mother tongue

Today is the international day for celebrating mother tongue and in my case culmination of years of searching for the origin of a single word.
My grandmother used to call red onion( bawang merah)”sabolah”. I could never figure it out. How in the world she came to calling it sabolah… bolah is round in Malay, but not one person I knew called onion, sabolah.
I have been searching for that word for ages and few days ago I borrowed a latin recipe books from the library. Some where in the middle there is a small article about the names latin Americans have for their onions. Cebolla is the name for ordinary onions…and my grandmother, who has never been to any part of latin America called the onions sabolah..Amazing
Thinking about mother tongue.. What would my children choose as their mother tongue? I speak 11 languages..and we speak english at home, which is neither my mother tongue, nor theirs.
I was reading about the native Indians, who were taken from their homes and put in residential schools to enable them to be like the white man. White man thought by making people speak and act like them, they would be useful to the society.The choice of punishment for speaking native language at these residential schools were washing the mouth with soap.
In east Malaysia, they still don’t teach kadazan and dusun at school.( especially for Sabahans)
In Malaysia, malay is given more priority over mother tongue of the rest of the population. Some how there is a notion that by making people speak the same language, there is cohesion of cultures and uniformity. Was it also, because majority think they have the right to force their language on to the disadvantaged? like the white man did to the native indians?, like the malaysian government doing to the East Malaysians?
I am not sure why I chose English considering the fact that I only had 2 years of english education before going to medical school.. probably because it was easier, and there were lots more books in english to read.
On this day that we should celebrate our cultural identity, I am confused…What exactly would make a language mother tongue?? What cultural identity can i give my kids? They are Malaysians, but unwanted by the Malaysian government,( wanted very much if they become Abdullah). They are in Canada, because their mother chose to. Even if they change their passport one day, would they become More Canadian and less Malaysian? Would they ever enjoy Durian or walk away pinching their nose?
What is a Canadian? There is no answer to it. There is nothing that one can pin point that would make a Canadian. Not even a national dish..
We have crossed the oceans and left our cultural identity behind and now I don’t even have a mother tongue to teach my kids.. They have a world to conquer, yet no identity.. and i have failed miserably to keep the cultural flame alive..

2 thoughts on “mother tongue

  1. We malayalees still use the word sabolla for big onions. It is very commonly used in Kerala. I do not think there is another name for it in kerala.

  2. Canada is such a huge mix of cultures, that is what makes it great. You are correct saying there are no real Canadian dishes, at least none I can think of. It can be frustrating at times like this to figure out who you are and what your native culture is.

    I’d say go with whichever one shaped you most. In my family we are german, polish and Canadian which is actually a mix of Scottish and Native American blood on my fathers side but he was born Canadian. Most of my cultural references come from Germany and yet I call myself a true Canadian and am proud to do so.

    This country may not be perfect but there are a lot of worse places to grow up and I have true loyalty to Canada.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *