Ian Johnson

Singapore’s directive government has long focused language training on English and later Mandarin, for commercial reasons. But journalist Ian Johnson notes at the New York Times that traditional Chinese dialects, including Hokkien, are making their comeback, allowing families to talk to each other and understand their past.

The New York Times:

“Singapore used to be like a linguistic tropical rain forest — overgrown, and a bit chaotic but very vibrant and thriving,” said Tan Dan Feng, a language historian in Singapore. “Now, after decades of pruning and cutting, it’s a garden focused on cash crops: learn English or Mandarin to get ahead and the rest is useless, so we cut it down.”

This linguistic repression, and the consequences for multigenerational families, has led to a widespread sense of resentment — and now a softening in the government’s policy.

For the first time since the late 1970s, a television series was recently broadcast in Hokkien, which in the 1970s was the first language of about 40 percent of Singaporeans. Many young people are also beginning to study dialects on their own, hoping to reconnect with their past, or their grandparents.

More in the New York Times.

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