Will Mandarin kill other dialects spoken in Malaysia?

An emphasis on Mandarin has threatened other dialects among the Chinese community in Malaysia. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: An academic and two Chinese associations have voiced concern over the declining use of dialects such as Hokkien, Cantonese and Teochew now that Mandarin is gaining popularity with young Malaysian Chinese.

Teo Kok Seong of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia told FMT he could foresee the Chinese in Malaysia eventually abandoning their mother tongues in favour of Mandarin and said he feared that the once-familiar dialects were heading for extinction.

He said Mandarin was replacing Hokkien in Kelantan, Terengganu, Penang and Melaka and Cantonese in Kuantan, Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh.

Klang Hokkien Association president Soo Hak Min agreed that there was a trend showing the younger generation giving more attention to Mandarin than the dialects of their forefathers.

He acknowledged that this was in the natural order of things since Mandarin is the favoured Chinese dialect in international business and is the medium of instruction in Chinese vernacular schools.

In fact, he told FMT, most young parents were conversing in Mandarin with their children.

He said it was partly in the interest of keeping the mother tongues alive that associations like his had begun to organise activities to promote their dialects.

These include conducting classes and organising singing and public speaking competitions.

“We want to encourage the young generation to learn so they can understand, speak and appreciate their mother tongues,” he said. “It is not so much about countering the popularity of Mandarin.”

He described Mandarin as being as much a unifying language to the Chinese as English is to the international community.

Unlike Teo, Soo believes Hokkien and Cantonese were in no great danger of extinction.

He said the two dialects were safer than other dialects spoken in Malaysia because of the popularity of television series and feature films produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Tony Tang, the president of the Klang Kwangtung Association, told FMT even his own children could not converse in their native Teochew.

“There’s no time to learn Teochew,” he said. “They need to learn English, Bahasa and Mandarin.”

He said there was a need to keep Teochew alive through such measures as the conducting of language classes.

“It is in our roots and we need to know it,” he said. “We need to know where we and our ancestors are from.”