha... damn funny lah. it's true... we think we can speak canto or mandarin well... we are nothing when we are in china or hong kong.

Chen - you are like me lor... u are turning gwai poh slowly without u knowing it... :P

littlepolaris said...

Hmmm.... I campur everything inside. When needed to speak canto, somehow english will come out. When needed to speak english, mandarin words will come out. When speak BM, Russian will come out. Dunno what my brain is doing.

mar said...

When I was small,we used our mother tongue (Iban) at home. Then I went to school and me and my elder bro began to speak to each other in English - and that has always been the way even now! We never speak in our mother tongue to each other but we speak that with the other members of the family...I wrote about this on my blog last year...haha
And I used to take French in Uni but it waaay rusty from lack of practice. Now I'm taking Mandarin...and of course I speak Bahasa but most of the time, English is the language I use. I think in English...and so are my monologues. LOL!

Leah said...

I came from similar background like yours, grew up in a Chinese village with no one spoke English around me.
After about 15 years of immersion in an English speaking environment, I now think in English...and so are my dreams. However, I still count the fastest in Mandarin.:-)

missironic said...

hahaha..yeap, u got it right! but dun tink i dun understand Chinese..I do!! hard to speak only..hahaahah..=P

pinknpurplelizard said...

To me it depends to whom I am speaking to. I kinda trained myself to be able to talk or think in Malay, Hokkien and English. I still struggle to do so in Cantonese and Mandarin.

This is an interesting observation zewt! Got me brain mechanics working!

Emma said...

I count in English but when I think, I think in Cantonese. So what is my dominant language?

kyh said...

It's Mandarin for me. I think it's way easier than other languages when it comes to maths and related stuff. But when I talk to myself, it's either English or Mandarin.

BTW, can you speak Mandarin?

zewt said...

littlepolaris - you're lost... hahahaha...

mar - after all that... what do u use to count? :P

Leah - looks like i am an odd one then :)

missironic - must practise lah.

pinknpurplelizard - so what do u use to count? it must be sub-conscious counting... that's the crucial one.

Emma - perhaps Engtonese.

kyh - the usual... yi dian dian ler... :P

SuLee said...

that is so true!! i actually thought about that, i could count better in hokkien "zit neng sah si goh lak...etc" if i do it in malay or english i might lose count!

and i can ONLY do my multiplication table in mandarin coz thats what i learned from primary school!

missironic said...

hmm...last time in college did speak wif frens...they said i speak like mat salleh learning chinese..so they laughed at me..but then although being laughed at..i still speak..but after college, most of the people i meet speak english and bananas like me..so..my chinese went rotten back..hahahaa..but occasionally also got practice la wif those who knows chinese..but i still speak like mat salleh learning chinese..lol!

Swee Ping said...

Hmmmm... I remember the face of 2 friends who laughed at me when I said I had 'ulcer' on my toe when I should have said 'blister'. I feel like I was being ridicule by them, whose English was more 'powerful' than mine back then. I felt that they ought to correct and me improve and not laugh at me.

Anyway, hehe, back to your post, I think sometimes my mind count in English, sometimes in Cantonese. Ain't sure which is the dominant one.

gRaCe said...

ermm..for me i think it depends on the language i'm speaking at the moment. if i were speaking in canto, i will count in canto.. but then again.. after counting halfway.. i'll stop and tell myself.. eh, like something wrong only.. and will start counting back in eng. lolzz..

sharlydia said...

depends lar what kind of situation...I guess when it's simple counting of 1,2,3, etc, naturally english will come up for me...But when it comes to some more complicated calculation ie. 25x5 or 68+46 etc, my brain works faster with mandarin since i'm chinese educated...haha...

pinknpurplelizard said...

It count in either of the 3 languages. But key factor is depending on who I'm with. My mind just switches so I can't say there's a true dominant. Sigh... I'm complicating things again.

narrowband said...

English. But recently I've forced myself to count in Jap. When I run on treadmills I like to count my steps (kinda like to motivate myself to push). So I have forced myself to do it in Japanese because I'm trying to improve in that language.

zewt said...

SuLee - but u think english is your dominant lamguage?

missironic - speak to your colleagues, it helps.

swee ping - hi there, welcome to AZAIG. i sure knows how that feels... terrible isnt it?

gRaCe - wahhh... flexible ah... no standard wan ah? :P

sharlydia - that is not true... ask your husband to count and see

pinknpurplelizard - yes... very :P

narrowband - yeah lah... i know you're in japan now... so jealous lah.

melbie said...

Aww sheesh... I definitely do not count in Kadazan even though that's my mother tongue.. I count in English and speak in Malay *roll eyes* with a twist of Sabahan slang ofcourse ..haha

zewt said...

melbie - well... at least the sabahan element is still there :)

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