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M'sia's Chinese dialects at risk as KL ends dialect news

Publication Date : 20-12-2013


Retired auditor Chung Chei Lan chats with her three-year-old granddaughter Mindy daily in Hainanese, hoping to pass on the dialect.

Like many older Chinese Malaysians, Chung laments that her son does not teach his own children the family's dialect.

She is concerned that the younger generation of Chinese speak only Mandarin, English and Malay, and are forgoing their heritage. "My grandchildren are losing their identity," said Chung, 70.

Adding to the concerns, Ai FM, a government-run Chinese-language radio service established by the BBC in 1946, will end its Chinese dialect news broadcasts - the last in the country - on January 1, due to cost.

The impending move has deepened worries among Chinese community leaders that dialects such as Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese will literally die out with declining usage.

The imminent shutdown of the broadcasts is a stark reminder that dialects are slowly, but surely, on the decline.

Ai FM's dialect news programme caters mostly to older Chinese Malaysians who have never learnt Mandarin, English and Malay.

"Like in Singapore, Chinese Malaysian parents forgo their dialects to give their children a competitive edge by emphasising Mandarin and English, and sending them to Chinese schools," said Dr Chin Yee Whah, who specialises in Chinese studies and economics at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Ai FM, known formerly as Radio 5 and Radio Malaysia Saluran 5, airs its Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka and Teochew news programmes at 8pm daily, with a 10-minute slot for each dialect. The station broadcasts at 89.3FM, and features online and mobile outlets.

Without any form of government funding to preserve dialects, Malaysia's hundreds of Chinese clan associations make do with disparate programmes such as singing competitions and poetry recitals to preserve their languages.

"Many clans associations are trying to research their clan history and publish books on their history to appeal to the youngsters," said Lee Shok Jin, who leads socio-cultural studies at the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.

"Unfortunately, around the country, we don't see many programmes to preserve dialects."

A radio DJ with Ai FM, who wished to remain anonymous as he is not authorised to speak, said a memorandum endorsed by the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia will be signed on Monday to protest against the station's move.

"We are just degrading our cultural identities and losing cultural heritage, so we need to reject this move," he said.

The Hokkien are the largest sub-ethnic group of Malaysia's 6.93 million ethnic Chinese at about three million, followed by some 1.68 million Hakka, according to the United Chinese School Committees' Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong).

Besides Chinese Malaysians, three quarters of some 2.3 million non-citizens are of Chinese descent.

Chow Siew Hon, the Dong Zong's deputy chief, said parents' desire to give their children a competitive advantage has driven down dialects' relevance in their lives, and some parents actually see dialects as "lower class" compared to Mandarin.

"Dropping dialect is a problem, and unless parents actively teach it to their children, it will die away," he said.


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