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June 11, 2013

On Writing in English: Language Evolves Over The Years

Chiew-Siah Tei:

My childhood memory is crowded with people, with their different languages and accents: my family spoke Mandarin and Hokkien; my playmates Cantonese, Hakka, Teochew and Hainan; there were Malays among my neighbours; and every evening the Indians got themselves drunk at the toddy hut opposite our house, before stopping by my father's butcher stall for a piece of wild boar meat for dinner, if they had some cash left.

For a child, everything seemed to be natural, the languages and the way they were spoken. As I grew up, though, I noticed how these languages intertwined, and how new words, new phrases - shared by different languages - were created. '苦力' (kuli), labourer, originated in the Malay synonym 'kuli'; and vice versa, '巴刹' (basha), market, derived from the Malay word 'pasar'.

This form of integration, I realised years later, is no longer about language but culture. It is the need to be understood and to understand, the need for this understanding to be recognised and, most importantly, the natural drive of these cultures to complement each other that had created, not just the words and phrases, but a new form of culture, of life. This discovery had planted the seed of my interest in experimenting with language in future.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at June 11, 2013 1:27 AM
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