Experience · Interest

Chinese : Mother Tongue or Dialects

I often get wrong impression from people when they asking me about my mother tongue, especially Chinese fellows.
The reason is so simple because they want to know from what Chinese ethnic I come from and what Chinese clan I belong to. All of these are identified through the spoken mother tongue even the guessing neither 100% right nor 50% right but still they ask and make guess.
so the guessing will be like:
A is speaking cantonese so she might come from Hongkong
B is speaking Hokkain so he might come from Taiwan
This is so stereotypical and laugh-able for me. the funniest thing is Indonesian Chinese who doesn’t even speak Chinese dialect as mother tongue is called “Khiao Seng” that shameful because forgetting “their” Chinese identity or Chinese from biracial marriage (peranakan).

In Medan, more than 80% the Chinese speak Hokkain as their mother tongue but at same time Medan Chinese also speak others dialect than Hokkain. While Chinese Mandarin (华语/汉文) is new to Indonesian Chinese because being banned during New Order under President Soeharto Regime.

The interesting about Chinese Indonesian talking different dialect as their mother tongue based on province they live in Indonesia. For example : Chinese who live in Aceh, Kalimantan most of them speak Hakka, The Chinese in Medan speak Hokkain while small part places in Indonesia may speak Cantonese, Shanghai dialect, etc.

In my case, I speak more than one dialect as my mother tongue because I don’t know which one comes first after the others. As I could remember, I was able to understand the dialects through daily conversation with my parent, my grand parents and friends.

So, whenever people ask me what is mother tongue, without doubt I will answer Chinese. But this answer won’t satisfy my Chinese fellows because mother tongue in their question is the spoken dialect.

I remembered one time when I was at uni during orientation period. I met girl who is Chinese from Aceh joining the orientation. I was one bus with her when we were heading to the orientation place for new uni student. She sat next to me so that how we got know each others. We introduced our names and kept chatting in order to kill the time since we heading to quite far place.

After while we chatted, she suddenly asking me “What Chinese are you?”. I was dumbstruck for moment because I didn’t know how to answer her. my small brain thinking hard by her meant. I guessing what she really wanted to ask,  did she asking me about city where I come from? or what Chinese clan I belong to? or what????
about 1-2 minutes, finally I asked back “pardon me, what do you mean by What Chinese I am.”

Later on she said your mother tongue, what is language are you spoken to your family? directly I told her, Chinese. but she seems not satisfied so she said, “I know you Chinese so what Chinese languages are you used? is it Hokkain? Hakka? Cantonese?”

Finally I understood her meant. She asking the dialect I used but keep saying “language” instead “dialect”.

I said “Hokkain, Cantonese and Hakka”



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